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the use of foil characters

By hek1234 Jul 20, 2014 765 Words
In Shakespeare's play, "King Lear", Shakespeare uses foil characters in opposition to the main heroes in order to compare and contrast personal qualities, goodness and sins, values and traditions of the society. In the play there are many foil characters that could compared and contrast. The main characters that shows comparison and contrasts are King Lear and Gloucester, Cordelia and Goneril/Regan, and Edgar and Edmund.

King Lear and Gloucester are similar in many ways but they have contrast personal qualities. King Lear is a complex tragic hero, who has full of authority, and does not like to be opposed. His foulness in Act 1 Scene 1 leads him to having everything to having nothing. "Thou hadst little wit in thy Bald crown where thou gav'st thy golden one away. If I speak like myself in this, let him be whipped that first finds it so." (I, iv, 166-169). This passage shows King Lear's mistake of giving away his power to his daughters. While Lear stands in the official place of power, he is mentally blind to what is really going on around him. In the other hand, Gloucester is not so powerful and stubborn. But he tries to keep peace between King Lear and his daughters, by helping King Lear which leads him to danger by the two daughters. He becomes mentally and physically blinded from what is around him. In comparison, King Lear is betrayed by his 2 daughters, Goneril and Regan who does not love him. Gloucester is betrayed by his illegitimate evil son Edmund, who seeks revenge and recognition. King Lear and Gloucester both have children who love them even though they treat them wrongly, and children who deceive and plot against them. Lear banishes his daughter Cordelia, but it turns out that she is the only daughter who loves him. Gloucester in turn, sides with the son who is plotting against him, and puts a price on the head of his legitimate son, Edgar. Gloucester and Lear both disown their children, but in the end come to see through their blindness and love their children. Later in the play, both characters becomes increasingly generous as they suffer. Shakespeare compares and contrasts both rulers who suffer the burdens of rule.

Through the foil characters Shakespeare ‘teaches’ the audience about good and bad, virtues and sins, social and immoral behavior. Contrast between Goneril/Regan and Cordelia shows the good and evil in the play. Goneril and Regan's nonsensical action caused sufferings for many innocent people because of their dishonor, falsehood, and low moral values. In Act 1 scene 1 they are asked to profess their love for King Lear, this scene shows the difference between the daughters. Both Goneril and Regan use flattering words to get their Lear's favour by saying that they love him more than eyesight, space, freedom and other luxuries in the world, their love is too deep to be spoken of and only King Lear's love makes them happy. Whereas Cordelia loves her father so much that she will never say something just to please him, or to gain land, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty According to my bong, no more nor less.” (I, ii, 100-103). She displays honesty above everything. This difference between Goneril and Regan set against Cordelia that makes the play a tragedy.

Another contrasting characters are Edgar and Edmund. Edmund being the bastard son of Gloucester, turns out to be dishonest, deceitful, greedy and ambitious. Edmund wants all control of Gloucester's money and power. He fools both Edgar and Gloucester, destroying both their characters, he turns them against each other, causing destruction."Well then. Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund As to the legitimate. Fine word, 'legitimate'." (I, ii, 16-19). This scene is Edmund's soliloquy where he confesses his plans between Gloucester and Edgar. In the other hand, Edgar being the legitimate son turns out to be honest and loving towards his father and everyone he comes across. When Gloucester is blinded and expelled because he has remained loyal to Lear, Edgar becomes his father's guide, and saves him from suicide and a murder attempt by Oswald. Throughout the play, Edgar feels sympathy for his father even though he rejected Edgar brutally.

Shakespeare describes foil characters as the problems of individual choice and the choice of the society embodied in its traditions and prejudices. The play is based on contrasts and oppositions which help to create a story conflict and draw attention to contrasting elements and personal traits.

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