Role and function the Gloucester subplot in King Lear
In King Lear we discover the presence of two parallel plots:
The simplification of the sub-plot can be seen first of all in its method of defining character. The behaviour of Edmund, the bastard, for example, is more comprehensible than that of Lear’s bad daughters. The contrast is between Edmund’s conventionally explicable villainy and the seemingly incomprehensible evil Goneril and Regan. The two daughters, who have been given “All”, must remain the subject of unanswered question about what in nature breeds such “hard-hearts”. Elizabethans believed that illegitimacy of birth was itself a cause evil. Lear attempts to explain his daughters’ nature on the grounds of their bastardy, which like Edmund signifies a lack of kinship with Lear’s goodness that is reflected also in Cordelia. Thus
“The stars above us, govern our conditions;
Else oneself mate and make could not beget,
Such different issues.” (Act IV, sc. iii)
Again the sub-plot often provides emblem or pictures with clearly stated meanings. The appearance of Edgar on the heath as a poor and naked Bedlam beggar supplies the physical actuality of poverty and nakedness that preoccupy Lear, stripped off his retinue and position:
“Is man no more than this?
Consider him well.”
In Lear’s remarks such as this Edgar is projected as a subject for meditation and consequently of his own poverty.
“Now a little fire in a wild field were like an old lecher’s heart.”
The association of fire to heart’s lechery is, in fact, emblematic and points to the root of moral chaos not only in
Lear’s mad visions differ substantively and in a contrasted form from Edgar’s ‘lunacy’ in the sub-plot, as well as from
“Thou shalt not die: die for adultery! No.
The wren goes to’t, and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight.” (Act IV, sc. vi)
“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods,
They kill us for their sport.” (Act IV, sc i)
offers another kind of contrast with Lear’s mad language.
The thematic function of the sub-plot becomes most explicit perhaps in the scene in which we witness
“Thy life’s a miracle.” (Act IV, sc. vi)
At the end of the play we see how Edgar, who exhorted his blind father to look after his fall is unable to change anything in case of a king. Lear’s sufferings outweigh any optimistic or encouraging words, whether Edgar’s or