His birth is shameful, it brands him; in his estimation he is consequently constrained by no bonds of nature or habit of association. He has a hard, sceptical intellect, uninspired by the heart. He easily reasons away the consciousness of his obligations. He has no dread of Nemesis; the regulating force is human will. He personifies bold egoism; inhumanity. He discovers no power higher than the will of the individual and a hard intellect.
He is a rationalist; he debunks superstition: he also throws out moral sensitivity. He is intelligent, brilliant, potentially valuable to humanity’s dealing with the universe. He destroys the sanctities; eventually falls prey to passions which the sanctities should have prohibited. He lacks the imagination to leap from the observed fact to the total significance. Because Gloucester was immoral, does that make immorality the right road for Edmund? According to his philosophy, yet.
He is the concentration of worldly sanity, pragmatic reason. He is the profit motive. He capitalizes on a state in which there is the deepest pathos: betrays Gloucester, arranges for assassination for Lear and Cordelia. He has two weaknesses: 1. Egoism. He cannot give up the role of heartbreaker so flattering to his ego. 2. A latent capacity to respond to traditional appeals. In the duel he resorts to the traditional. In the end he recants. “Wheel” is symbol of the order Edmund revolted against but which assumed authority over him. At last he repudiates his theory.
Both Edmund and Lear pray to Nature. Edmund reasons against the order of the world. Lear calls upon the powers of retribution to punish the unjust. To Edmund Nature is the undisciplined impulse which makes a man act in a given way: unsanctified sexual intercourse. Lear’s Nature conquers Edmund’s “The wheel come full circle.”
First soliloquy: appears to be seeking an intellectually tenable position; actually he is seeking justification for an emotionally determined course . His first attack upon his father’s credulity is bold and apt, masterly confounding. Once he is in the saddle he is assured, powerful, ironically patronizing. He is brilliant and conscienceless.
Bastard is “outsider.” He is outside nature, outside, society, outside reason. See “Doctrine of Nature” for gusto in portrayal of Edmund. Energy, emancipation, clearheadedness, speed, sureness of a tiger. In spite of his attractiveness he belongs in the world with Goneril and Regan. He is a Shakespearian villain and condemned with him is the corrupt society he represents. “Humanity must perforce pray on itself/ like “monsters of the deep.”