The Earl of Gloucester has two sons, Edmund and Edgar. Edmund is illegitimate and looked down upon by society, while his younger brother Edgar enjoys all the benefits of his birth. Edmund decides that he will do whatever it takes to make sure that he, and not his legitimate brother, will inherit Gloucester’s wealth, even forging a letter to convince Gloucester that Edgar is plotting to kill him. In this speech, Edmund defies his status as ‘bastard’, rejecting society’s view of him and resolving to get everything that has been denied him.
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, tirèd bed
Go to th’ creating a whole tribe of fops
Got ’tween a sleep and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the 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!