Fools of Fortune

For the number of times the characters acknowledge and lament Fortune and her power, they sure spend a lot of time trying to circumvent her justice.  Challenging Fortune is like challenging nature; foolish, futile, and inevitably resulting in destruction. 

In our study of previous plays, we discussed how younger brothers and daughters got the short end of the stick when it came to inheritance.  If you weren’t lucky enough to be the oldest son, you probably weren’t very lucky at all.  The opening of King Lear presented the audience with the false hope that the daughters would be lucky enough to inherit their father’s fortune, and would each be able prosper in their own right.  However, instead of accepting what Lear allotted to them as their fair share, Regan and Goneril become greedy and selfish, attempting to deceive one another. At the start of the play, these two sisters were willing to declare their love for their father in order to receive their rightful inheritance; towards the end of the play, they were pitted against one another in their fight over Edmund, and both end up dead. I believe this was Fortune’s way of executing the justice they were not willing to accept from their father, and punishment for their cruel treatment of Gloucester.

Similarly, Edmund attempts to circumvent the laws of inheritance by tricking Gloucester into thinking ill of Edgar. He wouldn’t have necessarily been somehow granted inheritance had he acted nobly, but it might have saved him from an untimely death.Edmund expresses regret after Edgar says, “The dark and vicious place where thee he got/ Cost him his eyes,” (5.3.171-72).  Edmund replies, “Thou hast spoken right, ’tis true; The wheel is come full circle! I am here,” (5.3.173-174).  When characters think themselves to be powerful enough to take the law into their own hands, to outwit Fortune, that is when they are struck down. A human’s belief in invincibility and their desire to seek more than they’ve earned often results in their own downfall.

 

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2 thoughts on “Fools of Fortune

  1. elisebrucche

    Colleen, I love your point about Fortune acting as a source of justice within the play. In my post last week, I thought of Fortune as an ambivalent force that needed to be endured rather than endorsed by moral characters like Edgar or Kent. However, as you astutely point out, Fortune can also be interpreted as the force that brings everything back into balance. Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and, to a lesser extent, Gloucester and Lear are all punished for their hubristic belief that they can make their own luck. This reading also suggests very different ideas about human fate and/or existence. If Fortune is an ambivalent force, then humans must endure existence, making of it what they can. The choice of being good or bad is an independent one. However, if Fortune is an officer of justice, then there is some hope that a good person will be rewarded simply for being good. In this case, the choice between good or bad gets a little added incentive.

    Reply
  2. VincentFinoWriting

    Colleen,
    I found your post very insightful, specifically the fortune vs justice aspect of the play. I like Elise’s comment, also, especially the part about Fortune being an “ambivalent force.” In Shakespeare’s plays, Fortune does not seem like it can be controlled, and when characters try to be an active agent in procuring Fortune, they’re often left dead, like Goneril/Regan and Edmund. Is being the younger sibling the fatal flaw of Shakespeare’s characters? I think your post could back up that assertion.

    Reply

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