ACT II – Scene.i
(A court within the castle of the Earl of Gloucester)
We learn that there is some public unrest in the locality, which concerns
Edmund particularly as the Duke of Cornwall and his wife Regan will arrive at the castle shortly.
Edmund is pleased about recent developments, as they will all contribute to
his advancement. His half-brother Edgar is in hiding and Edmund tells him that he must now flee the castle before he is discovered.
Gloucester already knows Edgar has been hiding somewhere in the castle, so
Edmund tells Edgar that he must make his escape look convincing.
Edmund tells Edgar that he will pretend to stop him leaving the castle and they draw swords. Edgar leaves and Edmund wounds himself and cries out. Gloucester enters and is immediately convinced that Edgar is a villain and declares him an outlaw. The Duke of Cornwall says that he must be hunted down. Gloucester calls his son Edmund his loyal and natural boy. Edmund is given a place as one of the Duke of Cornwall’s trusted followers.
Cornwall and Regan have come to seek advice from Gloucester concerning the
rift between Goneril and her father. The King is due to arrive at their castle, and they do not wish to meet with him for he is sure to complain about the treatment he has received from his eldest daughter.
At the very start of this scene there is an indication of growing chaos in
the land due to its partition.
However, Edmund sees this as an opportunity to improve his status. He also knows the whereabouts of Edgar and it is now time for him to play this card and dispose of his rival from the castle. We see how cunning Edmund is and how he can turn events to his advantage. He dupes Edgar into thinking that he has his welfare at heart. He persuades Edgar to leave the castle using a pretence that Edmund is trying to prevent the escape. Unknown to Edgar, Edmund wounds himself in order to make his story more convincing to his father Gloucester. We marvel at Edmund’s superior cunning, which makes those around him seem dim-witted, especially the noble characters in the play. Their naivety is plain for the audience to see.
We see a total change in Gloucester’s feelings for Edmund.
He has in fact changed places with Edgar in Gloucester’s eyes, and Gloucester calls him his ‘natural boy’, a far cry from the opening scene of the play where he is talked about as a product of a sinful but enjoyable relationship.
When Regan and Cornwall arrive, they at first glance appear to be a
respectable and responsible couple. They hope that civil order will soon be restored and that the evildoers will be caught and punished.
We learn that Edgar is King Lear’s godson, and Regan is appalled to hear that he seeks the death of Gloucester. They too seem willing to accept Edmund’s deceit without question. A direct connection is made between Edgar’s behavior and the outrageous behavior of Lear’s followers. The aim here is to win Gloucester over to their side in opposition to Lear. We are, of course, aware that Regan and Goneril are co-conspirators against their father.
Previous scenes have given us an insight into Goneril and in particular her
husband, who although dominated, does appear to be honorable. The Duke of Cornwall, however, is a different prospect and we are not quite clear concerning his personality. The fact that he praises Edmund
for his loyalty suggests that he perhaps recognizes a kindred spirit. Shakespeare cleverly is bringing all the villains together and as this takes place they become stronger and so do the dark powers of the
play become more ominous, whilst the heroes of the story are losing their position and their power.