I know I shouldn’t, but I really like the character of Edmund. This is obviously ridiculous since Edmund is a manipulative and somewhat evil character, but I can’t help but feel bad for him. After all, Edmund’s only offense (originally) was that he was born a bastard son to his father Sir Gloucester. In the beginning Gloucester doesn’t even want to claim his son as his own,
“His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge. I have so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to it…Sir, this young fellow’s mother could, whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?” (1.1.13).
This is made even more confusing in the next statement when Gloucester tells Kent that his legitimate son in no more dear to him than Edmund. If this is the case then why does it appear to the reader that Edmund is usually passed over and neglected? It all seems to stem from the fact that Edmund is a bastard, but why?
This is just another arbitrary rule that nobles have to follow to keep some semblance of order. Maybe I am being too sentimental but it must have been hard for Edmund to grow up being constantly looked over for his brother and for no other reason than the technicalities of his birth. This is a new level of Daddy issues and sibling rivalry.
“Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund As to the legitimate.—Fine word, “legitimate”!— Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed and my invention thrive, Edmund the base shall top th’ legitimate. I grow, I prosper. Now, gods, stand up for bastards.” (1.2.20)
I don’t think I blame Edmund for trying to gain power over his brother. Although it was an evil plot it was ingenious and proved Edmund’s intelligence. After years of this abuse maybe he was justified in wanting a chance at a better life. I would like to believe that this is Shakespeare’s noble proclamation for the commoners to question the legitimacy of the noble’s power, but I doubt it. I’m sure that Edmund’s plot will ultimately lead to his down fall but at least he is taking fate into his own hands and not accepting that he is lesser just because he was born a bastard.