King Lear: Conspiracy in Nakedness and Dress


Nakedness and dress in Shakespeare's King Lear, represented the status of a
character. Many scenes use clothing to show one characters dominance over
another. The more opulent the clothing, the higher the status, or the lack of
clothing, the lower the status. A few characters go through many wardrobes.
Lear and Edgar, both start the beginning of the play wearing expensive,
luxurious clothing, but each at different times wear less glorious clothing or
even no clothing at all.

Lear who is the most powerful and authoritive character in the beginning of
the play, is also the best outfitted. Lear during the play, soils his clothing
in storms, heaths, battles, and other harsh elements. At the same time that his
garments are lessening in value, so is his level of power and status. Lear
finds the bottom of the abyss he enters when he, a fool, a beggar, and a madman
have taken shelter in a hut from a storm. For Lear to be in the company such as
this, his status is near nothing. In order to show this degeneration from high
to low, Lear strips off all his clothing, showing he is now at the very bottom
of the social order. To have some clothes is to be someone, to have none is to
be nobody.

Edgar, legitimate son to the Earl of Gloucester, is well dressed, not as
much as Lear, but still above commoners. Edgar is believed to be plotting to
annihilate his own father. So every one is after someone named "Edgar", who is
a well dressed noble. In order to protect himself, Edgar becomes no one. He
becomes nobody by shedding his noble garments, and disguises himself by, "My
face I'll grime with filth,/ Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots,/ And
with presented nakedness outface..." Now Edgar is nobody, and there is nobody
looking for nobody.

Edgar, wanting revenge on his bother, must take the status of somebody, so
he becomes a lunatic. Still needing protection, but also needing to be somebody,
Edgar chooses a person near nobody. The person he chooses is given in the line,
" Poor Turlygod! poor Tom!/ That's something yet! Edgar I nothing am." Edgar
becomes Tom of Bedlam, an insane lunatic. Now that Edgar is somebody, he can
once again mingle with the other characters in the play. His first meeting with
another character as Tom, is Lear, who is reaching madness himself. By both
Lear and Edgar being naked at the same time allows Edgar to comfort the
maddening Lear. The next entrance of Edgar is with his father, Gloucester, who
gives him better clothes to wear. Here is where Edgar changes clothes and
becomes of higher status, he is now a beggar. The last rise in status for Edgar
is his answer to the herald's call for someone to challenge Edmund. Here Edgar
enters dressed and in armor, only those of semi-important status have armor.
Edgar knows that with his clothing come his noble rights for when asked who he
is, he answers, "Yet am I noble as the adversary..." Claiming that he is of the
same noble status as Edmund.

Nakedness and dress in Shakespeare's King Lear, represents the social
status of a character. Numerous scenes use the apparel of the characters to
claim dominance over another. The more luxurious the clothing, the higher one
is in the social status. Two characters change both clothing and status
simultaneously. Lear and Edgar, both start the beginning of the play wearing
very elegant clothing, but each at different times wear disgracing clothing or
even no clothing at all. King Lear demonstrates the theme, "clothes make the
man."

Category: English