How we cite our quotes:
I thought the king had more affected the Duke of
Albany than Cornwall. (1.1.1)
The opening lines of Shakespeare's plays often provide clues about the play's most important pressing issues or themes. In King Lear, the play opens as Kent and Gloucester discuss which son-in-law King Lear likes best. Shakespeare might as well hold up a sign that says "This play is going to be all about the dynamics of parent-child relationships!"
Is not this your son, my lord?
His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have
so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am
brazed to it.
I cannot conceive you.
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? (1.1.2)
Hmm. Seems like Shakespeare's trying to tell us there's going to be a whole lot of family drama up in this play. According to Gloucester, his illegitimate son, Edmund, is a bit of an embarrassment – Gloucester claims he has "often blushed to acknowledge" Edmund (because the young man was conceived out of wedlock). When Kent says he doesn't understand Gloucester's meaning, Gloucester puns on the word "conceive" (to understand or to biologically conceive a child) in order to crack a dirty joke about the mother of his illegitimate son. (Edmund, by the way, is standing next to his father the entire time!) It's not so surprising, then, that Edmund turns out to have a grudge against his father.
But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year
elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account:
though this knave came something saucily into the
world before he was sent for, yet was his mother
fair; there was good sport at his making, and the
whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this
noble gentleman, Edmund? (1.1.4)
Here, Gloucester reveals that, in addition to his illegitimate son, Edmund, he also has another son "by order of law." ("By order of law" just means Gloucester's other son is legally recognized as a legitimate heir. In other words, this other son isn't a "bastard" like Edmund.)
What's interesting about this passage is that Gloucester says he doesn't favor his legitimate son over Edmund. Gloucester's legitimate son, he says, "is no dearer in [his] account." We can't help but notice that the play is full of speculation about which children are most beloved by their fathers. Recall from a previous passage (1.1.1), Kent and Gloucester wondered which son-in-law King Lear liked best. And we know that Lear favors Cordelia over Goneril and Regan.
We should also point out that the more general question of "who loves who the most" turn up again when King Lear stages a love test, demanding to know which daughter can say she loves her father more than everyone else. Seems like Shakespeare is raising the following question: Is love (especially family love) quantifiable?