Nakedness and dress in Shakespeare's King Lear, represented the status of a character. Many scenes use clothing to show one characters dominance over another. The more opulent the clothing, the higher the status, or the lack of clothing, the lower the status. A few characters go through many wardrobes. Lear and Edgar, both start the beginning of the play wearing expensive, luxurious clothing, but each at different times wear less glorious clothing or even no clothing at all.
Lear who is the most powerful and authoritative
character in the beginning of
the play, is also the best outfitted. Lear during the play, soils his clothing in storms, heaths, battles, and other harsh elements. At the same time that his garments are lessening in value, so is his level of power and status. Lear finds the bottom of the abyss he enters when he, a fool, a beggar, and a madman have taken shelter in a hut from a storm. For Lear to be in the company such as this, his status is near nothing. In order to show this degeneration from high to low, Lear strips off all his clothing, showing he is now at the very bottom of the social order. To have some clothes is to be someone, to have none is to be nobody.
Edgar, legitimate son to the Earl of Gloucester, is well dressed, not as much as Lear, but still above commoners. Edgar is believed to be plotting to annihilate his own father. So every one is after someone named "Edgar", who is a well dressed noble. In order to protect himself, Edgar becomes no one. He becomes nobody by shedding his noble garments, and disguises himself by, "My face I'll grime with filth,/ Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots,/ And with presented nakedness outface..." Now Edgar is nobody, and there is nobody looking for nobody.
Edgar, wanting revenge on his bother, must take the status of somebody, so he becomes a lunatic. Still needing protection, but also needing to...