He is active in opposing evil; a skillful resister of evil; works for the vindication of truth. His faith lives through the disaster and trial. It is a flame which buoys up his father.
He is the good part of Gloucester as Edmund is the bad. He rivals Shakespeare's dynamic villains by assuming a dangerous and colorful role. He disguises himself by taking off clothes and exposing himself to the elements. He seems to anticipate the storm as Lear seems to conjure it up. His Poor Tom role is grotesquerie. It intensifies the comic pathos. Bedlam beggars were released madmen; teeth chattering, flesh lacerated by self-torture, they besought alms with prayers or curses. Edgar not only dresses the part, he fills it with charms, exorcisms, brilliant bits of histrionic improvisation. He works up the names of the devil: Tulegod, Flibbertigibbet, Fraterreto (diabolical brother). He has to be haunted by the foul fiend in many shapes (naturalistically he is chasing vermin on his body). He carries the horn which the bedlam beggars used to pass for alms.
When Lear has exposed himself to harsh necessity, Edgar appears the personification of poverty and misery. Edgar is called "unnatural villain" but he stands closer to Nature than the others. Lear hails him as "philosopher."
Play is prehistoric Britain, but Edgar is the "natural" Christian: faith, humility, charity. He is passive at first, suffers, then acts. It is his suffering that prepares him for action. He is the right instrument for conveying a sense of fellow feeling to Lear in the hovel, to Gloucester on the cliff. He runs through a repertory of roles: Tom of Bedlam, peasant, gentleman, shining champion, King.
He is a good man with a flaw: too gullible, fails to verify what he is told. In his physical withdrawal he conceded the world to the enemy. His learning process changes him from a passive accepter to a man of action. His assumed madness takes the form of religious mania. His dress accurately mirrors every change from innocence in flight to competence in affairs. He represents the singleness of the essential nature of man at every level. The "Seed of Natural Honesty" quickens in the beggar and transforms him into a king. The kingly nature is inherent in the staff of valiant humanity rather than in the title handed down.
He is a human bankrupt, haunted by the fields of the past, of meaningless lusts, cast out from society, shut off from the spirit.