Shakespeare has written dozens of plays and in each one he has included some of the most complex characters ever put on stage. Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth are just a few examples of these great characters that will always remain in our memories. However, standing beside the complex main characters in plays such as King Lear and Hamlet, there are secondary characters of equal, if not greater complexity. In King Lear, secondary characters such as Edmund, Edgar, and Cordelia are directly responsible many of the extreme changes that occur during the play and it is their complexity as human characters that allows them to do this.
The many antagonists that have appeared in Shakespeares plays have always been fairly rounded and complex. However, Edmund is one of the most complex villains in any of Shakespeares plays. For one thing, Edmund chose to become a villain because the world sees him as being worthless, not only because he is not in line for the title of Earl of Gloucester, but also because he is a bastard. Most villains in Shakespeares plays are villains from the beginning to the end. Edmund sees himself as an equal to his brother Edgar and wishes that his father also understand this.
By plotting against the livelihood against his own father and brother, Edgar not only wishes to gain the wealth and title that come with the Earl of Gloucester, but he also seeks respect. Shakespeare has given Edmund a method behind his madness. As the play progresses, Edmund sees the kingdom collapsing and instead of helping to put in back together, as Cordelia, Edgar, and Kent are doing, he tries to consolidate power into his own hands. After Cornwall dies, he takes command of the armies and defeats the French invading army. He has illicit affairs with Regan and Goneril, who are married.
The result of these affairs causes the two sisters to become overwhelming jealous, and in the end, we find out that Regan poisoned Goneril in order to have Edmund to herself. If Edmund had not been killed in the end, he would have taken power and ruled the kingdom. However, Edgar does kill him after realizing that it was he who caused the death of his father. We see the greatest complexity in Edgar before he dies before when he proclaims The wheel comes full circle; L am here. Edmund shows us that he understands that he is back in his place as a disrespected bastard with his brother over him.
The two main protagonists in King Lear are Cordelia and Edgar. These two characters are almost as complex as Edmund, with their goodness as the only anchor to further complexity. Both characters attempt to save the kingdom in their own ways: Cordelia, by invading with a French army to crush the power of her sisters, and Edgar by seeking to overturn the power of the current rulers from the inside.
Both characters begin as nave, even ignorant. Cordelia does not realize how serious Lear is being when he asks What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? d because of this, she is banished. Shakespeare presents Edgar as a nave scholar who falls completely for Edmunds lies in making him believe that he has somehow offended his father. However, both characters change by the end of the play. Cordelia boldly invades her homeland with foreign troops to save her father and friends. She becomes an ideological knight in shining armor. Unfortunately, she fails, probably because she went about trying save the kingdom in the wrong way. An Elizabethan audience would probably have taken offense to a French army conquering any kingdom, imaginary or real.
However, Edgar does succeed, and becomes Earl of Gloucester as a man, instead of a clueless scholar. The experience he has gained from the recent conflict provides a further complexity into his character that goes beyond the play and into the audiences imagination. We can only imagine the benefits the new kingdom will gain with Edgar as a major proponent of it. The complexity of Shakespeares characters, especially in King Lear, can easily pass for real people whose experiences have been captured and processed into a play.