Is it necessary for more than half of the characters to die to prove that this play is a tragedy? I’m not fully convinced. At the end of the play, Edmund, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Lear, Oswald, Cornwall, and Gloucester are all dead. Albany, Kent, and Edgar are the only remaining (main) characters. I do not believe that all of the characters who were killed off really needed to die; I think that maybe if a few crucial characters had died, the dramatic effect would have been just as gripping. For instance, if I had to choose, I would say that Cordelia and Edmund would have sufficed to be the only characters killed off. In this case, Cordelia’s death would have impacted her sisters Goneril and Regan as well as her father Lear, leading them to reflect on their past actions and their treatment of Cordelia. Their sadness in the loss of Cordelia would be tragic without being overdramatic. Edmund’s death would impact Gloucester, his father, and Edgar, his half-brother, causing them to reflect on their past treatment of Edmund, having regarded him as a bastard child, not a fully-fledged brother or son. I think that there would be more power in the death of Edmund than in the death of Gloucester, however, I do see the value in having Gloucester die. The fact that Gloucester’s eyes were gauged out proved to be highly symbolic to me. In the past, Gloucester was blind to the way he treated his sons, the way he favored Edgar and regarded Edmund as illegitimate thus less important and less deserving. When Gloucester learns that “Edgar” wants to kill him, he quickly changes sides, if you will, deciding to believe Edmund in fear of his life. This change of heart seems curious to me: if Gloucester cared for Edgar and knew his normal behavior and intentions, why would he be so quick and unquestioning of the forged letter? Is this to prove the naiveté of Gloucester’s character?
Cornwall could have chosen to kill or injure Gloucester in any way, but he chooses to gauge out his eyes, thus blinding him. I think that the physical, literal sense of blinding parallels the mental nature of Gloucester—he was blind to the way he treated his sons and the way he was easily persuaded. It is only when he is blinded that Gloucester finally begins to realized his past wrongs and has a change of heart and action. Interestingly, in both the characters of Lear and Gloucester, physical and emotional weakness served to make better, more aware and caring men, (it only took utter insanity and gauged out eyes for them to realize their wrongs…). I think that if Gloucester had been left blinded and had not died, the play would have been equally effective. However, I suppose I understand why he was chosen to die—Gloucester learning from his mistakes and misfortunes and living happily ever after just would not cut it in a tragic Shakespearean play.