Why bastard wherefore base?” asks Edmund. The bitter illegitimate son resents his father and brother. He is determined to”prosper” and “grow.
” Ruthlessly, he plays on old Gloucester’s weakness and persuades him that Edgar seeks his death toobtain his inheritance. Edgar, being told that Gloucester seeks his life for some reason, flees. With Edgar thus removed,Edmund now seeks to destroy his father and reports his alleged “treason” to Cornwall who removes the old man’s eyes. Thebastard has travelled far and is now Earl of Gloucester.
Sought in love by both Goneril and Regan, victorious in battle overCordelia’s forces, Edmund’s future seems assured. Alas, the discovery of Goneril’s letter urging Edmund to kill her husbandAlbany leads to his arrest. Edgar in disguise fights Edmund, who is defending his honour and is mortally wounded – “thewheel has come full circle”. Gloucester, realising the wrong he has done to Edgar, yet joyful he is alive, dies. Edgar joinsAlbany in ruling the country.So skillfully has Shakespeare intertwined the two plots, beginning in Act II at Gloucester’s castle and ending in the allianceof Edgar and Albany, that is is difficult to separate them. Gloucester, like Lear, suffers from filial ingratitude.
It is in hiscastle that Lear is humiliated by his daughters and flees into the storm. Gloucester’s sympathy helps Lear to Dover to meetCordelia, yet leads to his own blindness and his going to Dover for suicide.Edgar becomes embroiled in the main plot when, disguised as a madman, he meets Lear on the heath. His destruction ofOswald, Goneril’s steward and his defeat of Edmund in the duel leading to Edmund admitting he has given secret orders forthe execution of Lear and Cordelia, together with his alliance with Albany, all relate him to the main plot.
However, it is – appropriately enough – the corrupt Edmund who becomes most entangled with the main plot. Ambitiondrives him into Cornwall’s hands, and to his double involvement with Goneril and Regan. His cruelty to his father rivals thatof the sisters as does his hate for his brother and theirs of Cordelia. Most significant of all, it is Edmund who has Cordeliakilled and who, indirectly, causes Lear’s death.
It is Edmund who causes the deaths of Goneril and Regan, and indirectly, hisown father. He is the evil link between the two plots, a prime mover in the subplot and a catalyst in the main.