ACT V – Scene.i
(The camp of the British forces near Dover)
Edmund and Regan have assembled their army, but they wonder whether Albany
is resolute in his intention to fight against the French.
They are also concerned about Oswald’s disappearance and they feel sure he has met with disaster. Regan makes it clear that she lusts after Edmund, but she is also consumed with jealousy in case he chooses Goneril. Edmund reassures Regan that he has not sought or enjoyed any favors from Goneril.
Goneril and Albany enter with their army.
Goneril makes an aside that she would rather lose the battle than have Regan
Albany makes it clear that he will only fight against the French invaders
and not any British subjects or King Lear.
Edmund and Albany have a counsel of war before the battle.
Regan and Goneril keep a close eye on one another.
Edgar enters, still disguised, and gives Albany a letter that he had removed
from Oswald’s body. This letter contains orders from Goneril to Edmund to kill her husband Albany. Edgar leaves, and Edmund re-enters with the news that the opposing army approaches.
The scene ends with Edmund delivering a soliloquy where he reveals his
thoughts and plans.
This scene merely provides more information concerning the triangle between
Edmund, Goneril and Regan. The two sisters’ jealousy heightens and their competition over Edmund intensifies.
Edgar provides Albany with the evidence of Goneril’s plot to kill him in
order that she may be totally free to form an alliance with Edmund. The sisters’ behavior in this scene is quite pathetic and their behavior is further ridiculed when we hear Edmund’s soliloquy. We read,
“To both these sisters have I sworn my love;
Each jealous of the other, as the stung
Are of the adder. Which of them shall I take?
Both? One? Or neither? Neither can be enjoy’d,
If both remain alive. To take the widow
Exasperates, makes mad her sister Goneril;
And hardly shall I carry out my side,
Her husband being alive. Now then, we’ll use
His countenance for the battle; which being done,
Let her who would be rid of him devise
His speedy taking off. As for the mercy
Which he intends to Lear and Cordelia
The battle done, and they within our power,
Shall never see his pardon; for my state
Stands on me to defend, not to debate.”
Amidst all this turmoil, Edmund remains cool, calm and calculating. He
debates with himself which sister to have, if any.
His attitude is almost cavalier. He talks of the sisters as if they were livestock and he is the farmer at an auction, where in fact he is talking about two Princesses of the Kingdom. He is not the least bit intimidated by them. Perhaps that is why they are attracted to him, but we read above that he recognizes exactly what they are – two jealous, poisonous snakes, but he is not daunted by them.
Shakespeare has created a different type of villain.
He is not like Iago, who quests power over Othello so as to unravel him. He is not like Richard III who lusts for power. He is a manipulator and relishes the fact that he is a bastard. He regards himself as a representative of his kind and he wishes to reverse the conventions so that his race can have power and rule. It is almost an unholy quest that he is championing. In the end, he will let certain events run their course. He will use Albany in the forthcoming battle. He will be a figurehead and rallying point of his own troops, but once victory has been won, he will stand back and let Goneril kill her husband. He certainly does not wish Albany to exercise clemency over Lear and Cordelia, who will be disposed on when captured. What is certainly clear is that Edmund appears to have no feelings for anyone, in particular Regan and Goneril, so whether he ends up with both, one or neither, is really immaterial to him.