Passage Analysis of King Lear 1.2, by V.U.

This paper will be analyzing the speech given by Edmund in King Lear 1.2.1-22. Edmundís character beat for this speech is as follows: his objective is to convince the audience to sympathize with his plight as bastard and to co ndone his plot to usurp his brother. His obstacle is the perception that bastards are inherently corrupt and undeserving of power. His action is to prove that merit should be based on intelligence, not noble birth. I will prove my hypothesis of Edmundís o bjective in this speech by first showing how the speech answers the action immediately before it, then analyzing his objective in relation to his through-line. I will prove my analysis of Edmundís obstacle in this speech by examining the actions of the sp eaker up to that point in the play, and with evidence from the structure and language of the speech itself. Finally, I will prove my hypothesis of Edmundís action in this speech by using evidence from the language and structure of the speech.

Edmundís objective in the character beat that I am analyzing is to convince the audience to sympathize with his plight and condone his plot to usurp his brother. The stage direction before Edmundís speech reads "Enter Edmund, with a letter (1.2).& quot; Edmund is explaining to the audience the reason for the letter; if "this letter speed," (1.2.19.) he will "top" (1.2.21.) Edgar and take away his inherited land and the power associated with it, allowing Edmund to "prosper ( 1.2.21.)." Rather than acting immediately in his plot, Edmund first does the action of convincing the audience to sympathize with him; he must explain the reason for the letter and for his plot. The reason Edmund must convince the audience to sympath ize with him becomes evident from considering his super- objective for the play: to defy his bastardry: to become powerful in spite of the fact that he is illegitimate. It is important for Edmund to convince the world that he is right in seeking power aga inst this "plague of custom" (1.2.3.) because he hopes to one day be in control of a significant amount of territory: Edgarís inherited "land (1.2.16)." This land increases through the course of the play, though not strictly through Ed mundís plot, but also through chance. Edmund destroys his father and takes his power out of coincidence, not through his own cunning, as well as ordering Learís death and planning to marry Goneril. None of these actions seem to be planned at the beginning of the play but Edmund actively makes them happen because of his desire, throughout the play, to get as much power as possible, as a response to his supposed in born Ė inferiority. The world must be convinced of the rightness of his actionís because that way he will be able to stay in power through the help and support of the country and important nobles, thus after each bad act which he commits, he feels the need to rationalize it. Edmundís objective in this speech is to gain the sympathy and understand ing of the audience, which is representative of the world.

Edmundís obstacle in this speech is that bastards are inferior human beings and do not deserve power. We learn of this disposition against bastards at the very beginning of the play. Edmund is introduced both to Kent and to the play world as an inf erior bastard, Gloucester says of him, in his presence, "I have often blushed to acknowledge him," (1.1.8-9) because Edgar was a result of an affair with a married woman. Thus, we know that in this world bastards are ill thought of, and it is Ed mundís response to this world, and to the words of his father that we find in the speech in 1.2.1-22. In this speech Edmund tries to render the words "base," "bastard" and "legitimate" meaningless, partly through stating how his mind and body could have come from any woman or from any act of procreation, but also through the repetition of these words. The repetition of "base," and "bastard" in lines 6 and 10 present these words as words, as opposed to the real humanity that is described in lines 7-9 and lines 11-15. From lines 16 to 21 this occurs again, but more explicitly, with the word "legitimate." Society may consider Edgar more legitimate for power, but this word and the station of Edgar w ill be nullified and destroyed through the actions of Edmund, who will make himself legitimate: if Edmund can through cunning make himself legitimate than this word is not a static quality but one which can be usurped and put on. The obstacle of legitimac y and birth is fore grounded by this repetitious language that seeks to show that these words have no meaning. Yet, these words are the immediate obstacle to Edmundís power and the audience is assumed to believe these ideas: these ideas are the obstacle t o Edmundís action in this speech.

Edmundís action in this speech is to prove that merit should be based on intelligence, not noble birth. Though this is what Edmund says later in this scene, when he says, "Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit (1.2.152)" he is not at that point attempting to prove that that is a good and honorable thing to do, which he is in our speech. He does this by making the giver of wit, that which made him who he is and able to have such an invention, a "goddess." "Natur e," for Edmund, is the being that has made certain beings better than others, who has created the world with some beings physically better or worse than others, but does not create any bonds. Nature has made Edmund as "well compact (1.2.7.)" ; and noble minded as a legitimate person, but "custom (1.2.3.)" and arbitrary decisions made by the nations have made him inferior. Nature is a goddess; custom, that which makes him a bastard, is a plague. By using what nature has given him to the best of his abilityís he is following the real "natural law." In the OED, this is sb. IV, 11. a. "The creative and regulative physical power which is conceived as operating in the material world as the immediate cause of all its phenome na:" we are speaking of the world as nature created it, and Edmund wishes to respect that power, rather than any other artificial bond. Evidence that Edmund is attempting to prove his point to the audience is in the structure of the speech. Un like the other speech in 1.2 which I have spoken of, Edmund in a dialogue with an un-answering world; lines 2 to 15 form 9 rhetorical questions which are marked by many short lines, caesura, many strong stressed syllables and the repetition of words like "why" and "wherefore" punctuating the attack. This is the structure of someone attempting to prove a point: the insistence of a line like "Why brand they us/ With base? with baseness? bastardry? base, base? (1.2.9-10.)," with all of the above attributes, could only be intended to batter itself into the brain of the audience. Edmundís action in this speech is to prove that merit should be based on the skill and wit that has been given by nature, not on the false construction o f heredity.

Edmundís objective during this speech is to convince the audience to sympathize with his plight as bastard and to condone his plot to usurp his brother. This has been proven through the use of evidence from the context of the speech and with regard to Edmundís super- objective. Edmundís obstacle is the perception that bastardís are bad and undeserving of power. I have shown this to be Edmundís obstacle in the speech by illustrating how the idea that bastardís are bad was already present in the play world, and how the language of the speech focuses on the issue of legitimacy and tries to discredit it. Edmundís action in the speech is to prove that merit should be based on intelligence, not noble birth. Edmundís action was then understood through an analysis of the meaning of the word nature and a look at the rhetorical, dialectical form of the speech. If the line of action for this play is to show love for others with no regard for personal rewards then this speech contributes in that it allows Edmu nd to be confident in his actions, knowing he is justified and could convince the world to sympathize with him. Because Edmund banishes his brother, Lear is able to learn how to show love without regard for reward, when he meets "poor Tom."