Cruelty and strength

Cornwall is the husband of Lear’s middle daughter, Regan. He takes a prominent part in the evil deeds which give rise to so much of the plot of King Lear:
In Act 2 he condemns Edgar to be executed on the basis of a false accusation of conspiring to murder his father Gloucester
  • By favouring the illegitimate Edmund he effectively usurps the right of Edgar’s primogeniture
  • He inflicts the humiliating punishment on Kent (Lear's loyal servant) of having to sit in the stocks
  • He supports his wife and her sister Goneril in their expulsion of the King their father. 
He is a clearly a man who inspires fear, a man of implacable anger and dangerous outbursts, so that even the Earl of Gloucester is daunted:
      You know the fiery quality of the Duke;
How unremovable and fix’d he is
In his own course.   (Act 2 Scene 4)     

The triumph of evil

Cornwall's evil contributes considerably to the atmosphere of horror which pervades this play. He plumbs the depths of cruelty when he plucks out Gloucester’s eyes, as a punishment for supposed treason, when the Earl remains loyal to the outcast former king. It seems only appropriate that a horrified servant kills Cornwall (as reported in Act 4 by a Messenger), a reminder that some sense of moral order still remains. However, although his death seems just, it does not change what has happened to Gloucester. The play makes it clear that there will never be any miraculous interventions to eradicate the effects of human criminality.
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