King Lear

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Difficult

Edmund's Changing Language around Astrology

KINGLR-HAURFM

After Gloucester mentions “these late eclipses of the sun and moon,” citing them as the source of the recent disasters in human relations (“love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide: in cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason”), Edmund expresses his thoughts on the matter of astrology in a soliloquy before he encounters Edgar.

Over the course of this soliloquy and in the conversation that follows (1.2.442-503), Edmund’s voice, and his language around astrology, shifts.

He moves:

A

from the assertion that anyone who believes in astrology is a fool, to the possibility that – given Edgar’s recent breach with Gloucester – maybe there is something to it after all.

B

from the suspicion that he must be personally “rough and lecherous” because of the stars he was born under, to the recognition that this causal relationship must be the case for all men, and then back to considering the stars’ specific influence upon Edgar.

C

from a series of ruminations about the relationship between eclipses and catastrophe, to an attempt to persuade Edgar (although he doesn’t believe his own argument) that there is, in fact, no relationship between the two.

D

from a conviction that he would have had the same character no matter what stars he was born under, to an interrogation of whether this is also true for Edgar, to a confident warning to Edgar that the stars, in fact, portend ill for his brother, who ought to flee.

E

from a general mockery of those who cite the stars as the cause of their conduct, to the voice of someone who regards astrology as credible, back to his initial derision, and then – in conversation with Edgar – he again impersonates a believer.