King Lear as a Commentary on Greed
In Chapter 4 of a book titled Escape from Freedom, the famous American psychologist Erich Fromm wrote that "Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction" (Fromm 98). Fromm realized that avarice is one of the most powerful emotions that a person can feel, but, by its very nature, is an emotion or driving force that can never be satisfied. For, once someone obtains a certain goal, that person is not satisfied and continues to strive for more and more until that quest leads to their ultimate destruction. For this reason, authors have embraced the idea of greed in the creation of hundreds of characters in thousands of novels. Almost every author has written a work centered around a character full of avarice. Ian Fleming's Mr. Goldfinger, Charles Dickens' Scrooge, and Thomas Hardy's John D'Urberville are only a few examples of this attraction. But, perhaps one of the best examples of this is found in William Shakespeare's King Lear. Edmund, through his speech, actions, and relationships with other characters, becomes a character consumed with greed to the point that nothing else matters except for the never-ending quest for status and material possessions.
Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, embodies the idea of avarice from the very beginning of the play almost until the end. In fact, Edmund seems to become more and more greedy as the production progresses. When Edmund is first introduced in person on stage, after a short exposition of his character by Gloucester and Kent in the first scene, the audience immediately finds Edmund engaged in a plot to strip his father's inheritance from his brother so that he may have it. After writing a letter forged in his Edgar's hand to give to his father that states that Edgar wishes Gloucester would die soon so that he could inherit his estate, Edmund tells the audience of his treacherous plan in the play's first soliloquy. Edmund declares that "if this letter speed, / And my invention thrive, Edmund the base / Shall top the legitimate" (1.2.19-21). When Gloucester enters and forces Edmund to turn over the forged letter, Edmund adds fuel to the fire by saying he has often heard Edgar pondering this wish. Gloucester gullibly believes him, and Edmund's display of greed begins.
What begins as a simple plan to get all of his father's inheritance, becomes more and more complicated as Edmund becomes progressively greedier. When Edmund encounters Edgar in the first scene of Act II, Edmund makes Edgar leave and then injures himself so that he can tell his father that he was injured by his bloodthirsty brother. His blatant cunning becomes extremely obvious in a short exchange between himself and his father. Gloucester, after Edmund decided that "some blood drawn on me would beget opinion of my more fierce endeavor" (2.1.33-34), asks Edmund "But where is...