Edmund is the younger and illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester. He resents being treated differently to his older, legitimate half-brother Edgar and secretly plots against both his father and his brother in order to gain their lands and title. He impresses the Duke of Cornwall when he shows his father up as a traitor for secretly receiving letters about the French invasion. Cornwall rewards Edmund by making him Duke of Gloucester in place of his father. Edmund swears his love to both Goneril and Regan and, when Cornwall dies, Regan puts him in charge of her troops and intends to marry him. After the battle against the French, because of all his betrayals, Edmund is challenged to a duel by Edgar, who kills him.
Facts we learn about Edmund:
- Edmund’s mother was not Gloucester’s wife.
- Edmund resents the fact that as ‘a bastard’, he will not inherit his father’s lands.
- He has been away from the court for nine years and is due to go away again soon.
- Edmund seems to have a good relationship with his brother at the start of the play.
- Both Goneril and Regan are attracted to him.
Things they say:
‘My father compounded with my mother under the dragon’s tail and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. I should have been that I am had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.’ (Edmund, 1:1)
Edmund does not believe in the superstitions of astrology that say he should be a certain way because of the position of the stars when he was born.
‘This seems a fair deserving and must draw me / That which my father loses: no less than all. / The younger rises when the old doth fall.’ (Edmund, 3:3)
Edmund seems to believe that when the old behave foolishly, the young should take their place. He suggests his father deserves to be betrayed and that he deserves to take all his father’s wealth.
‘Yet Edmund was beloved: / The one the other poisoned for my sake / And after slew herself.’ (Edmund, 5:3)
Edmund feels that Goneril and Regan’s fatal jealousy proves they did love him. This might suggest it is the first time he has felt loved.
Things others say about them:
’I have so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to’t.’ (Gloucester, 1:1)
Gloucester talks openly with Kent about Edmund’s illegitimacy, suggesting that Edmund may often have heard people talk about him in this way.
‘Maugre thy strength, place, youth and eminence, / Despise thy victor sword and fire-new fortune, / Thy valour and thy heart, thou art a traitor: / False to thy gods, thy brother and thy father, / Conspirant gainst this high illustrious prince’ (Edgar, 5:3)
Edmund has achieved what he set out to achieve, taking his father’s place and achieving victory in the battle, but he has betrayed his religion, his family, and his country in the process.