King Lear Family Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
[…] Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? why 'bastard'? Wherefore 'base,'
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous and my shape as true
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With 'base,' with 'baseness,' 'bastardy,' 'base,'
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed
Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops
Got 'tween asleep and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to th' 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! (1.2.2-23)
In this passage, Shakespeare reveals Edmund's motives for trying to destroy his father, Gloucester, and his brother, Edgar. Edmund has been mistreated and labeled a "base" "bastard" for two reasons: 1) he's an illegitimate child, the product of Gloucester's affair with an unmarried woman; 2) Edmund is not an eldest son (Edgar was born first).
In Shakespeare's day, primogeniture (the system by which eldest sons inherit all their fathers' wealth, titles, lands, power, debt, etc.) was the rule. Edmund is not only seen as a lesser being than his older half-brother, Edgar, he also stands to inherit nothing from his father. But, Edmund objects to the way society views him as insignificant and insists that he's just as noble and well-composed as his brother, Edgar. It is here that Edmund resolves to go after Edgar's "land" as he composes a scheme for revenge.
Tell me, my
[Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state—]
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. Goneril,
Our eldest born, speak first. (1.1.52-59)
Here, King Lear demands to know which one of his daughters loves him "most" before he announces the division of his kingdom. When Lear asks "which of you shall we say doth love us the most?" he's operating under the assumption that 1) love is quantifiable and 2) that language is capable of expressing his daughters' love. Yeah, both of these assumptions are dead wrong. Check out "Language and Communication" for more on this.
I love your Majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.
How, how, Cordelia? Mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.
Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me.
I return those duties back as are right fit:
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all. (1.1.105-115)
Cordelia, as we know, refuses to play King Lear's game of "who loves daddy the most." Here, she says that she loves her father "according to [her] bond," which means that she loves him just as much a daughter should love her father, "no more nor less."
It turns out that Cordelia is about to be married and insists that she reserves half her love for her future husband and half for her father. She also points out that her sisters, Goneril and Regan, dishonor their husbands when they claim to love their father more than their spouses. Is this the reason Lear flips out and banishes Cordelia, depriving her of a dowry? Is Lear jealous of Cordelia's future husband?