King Lear

by: William Shakespeare

Gloucester

Gloucester’s story runs parallel to Lear’s. Like Lear, Gloucester is introduced as a father who does not understand his children. He jokes about Edmund and calls him a “whoreson” (I.i.) when Edmund is standing right next to him. In his first soliloquy Edmund reveals how much he resents the way his father treats him. While the audience understands that Gloucester shouldn’t trust Edmund, Gloucester himself is blind to his son’s true motivations. Just as Lear falls for Goneril and Regan’s flattery, Gloucester falls for Edmund’s deception. Lear banishes Cordelia, the daughter who loves him, and Gloucester tries to execute Edgar, the son who loves him. Both Lear and Gloucester end up homeless, wandering on the beach near Dover. The close similarity between Gloucester’s story and Lear’s serves to underline that Lear’s fate is not exceptional. In the bleak universe of King Lear, it’s normal for old men to suffer at the hands of their own children and to end up with nothing.

The justness or unjustness of Gloucester’s fate remains unclear. Edmund, who deliberately sets out to destroy Gloucester, claims that he is acting in the name of natural justice: “Thou, Nature, art my goddess. To thy law / My services are bound” (I.ii.). Before he blinds Gloucester, Cornwall admits that it is unjust to harm him without a proper trial. Edgar argues that Gloucester deserves to lose his eyes for fathering an illegitimate son. Gloucester himself comes to believe that the world is unjust and cruel: “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods / They kill us for their sport” (IV.i.). Gloucester’s blinding is one of the most violent and shocking scenes in any of Shakespeare’s plays, but the fact that no two characters can agree if or why Gloucester deserves blinding suggests that the act is not only unjust, but random and meaningless.