Honesty at the Mercy of Disguise. In Shakespeare's King Lear the element of disguise is literal. Through out his play Shakespeare demonstrates that disguise can be detrimental and helpful. King Lear falls for each form of disguise as it presents itself to him. Lear fails to recognize the truth, which ultimately brings upon his demise. Gloucester, Lear's parallel, also fails to notice his son in disguise, leading to his mental downfall. Gloucester's son, Edmund disguises his deceit and treacherous plans, by pawning his "legitimate [brother] Edgar," (I, II, 16), forcing him into disguise. Edgar disguises himself as a mad beggar, to protect himself from his father, who sees him as an "Abominable villain!" (I, II, 78). Edgar's disguise also is used to protect his father from committing suicide, after Lear's two evil daughters "pluck out his eyes."(III, VII, 5). Two of King Lear's three daughters use kind loving words to disguise their true devious plans and disloyalty to their father.
Kent, Lear's loyal adviser, warned him against his seemingly loving daughters. "Now, banished Kent, If [he] canst serve where [he] dost stand condemnedÃ¢ÂÂ¦[his] masterÃ¢ÂÂ¦shall find [him] full of labors." (I, IV, 4-7). Kent keeps his disguise well after it is needed, to serve Lear further, also to ensure he will not be punished by death. Without the honest men in the kingdom, all sanity among the great powers diminishes.
Kent's honesty in his contradiction to Lear's decision heavily offends Lear. Kent as a loyal and true advisor of Lear has put himself "between the Dragon and his wrath" (I, I, 124). Lear orders Kent to "[Get] Out of [his] sight!" (I, I, 159). Kent's dedication to Lear surpasses any order that has been given to him; Kent disguises himself as Caius in order to further his services to his King. The exile of the Earl of Kent was a decision made in "hideous rashness" (I, I, 153). Kent, aware of Lear's mistake, feels obliged to help the King, knowing the natural order of the kingdom is in jeopardy. Kent uses a disguise of a person of service in a low class, rather than a member of the court, as he was prior to being banished. The disguised Kent "...profess[es] to be no less than [he] seem[s]" (I, IV, 12). His service is of the kind "...which ordinary men are fit for..." (I, IV, 32). Kent serves Lear to the best of his ability in disguise and out. Kent's superlative efforts to protect Lear's life and remains of his Kingship from his evil daughters, in Lear's state of madness, illustrates ample loyalty to the King.
Edgar demonstrates ample loyalty to his father, Gloucester. After his brother, Edmund convinces their father of a "Conspiracy [that he will] 'Sleep till [Edgar] wake[s] him,'" (I, II, 55). Forcing Edgar to disguise himself, he "take[s] the basest and most poorest shape" (II, III, 7) Edgar's disguise is justified through self preservation, he would have been killed if he remained as Edgar. Through Edmund's persuasion, Gloucester is convinced that Edgar is "Worse than brutish!" (I, II, 77) and an "Abhorred villain!" (I, II, 76). Despite the endangerment of Edgar's life, he remains in the kingdom, primarily to protect his father, Gloucester, from his deceitful brother. Edgar's disguise allows him to heed his father, without the family bond. Shortly after "[Gloucester's] poor old eyes [have been] pluck[ed] out" (III, VII, 58), "Ã¢ÂÂ¦the bedlam [is] To lead him where he would." (III, VII, 104-105). After this tragic event, unable to see, Gloucester wants to commit suicide. Poor Tom lies to his father, about to the place he has brought him, in order to save his life, preventing him from committing suicide. Poor Tom, Edgar's disguise, is thought of by Lear as a "Ã¢ÂÂ¦philosopher." (III, IV, 147) Struggling as a poor beggar, in order to escape his father Tom o' Bedlam preaches "How to prevent the fiend and to kill vermin." (III, IV, 152). His survival of the fittest prophecy is his motivation to remain in disguise.
Goneril and Regan, Lear's two deceitful daughters, are motivated to disguise their betrayal with love, in order to attain a large portion of Lear's kingdom. Lear is blind to their intentions; he feels although Cordelia, his one honest daughter does not love him at all. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!" (I, IV, 285-286). Lear is sorrowfully misled by Goneril and Regan's forthcoming to profess their love for him. When in need of a place to stay, Lear believes that Goneril loves him more for although he must "Ã¢ÂÂ¦disquantity [his] train," (I, IV, 245) she allows him more knights when staying at her castle than Regan at hers. Lear continues to measure the girls' love based upon material items. Unable to see through Goneril and Regan's disguise, the fool and Kent, disguised as Caius, seek to reveal the truth to Lear. The power hungry daughters believe that "[Lear is] very old! Nature in [him] stands on the very verge of [death's] confine. [He] should be ruled, and led by some discretion that discerns [his] stateÃ¢ÂÂ¦" (II, IV, 145-148). Lear becomes cross with both daughters, once the disguise for their love begins to erode; their true colours of betrayal and their lack of love for Lear begins to show through. Lear becomes so enraged with pain, at the thought of his daughters becoming such beasts, that he screams to the skies "O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!" (I, V, 44-45), not knowing that later his anger will cause his actual insanity. Their deceit and disloyalty can only be justified from the protagonists view, their selfish desires for further power; ultimately their disguise for their love has immense negative effects upon others. Resulting in the death of their honest, loyal sister, Cordelia, and Lear, their power struggle also leaves the loyal Kent aimless.
King Lear is a play full of deception and lies, in which the honesty of people is unfortunately not rewarded deservingly. Kent disguises himself as Caius, a person of service, in order to, with the fool, reveal the true intentions of Goneril and Regan to Lear. Remaining loyal to the King, after his exile, Kent serves Lear till his death, leaving Kent devastated; "Break, heart; I prithee break!"(V, III, 313) . Edgar's loyalty to the king and to Gloucester is prominent through his disguise as Tom o' Bedlam. Edgar suffers greatly from his father's poor judgement of character, failing to see through his disguise, "Give [Edgar your] arm. Poor Tom [will] lead [Gloucester]." (IV, I, 80-80) in his hour of despair. Goneril and Regan's disguise of their deception and treachery causes Lear immense pain. Initially it is the cause of his going mad, ultimately part of their horrendous plan, it resulted in Cordelia's death. Lear's devastation with "[his] poor fool [being] hanged!" (V, I, 305) results in the King's death. Shakespeare's element of disguise illustrates that even if done as a selfless act those who are honest and not deceitful lie at the mercy of the power hungry.
Bibliography: King Lear by WIlliam Shakespeare