King Lear Quotes

Thou, Nature, art my goddess. To thy law
My services are bound. 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," "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!

– William Shakespeare

King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2. In this soliloquy Edmund says that the only laws he shows loyalty to are the laws of nature, exposing him as a moral nihilist and one of the play’s evil villains. The proud and resentful Edmund laments his "base" status as the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester. He questions the injustice of customs that deprive bastards like him of the birthright given to legitimate sons like his half-brother Edgar. Edmund, who does not feel bound by legal rules, shows his determination to set things right regarding this. Scheming for power, he plots to take Edgar’s legitimate inheritance of "land" – the Gloucester property and position. The letter referred to in his "bastard" speech is one Edmund forged implicating Edgar in a plot against Gloucester and which Edmund is about to present to father to trick him.