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King Lear - A commentary on Edmund's soliloquy in Act I Scene ii.

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Introduction

A commentary on Edmund's soliloquy in Act I Scene ii. David Newsome 18/09/03 The second scene of the opening act of 'King Lear' starts with Edmund on stage alone. He goes on to deliver a speech in which he tells the audience that he is a bastard, that he has a brother and that he has an aim to gain his brother Edgar's inheritance. This is the sub-plot to the main play, which runs along similar lines to it. This is shown by the fact that this soliloquy outlines Edmunds grievances at being a bastard and his plan to "top the legitimate". The way that Edmund says "I must have your land" suggests this is going to be a story that has the theme of inheritance and the rights of it at its core. This is a theme echoed from the main plot, as in the scene just before this speech we have witnessed Cordelia being disinherited by Lear for a very rash reason, namely that she didn't over emphasise her love for him in the same manner that her sisters did in his little 'love test'. Before this speech Edmund has been portrayed as a polite young man who was taking abuse from his father Gloucester, in a somewhat feeble manner. ...read more.

Middle

We are told what he wants to do later on in the speech where he talks about taking his brothers lands. The "plague of custom" to which he refers to is that way that in Shakespeare's time the bastard son is not entitled to his fathers inheritance, or at least his share of it. This is curious, as Edmund is the younger son, who wouldn't have had inheritance rights anyhow. This reference as well as "deprive me" shows very strongly how Shakespeare wants to get across Edmunds grievances and he outlines very plainly what they are. The way that this speech is not written with a rhyme scheme suggests it is more contributory to the plot, and is more important for what it is saying than how it is said. Edmund then goes on to play on the word bastard, and other words for it as well as its literal meaning and his feelings about how it shouldn't have a bearing upon ones rights. Edmund also emphasises how he was only a few months short of perhaps being legitimate - "some twelve or fourteen moonshines/Lag of a brother?" He then goes on to talk the audience through the injustice of him being a bastard. ...read more.

Conclusion

"As to the legitimate. Fine word, 'legitimate!'/Well, my legitimate..." it seems to strike him, as it is at the "legitimate" that his plan is aimed. We learn that this plan is to do with the letter with which Edmund came on stage, "if this letter speed/And my invention thrive, Edmund the base/Shall top the legitimate." This tells us that Edmunds plan to gain Edgar's inheritance is to do with some sort of deception that revolves around this letter, which is exactly what happens. In this soliloquy we are shown another side of Edmunds character, he is not the timid child in scene I, but an intelligent person who is plotting to overthrow all that has oppressed him. We sympathise with him even though he is planning evil things, because we see how he is treated and hear how his life has been difficult all as a result of him being a bastard, which is not his fault, and this plan is seen almost as a predictable backlash as a result of oppression. This is a theory supported by R.A. Foakes. We are told about contemporary beliefs regarding bastards, and their rights. However most importantly we are told of the plans of Edmund, and an idea of how this sub-plot is going to progress, and how it might relate to the main story of Lear. ...read more.

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