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King Lear-Fortune

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In life, it seems as though fortune is always changing. It is hard to keep track of who is at the top of the wheel, and once there, it is a challenge to survive. In Shakespeare's King Lear, all of the characters make their way around the wheel of fortune, with the wrong people to rising above. Evil sisters Goneril and Regan work together, planning their rise to the top only to weaken later on. Edmund uses his illegitimacy as a reason to scheme his way to the top, also resulting in his eventual demise. Gloucester and Edgar both fall for Edmund's sly plan placing them together at the bottom, and Lear has a drastic journey from peaks to valleys. In the midst of all this, the fool lurks and watches the wheel, observing the inside, while the rest of the characters are trapped on the wheel of fortune awaiting their turn. Throughout the play, unfortunate things pass over good people while good fortune falls into the hands of the undeserving; however, most character of King Lear end at the bottom of the wheel.

Although it may not last long, when fortune passes over the wrong people it can have the gravest effects. In the case of Goneril and Regan, it comes to them when their father who is the king decides to divide his kingdom between them. Once all of the power is in their hands, the sisters secretly begin planning ways to take all the remaining authority from their father. Their scheming begins with a conversation between them when Goneril says:

There is further compliment of leavetaking

between France and him. Pray you, let's hit

together: if our father carry authority with

such dispositions as he bears, this last

surrender of his will but offend us.


We shall further think on't.


We must do something, and i' the heat. ( I i 321-326)

The sisters agree that with some power still in the hands of their father, they will not reach their ultimate purpose, that of absolute power. They decide that they will have to act quickly in order to leave their father powerless, which leads to their rise on the wheel of fortune. Through a series of vicious acts towards their father, such as locking him out in a storm and stripping him of his knights, they become indestructible. Their supremacy, however, comes to an end towards the end of the play when their shared desire for Edmund causes their alliance to break. Their deaths are discovered when a gentlemen announces:

Help, help, O, help!


'Tis hot, it smokes;

It came even from the heart of--O, she's dead!


Your lady, sir, your lady: and her sister

By her is poisoned; she hath confess'd it. (V iii 252-260)

While holding a knife covered in blood, he declares that Goneril has committed suicide immediately after poisoning her sister to death. In this instant, Goneril and Regan have fallen back to the bottom of the wheel of fortune, never returning to the top again.

Edmund also has a tour around the wheel, eventually landing him at the bottom. Edmund is the bastard child of Gloucester, and he uses this as a reason to scheme against Gloucester to gain his brothers inheritance. Edmund decides early in the play that he will not accept his regrettable position on the wheel of fortune simply because of how bastard children are looked upon, not letting his brother gain all of his father's possessions purely because he is the natural son. This can be shown through Edmund's soliloquy:

Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law

My services are bound. Wherefore should I

Stand in the plague of custom, and permit

The curiosity of nations to deprive me,

For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines

Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?

When my dimensions are as well compact,

My mind as generous, and my shape as true,

As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us

With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?

Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take

More composition and fierce quality

Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,

Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,

Got 'tween asleep and wake? 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!

Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,

And my invention thrive, Edmund the base

Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:

Now, gods, stand up for bastards! (I ii 1-22)

Edmund is angered at the fact that he is considered to be less than his brother because of his illegitimacy, even though he is the smarter and superior of the two. He claims to be entitled to Edgar's land since his father loves both brothers equally. He warns his brother that he will attack, and with that said, he begins to plot and campaign against his brother to their father. With his clever plans to have his father and brother fearing each other, Edmund eventually succeeds in his plan and gains his fathers inheritance, placing him at the peak of the wheel. Edmund's plan; however, eventually fails when Gloucester and Edgar meet towards the end of the play and Edmunds secret is revealed. This is when Edmund begins to make his transition towards the bottom of the wheel. Although his father dies, Edgar still continues to fight for revenge of his brother's cruel intentions. When Edmund realizes that his brother has defeated him



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