Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard III and Edmund from King Lear shows a remarkable similarity between the two. In the former play, Richard is obsessed with the thought of ascending the throne one way or another. He plans everything accordingly and conspires against his family members. Richard becomes infamous for having his nephews murdered as no one knows where they went. His murder spree continues till he finally gets crowned. However, there is a twist of fate the moment of he becomes King of England. His nobleman, Lord Stanley, refuses to carry out his orders for which he gets banished. Later in the play, Lord Stanley turns against Richard and helps Henry Tudor win the battle. On the battlefield of Bosworth, Lord Stanley’s refuses to assist Richard in the battle against Henry. Stanley’s refusal causes a decrease in the number of the army which leads to Richard losing the battle and ultimately dying in a duel with Henry.
In King Lear, Edmund has the same desires as Richard does as he has been an illegitimate child and he curses his fate for his circumstances. Also, the weak have been depicted in the most pitiable state while the evil ones have been set apart by their egoism, hatred and greed. Edmund plots to get his brother, Edgar out of the picture and therefore forges a letter that he sends to his father Gloucester and lets him know that Edgar plots to kill him. His anger at being called a bastard can be seen from the following lines,
“Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th’ legitimate. I grow, I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” (Shakespeare, 1936)
Edmund is convinced on taking what belongs to Edgar because he feels that the label of bastard means nothing. Saddened by the news, Gloucester starts a manhunt to find Edgar. However, Edgar disguises himself as a poor old man to hide from his father and his men. Edmund gets what he wants and moves onto his next plan which is to make both Regan and Goneril fall in love with him completely. He readily works for both of them to get on their good side while the two sister’s plot to kill one another so that one of them can marry Edmund.
Both Richard and Edmund are similar in that they both have corrupt nature which makes them hunt down anyone who stands between them and their goal. His wickedness can be seen from the following lines,
“Simple, plain Clarence, I do love thee so
That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven,
If heaven will take the present at our hands.” (Shakespeare, 1936)
His cynicism is visible from the way he jokes about killing Clarence. Richard kills without mercy even if it is his nephews. In the same way, Edmund also conspires against his brother to get rid of him and receive all his property. The characteristics that Shakespeare utilized to show both Richard and Edmund as villainous is not only their physical features but their mental capabilities. In the play, Richard has been referred to as
“Lump of foul deformity.”
‘elvish-marked, abortive rooting hog’ (Shakespeare, 1936).
These remarks while highlighting Richard’s outward appearance also hint at his wickedness. Similarly, Edmund’s villainous characteristics are exhibited through the way he tries to appear charming to the women in the play to get his hands on their estate. In literature, evil characters are depicted as attractive, they dress well and are good at everything they say. If a comparison is to be done between who is the most significant villain, then Richard wins the title as he does not for one moment think about the people he is having killed while Edmund only conspires against his brother to get his estate. The killing streak isn’t as active in Edmund as it is in Richard.
It becomes evident from the discussion done above that Shakespeare used particular attributes to depict evil characters. Their behaviour and manner of speaking set them apart from other characters. Both Richard and Edmund are evil. However, the central aspect that sets the two apart is Richard’s psychopathic mindset that makes him kill everyone. He gets everything he sets his eyes on, and he plans everything strategically. All of this, he does for the sake of a crown which he loses soon enough as he is killed in the War of the Roses.
Shakespeare, W. (1936). Richard III (Vol. 3). Macmillan.