William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” has within it many Machiavellian theories. This is evident once we examine the characters of Edmund, Goneril, and Regan. The Machiavellian principles relating to politics, ethics, and virtue are exemplified throughout “King Lear” play by these three characters. Machiavellian politics deal with acquiring power and forming very strong governments. For Machiavelli, power meant politics. Ethics can be best described as a branch of knowledge concerned with moral principles. The Theme of morality and ethics keeps evolving throughout “King Lear” and is demonstrated by these three characters. Virtue is the final principle highlighted by this Shakespeare play. By examining each of the three characters in more depth, we can better understand how Machiavellian theories apply to the play “King Lear”
Edmund is the most Machiavellian character in “King Lear” for many reasons. Edmund was born as illegitimated son of Gloucester. He had elder brother named Edgar who was legitimated son of Gloucester and beloved suitable heir. Edmund shows his avarice, greed, and envy towards Edger. Edmund states soliloquy “Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law, … now, gods, stand up for bastards.”(I, ii, 1-22) This shows that he blame the nature that he never meant to born as an illegitimated, such as bastard son. He also decides that as concern everything think as a bastard, he will act as a bastard, the way of being Machiavellian as manipulating and taking advantage of others. Especially from the part of soliloquy, “legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.” (I, ii, 16) He is showing his jealousy towards Edgar, and all that he has. Back in Shakespeare’s time, land ownership was a form of wealth. Wealth equaled political power. Acquiring political power is a Machiavellian trait.
Edmund also criticized his father for being too superstitious and gullible in nature. He ridiculed his father, Gloucester for his beliefs and he thought he was morally superior to him. Edmund exploited his father’s good nature by enraging with Edgar’s false letter against his father. In a deceptive manner, Edmund, quite simply acted phony to Edgar. He tries to cover Edger, however deceiving both ends of his mouth between Gloucester and Edgar. Edmund acted in a two faced manner and this is true to the Machiavellian way of doing things.
There is one more example of Edmund’s Machiavellian behavior. In Act III, we are exposed to Edmund’s treacherous tendency against his own father. Edmund states, “The younger rise when the old doth fall”(III, iii, 26) it is clear that Edmund wished to take over and assume power over his father’s domain. Edmund is seeking power that Macchivelli often wrote about. The greed in acquiring power is all right if the end justifies the means. In Act V, Edger, Edmund’s brother, also a victim of Edmund’s Machiavellian tendencies revenge on Edmund and murdered him.
Along with Edmund, Goneril is also another character in the play, which exemplifies immoral and unvirtuous behavior. Goneril used flattery to get on the good side of her father. “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter, … Beyond all manner of so much I love you.”(I, i, 57-64) She wanted to inherit her father’s kingdom. Goneril had an ulterior motive for acting this way to achieve any greedy goal. After she took advantage of her old father, she kicked her father out from her castle. This shows how she unvirtuous Machiavellian treatment to her father.
There is the second example of Goneril’s deceiving ways. Goneril cheated on her husband Albany. This is undoubtedly Machiavellian trait. Albany even detected Goneril’s conniving deceptive behavior. He states ” You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face.”(IV, ii, 30-31) Furthermore for Goneril’s love of Edmund, she poisoned her own sister, Regan to eliminate from him. At the end of the play, these Machiavellian traits and characteristics brought her to this point of self-destruction and suicide.
Regan is the next character who also showed Machiavellian behavior in her personality. She flattered her father just like Goneril did. “I am made of that self mettle as my sisters, … In your Highness love”(I, i, 71-79) She had an ulterior motive to in praising and flattering her father. Like her deceptive sister Goneril, Regan wanted the wealth and kingdom. It was more than she deserved. Regan cooperated thoroughly with Goneril to mistreat her father with disrespect. Regan defends her sister’s poor treatment of her father to her father and informs her father that he is old and should be rule by others. She mentioned to him that return to Goneril and beg her Forgiveness. “O, sir, you are old, … Say you have wronged her.”(II, iv, 145-151) This behavior is Machiavellian in nature, because it is immoral and unvirtuous. Regan also cheated on her husband, Cornwall. She loved Edmund as her sister Goneril did. She informed her sister that she would merry Edmund as soon as her husband died, however Regan was poisoned by Goneril. This shows that how the last become to the Machiavellian who looks for their own profit, and their Machiavellian personalities bring themselves into their own grave.
It is clearly evident that the Machiavellian themes are prevalent by the words and actions of Edmund, Goneril, and Regan. The theory of acquiring power, ethics, morality, and virtue that Macchiavelli wrote about is a common theme in William Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. The three characters previously mentioned are all looking out for their own self-interest. They will do anything to achieve their greedy and selfish goals. Perhaps it is truly ironic that the play does not have happy ending. Much can be learned by examining Machiavellian principals and theories as they pertain to “King Lear”.