King Lear

by: William Shakespeare

Act 1, scenes 1–2

Edmund is significantly more complicated than the other major villains in the play, Regan and Goneril. He schemes against his father’s life, but not just because he wants to inherit his wealth and land; indeed, his principal motive seems to be desire for recognition and perhaps even the love denied him because of his bastard status. The first time we see Edmund, at the beginning of Act 1, scene 1, his own father is mocking him because he is illegitimate. Edmund’s treachery can be seen as a rebellion against the social hierarchy that makes him worthless in the eyes of the world. He rejects the “plague of custom” (1.2.3) that makes society disdain him and dedicates himself to “nature” (1.2.1)—that is, raw, unconstrained existence. He will not be the only character to invoke nature in the course of the play—the complicated relationships that obtain among the natural world, the gods above, and fate or justice pervade the entire play.


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