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What is Edgar's philosophy in Act IV of King Lear?

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scienceoly | eNoter

Posted March 6, 2013 at 3:25 AM via web

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What is Edgar's philosophy in Act IV of King Lear?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 6, 2013 at 6:52 AM (Answer #1)

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Edgar in Act IV scene 1 has suffered a tremendous reversal in fortune. He has gone from being the favoured son of a member of the English aristocracy to finding himself expelled and exiled, and forced to disguise himself as a beggar who is openly scorned and rejected by those around him. In this, his fate mirrors that of both his father and of King Lear himself, who move very swiftly in the play from high society to being scorned and derided. Yet, as he describes in Act IV scene 1, he is very happy for the change:

Yet better thus, and known to be contemned,
Than still contemned and flattered. To be worst,
The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune
Stands still in esperance, lives not in fear.
The lamentable change is from the best;
The worst returns to laughter. Welcome, then,
Thou unsubstantial air that I embrace!
The wretch that thou hast blown unto the worst
Owes nothing to thy blasts.
 
Edgar's philosophy on life is therefore summarised in this soliloquy. He is better off, he says, because at least he is openly hated or "contemned" as a beggar, which is better than being "flattered" whilst secretly hated. Even though he has sunk so slow, he still can have hope as any change can only improve his position. He is therefore free to "embrace" the gusting wind, because now that he has sunk to such a low position in society, he has nothing to fear. Edgar therefore argues that actually there is a tremendous freedom in poverty and being an outcast. Reaching such a low position in society is something that he finds very liberating, far more than the high responsible position that he occupied before.

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