Edmund is Gloucester’s illegitimate son. Though presently at court, he has been away for nine years, and his father intends him to leave again soon.
He is intelligent, highly attractive, and completely amoral, to not say a psychopath. He manages to convince everyone of his loyalty to them, beginning with his father, while in truth working for no one but himself and betraying without a wualm all who trust him when he needs to. Introduced by his father as his bastard on all occasions, and having to hear Gloucester discuss how much fun he had conceiving the lad, he does not consider his bastardy a good enough reason for him to have no land of his own and hence no money. He therefore plots to enrich himself, first by convincing Gloucester that his legitimate son Edgar is seeking his life, which allows Edmund to receive Edgar’s lands; then by betraying Gloucester to Cornwall, and thereby being named Earl of Gloucester in his father’s place; and then by marrying one of the daughters of the King, which will lead to his taking over first one half and then all the kingdom. Only this last part of the plan fails. He is a brilliant actor and an excellent fighter. When both Goneril and Regan fall for him, he has no particular opinion as to which one to go with. He commands Regan’s armies in the battle against Lear, Cornwall being dead, and orders the execution of Lear and Cordelia with Goneril’s prior agreement. He overreaches himself when he begins to act as though he is already of equal rank to Albany. He tries to brazen it out, but is faced with a mysterious opponent who beats him, and turns out to be his brother Edgar. He is willing to forgive his killer on condition that he is of noble blood, and as he lies dying some small spot of conscience awakens in him, first brought on by the story of his father’s death. When Goneril and Regan’s bodies are brought in, and he realizes that even he was loved, he decides to do one good deed in his life and spare Lear and Cordelia, but his repentance comes too late.