How are Machiavellian characters portrayed differently in "King Lear" by William Shakespeare and "Lear" by Edward Bond?
‘King Lear’, a play by William Shakespeare, revolves around the protagonist King Lear; an aging monarch who has decided to retire from power and thus divide his kingdom between his three daughters. He does so by offering the largest portion to the daughter who can claim she loves him the most. His trivial intolerance of being challenged and contradicted is first brought to light when his youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to partake in his shallow contest, and he banishes her from his kingdom. This occurrence at the beginning of the play leads to a series of events which in turn lead to the dire downfalls of numerous characters. Written in 1606, this tragedy is one of Shakespeare's most eminent pieces of work. Three hundred and sixty-five years later, in 1971, a modern adaptation of King Lear was first produced, and was written by Edward Bond. Bond's ‘Lear’ was not only written as an adaptation of Shakespeare's work but as a means of making the play more politically persuasive. He strived to do this by attempting to make the audience challenge the morals of humanity. Bond is well known as a socialist playwright whose plays are not only meant to entertain but also bring about a difference in society. Despite the evident dissemblance between both plays in terms of plot, one thing they have in common is the presence of Machiavellian characters. By placing these characters within their plays, both Shakespeare and Bond are able to further emphasize the already prevalent tragedies that occur, whilst instigating a sense of villainy at the same time. This idea of Machiavellianism stems from Italian Renaissance writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who stated that people are innately vindictive, two-faced and parsimonious. He also concluded that because of these inborn qualities, those in power could only maintain their prestige through immoral and mendacious actions. Characters with such attributes are those of Edmund, Goneril and Regan in ‘King Lear’. In ‘Lear’ on the other hand, Bond portrays these traits through the characters of Bodice, Fontanelle and Cordelia. There are obvious differences between the Machiavellian characters in the two plays, for example in terms of names as well as Bond's decision to exclude a sub-plot. However there are also a range of similarities between the characters themselves, the roles they play, their Machiavellian tendencies as well as their effect on King Lear and the surrounding community as a whole. All in all by comparing and contrasting each of these characters, one is able to pinpoint and analyze their specific differences and just how great the effect of placing Machiavellian characters within ones work is regardless of the century it was written or who wrote it.
‘In King Lear, the audience is first introduced to King Lear and his three daughters Regan, Goneril and Cordelia. It becomes apparent from this point onwards that Lear's flaw is that he values appearance above reality. He wished to be treated as a king and enjoy the title, but does not wish to have to deal with the hassle of governing the country. This is mirrored in his test he gives to his daughters, where he asks “which of you shall we say doth love us most?” The way this question is phrased already demonstrates to the audience that he values a flattering public display of love over real love. Despite the fact that Cordelia is Lear's favorite daughter, the fact that she refuses to partake in his game causes him to banish her from the kingdom. Instead, he values Goneril and Regan's fake sense of fawning over Cordelia's demonstration of sincere sense of filial duty. It is from this point onwards that the audience become aware of Goneril and Regan's double standards. It is without a doubt made evident that Goneril and Regan are clever, clever enough to know that flattery will get them what they want at the beginning of the play, and initially their behaviour is considered acceptable by the audience as they are simply matching Lear's own immature actions. For example, in Act I scene iii, Goneril's complaints to her steward, Oswald, that Lear's knights are becoming “riotous” and that Lear himself is an obnoxious guest seem to be justified and the audience is able to sympathize with her. However, her Machiavellian qualities are foreshadowed by the Fool when he tells Lear that he made a great mistake in handing his kingdom over to Goneril and Regan. Eventually, Goneril tells Lear that his guards and soldiers have been acting disorderly and she has no choice but to send him away from her castle. This act of betrayal, turning her own father away from her home, is the first direct sign of Goneril's Machiavellian tendencies. In Act 2, the scene turns to Regan as Lear has no choice but to travel to her kingdom to go live with her. Regan refuses to shelter him, saying Goneril's actions are justifiable. At this point Goneril arrives at Regan's kingdom and the two sisters ally themselves against their father. Now, any sympathy the audience did possess is quickly diminished in Act II, as Goneril and Regan have turned King Lear out into the storm. In Act III, scene vii, Goneril and Regan From these initial occurrences, the audience is already made aware that Goneril and Regan are not only selfish and unkind, but also seem to personify evil. In other words, they seem to have no conscience, just greed for power and self benefit. It is this greedy ambition which enables them to crush all opposition and help them reach ultimate control and power in the play. However, it is this same greed which brings about their eventual misfortune. In terms of power, their desires may be fulfilled, but it is admitted to the audience that both women are unsatisfied with their husbands. Thus it is their sexual appetite which needs fulfilling, and both women turn to Edmund to feed it. This factor not only destroys their alliance, but eventually each other. Evil, as the play suggests, inevitably turns in on itself. In relation to Machiavelli and his beliefs, relationships can be seen in the idea that like when Machiavelli published a book against the Medici (rulers during the Italian Renaissance at the time), Regan and Goneril rebel against their father. Similarly, Machiavelli believed that conspirators could not act alone, just how Regan and Goneril choose to join forces against their father, King Lear.
‘These characters are reflected in Bond's Lear through the characters of Bodice and Fontanelle. In Lear Bond provides a picture of a family that has disintegrated. In the very first scene of the play, Bond portrays hostility between Lear and his daughters. Bodice and Fontanelle reveal to their father that they will marry his enemies, the Duke of North and the Duke of Cornwall, then tear down Lear's wall. Lear responds in kind, telling them he has always known of their maliciousness. When Lear leaves the stage, Bodice and Fontanelle reveal their plans to attack their father's army. Lear and his daughters are literally at war with one another; when presented with Lear's death warrant, Fontanelle eagerly signs it. At his trial Lear seems to reject his children altogether, saying he has no daughters. Yet in prison, Lear shows a desire for a relationship with his children. Lear asks the Ghost to bring him his daughters who, he now says, will help him. Apparitions of the daughters as young girls appear, and the audience is given the sense of happier, more peaceful times. The daughters are afraid of being in prison, but Lear comforts them. When they say they must leave, Lear begs them to stay. Lear realizes that at some point in the past his daughters were kind, lovable people. Later, when Fontanelle is killed and autopsied, the procedure reveals to Lear that his daughter is flesh and bone and not some evil beast in human guise. Lear is awed by the beauty and purity of the inside of Fontanelle's body. He sees no maliciousness, no evil, there, just base human matter. He says that if he had known how beautiful Fontanelle was, he would have loved her. “Did I make this - and destroy it?” he asks. It is only at the autopsy that Lear realizes that he is responsible for the evil in his daughters. He has shaped their personalities and behavior. They learned all of their cruelty, greed, and thirst for power from him. There is an inherent connection between the children and the parent who nurtured their development, and Lear can no longer see himself as simply the victim of his daughters' evil. Lear and his daughters are inextricably bound together. By the time Lear realizes this, however, it is too late. Both daughters are dead, and he cannot change the past. The disintegrated family cannot be rebuilt. Lear must live with his guilt. With Fontanelle's autopsy, Lear's responsibility becomes even more clear to him. When he sees the inside of her body, he says, “She was cruel and angry and hard.... Where is the beast?” He is surprised to find there is no monster inside of Fontanelle. “I am astonished,” he continues. “I have never seen anything so beautiful.” Unlike the Ghost, Fontanelle had done Lear wrong, so he could continue to see her as a monster, separate from himself, but at this point Lear understands his responsibility in forming her character. “Did I make this,” he asks, “and destroy it?” Earlier, when the Ghost had tried to take Lear away from the jail, Lear answered, “I ran away so often, but my life was ruined just the same. Now I'll stay.” Lear continues now in his desire to face reality. He says, “I must open my eyes and see.”
‘Of all of the play's villains in King Lear, Edmund is the most complex and sympathetic. He is a consummate schemer, a Machiavellian character eager to seize any opportunity and willing to do anything to achieve his goals. However, his ambition is interesting insofar as it reflects not only a thirst for land and power but also a desire for the recognition denied to him by his status as a bastard. His serial treachery is not merely self-interested; it is a conscious rebellion against the social order that has denied him the same status as Gloucester's legitimate son, Edgar. “Now, gods, stand up for bastards,” Edmund commands, but in fact he depends not on divine aid but on his own initiative (I.ii.22). He is the ultimate self-made man, and he is such a cold and capable villain that it is entertaining to watch him work, much as the audience can appreciate the clever wickedness of Iago in Othello. Only at the close of the play does Edmund show a flicker of weakness. Mortally wounded, he sees that both Goneril and Regan have died for him, and whispers, “Yet Edmund was beloved” (V.iii.238). After this ambiguous statement, he seems to repent of his villainy and admits to having ordered Cordelia's death. His peculiar change of heart, rare among Shakespearean villains, is enough to make the audience wonder, amid the carnage, whether Edmund's villainy sprang not from some innate cruelty but simply from a thwarted, misdirected desire for the familial love that he witnessed around him. Despite his complexity and being the main Machiavellian character present throughout the play of King Lear, Bond chose on the contrary to exclude a sub-plot such as the one revolving around Gloucester, Edward and Edmund as made present in King Lear by Shakespeare. This means that Bond's play solely focuses on the story of King Lear and those who betray him. However he also includes new characters such as the farmer and his wife Cordelia, who in this adaptation does not take the role of King Lear's loving daughter but of a violent tyrant who rules over society. This significant contrast between the characters, despite them possessing the same name, helps support Bond's socialist theories. Finally, the most Machiavellian of all characters is the character of Edmund. Deceitful, vain,selfish, cruel, merciful and wise, he was all so, but in disguise. Edmund did reach a high status with all these qualities, just as Machiavelli's expectations of a Prince with those traits would. Edmund deceived his brother into looking like an enemy in front of his Gloucester while he convinced Edgar that he was being pursued after for a crime that was never committed. “A credulous father and a brother noble, Whose nature is so far from doing harms that he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty my practices run easy.” He spares Edgar from harm as an act of mercy, but misuses it to gain power instead. Edmund uses his wise intellect to overtake his brother in gaining property from his father, and also attains the role Earl of Gloucester, and even goes to the extent to execute the King and the Queen of France, all so that he could obtain the power that he gained.
‘Most of the violence in Lear is directly related to the desire for power. When the first worker is shot in Act I, the audience immediately realizes a connection between Lear's power and the violence that has repeatedly been used in the formation of his regime. Supposedly horrified by Lear's violence, Bodice and Fontanelle revolt against their father, but once in power, they are every bit as violent as he. One might expect Cordelia, originally one of the oppressed masses, to also govern without violence, but, once in power, she is as ruthless as Lear and his daughters. Although the rulers change, their policies of governing through violence remain the same. The very structure of this society is violent. It is Bond's intention that the audience see the violence of Lear's society as a reflection of its own time. Through recognition of its own savagery, society may change. The blind Lear is released and meets the farmer, his wife, and their son; Lear now truly sees their suffering and longs to end it. He begins to live among the people and endangers his own life by offering sanctuary to all who need it and by speaking out against Cordelia's regime. Lear's last act is his attempt to tear down the wall, an attempt that will clearly fail, and he dies in this symbolic act. Violence and evil still reign. Yet, in Lear's transformation and virtuous final act, an example for positive change has been presented. This is presented in great contrast to the character of Cordelia in Shakespeare's King Lear, where her chief characteristics are devotion, kindness, beauty, and honesty-honesty to a fault, perhaps. She is contrasted throughout the play with Goneril and Regan, who are neither honest nor loving, and who manipulate their father for their own ends. By refusing to take part in Lear's love test at the beginning of the play, Cordelia establishes herself as a repository of virtue, and the obvious authenticity of her love for Lear makes clear the extent of the king's error in banishing her. For most of the middle section of the play, she is offstage, but as we observe the depredations of Goneril and Regan and watch Lear's descent into madness, Cordelia is never far from the audience's thoughts, and her beauty is venerably described in religious terms. Indeed, rumors of her return to Britain begin to surface almost immediately, and once she lands at Dover, the action of the play begins to move toward her, as all the characters converge on the coast. Cordelia's reunion with Lear marks the apparent restoration of order in the kingdom and the triumph of love and forgiveness over hatred and spite. This fleeting moment of familial happiness makes the devastating finale of King Lear that much more cruel, as Cordelia, the personification of kindness and virtue, becomes a literal sacrifice to the heartlessness of an apparently unjust world.
‘All in all, in the cases of both ‘King Lear’ by William Shakespeare and ‘Lear’ by Edward Bond, one is able to see just how effective the use of Machiavellian characters really is. By shaping the characters of Goneril and Regan in the main plot and the character of Edmund in the sub-plot, Shakespeare manages to keep his play balanced whilst cleverly also managing to interlink the two so that Machiavellianism becomes a recurring theme throughout the play. In the case of ‘Lear’, Bond chooses to give his Machiavellian characters a more violent demeanor, as clearly exemplified in the character of Cordelia. Bodice and Fontanelle still remain the wicked daughters of Lear, obviously mirroring the characters of Goneril and Regan as first presented by Shakespeare in ‘King Lear’. Thus it can be concluded that the greatest differences lie within each playwright's different philosophies; Shakespeare has been described as having "no opinions, no values, no philosophy, no principles of anything except dramatic structure" in contrast to Edward Bond's well known socialist theoretical beliefs. Despite their contrasting outlooks in terms of literature, both playwrights and their subsequent characters chose to adopt the philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli; “Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.”