King Lear: The Rise of Evil
King Lear, the principal character in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, is a dominating imperious king. Though he takes initiative to disinherit his youngest daughter and exile his faithful friend, there is not in him the capacity for conscious and intentioned evil that is prevalent in his two elder daughters as well as in Cornwall, Edmund and Oswald. Nevertheless, there is a force in Lear that releases a movement of destruction in which evil does rise and momentarily take hold on the course of events. When Lear decides to renounce power in favor of emotions, the vital egoism in him which thrives on power rises up and asserts itself against the movement. It is the drive for power, attention, recognition, vengeance; the habit of assertion, anger, rage; the traits of pride and vanity that take hold of him and initiate a downward movement of destruction in opposition to the upward movement of the heart. The course of events that follows is an inevitable working out of these opposing movements.
The vital egoism in Lear is a dominating force which permits the existence and expression only of itself and its own will. Whatever submits and satisfies survives, the rest must vanish unnoticed or remain unexpressed. Such an atmosphere is stifling to the natural growth of other personalities which require freedom for self-expression in order that they may outgrow what is primitive and childish in favour of what is mature and cultured. These psychological circumstances almost inevitably result in suppression and repression rather than growth. Instead of being expressed and out-grown the capacities for selfishness, cruelty and perversity in man get organised beneath the sur…
…ing. The evil in Goneril is organised in a developed mind, it is more self-conscious and more absolute. The undeveloped vibration of evil in Regan attracts a mate who can bring out its further development while the mature evil in Goneril attracts a mate to destroy it. Life supports every vibration until it reaches its full stature and then provides the necessary circumstances for its destruction or transformation.
Casebook: King Lear, Edited by Frank Kermode, Macmillan & Co., 1969
Shakespearean Tragedy, A.C. Bradley, Macmillan & Co., 1965,
Prefaces to Shakespeare Vol. II, Granville-Barker, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1963
Shakespearean Tragedy, A.C. Bradley, Macmillan & Co., 1965
Casebook: King Lear, Edited by Frank Kermode, Macmillan & Co., 1969, p. 175.
Shakespearean Tragedy, A.C. Bradley, Macmillan & Co., 1965, p. 231.