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The Tragedy of King Lear

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Act I, Scene 2

The Earl of Gloucester’s Castle.


Enter [Edmund the] Bastard solus, [with a letter].

  • Edmund. Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law
    My services are bound. Wherefore should I 335
    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, 340
    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 345
    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 350
    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! 355

Enter Gloucester.

  • Earl of Gloucester. Kent banish'd thus? and France in choler parted?
    And the King gone to-night? subscrib'd his pow'r?
    Confin'd to exhibition? All this done
    Upon the gad? Edmund, how now? What news? 360
  • Edmund. So please your lordship, none.

[Puts up the letter.]

  • Edmund. I know no news, my lord.
  • Earl of Gloucester. No? What needed then that terrible dispatch of it into your
    pocket? The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide
    itself. Let's see. Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need
    spectacles. 370
  • Edmund. I beseech you, sir, pardon me. It is a letter from my brother
    that I have not all o'er-read; and for so much as I have
    perus'd, I find it not fit for your o'erlooking.
  • Edmund. I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as 375
    in part I understand them, are to blame.
  • Edmund. I hope, for my brother's justification, he wrote this but as
    an essay or taste of my virtue.
  • Earl of Gloucester. [reads] 'This policy and reverence of age makes the world 380
    bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes from us
    till our oldness cannot relish them. I begin to find an idle
    and fond bondage in the oppression of aged tyranny, who sways,
    not as it hath power, but as it is suffer'd. Come to me, that
    of this I may speak more. If our father would sleep till I 385
    wak'd him, you should enjoy half his revenue for ever, and live
    the beloved of your brother,
    Hum! Conspiracy? 'Sleep till I wak'd him, you should enjoy half
    his revenue.' My son Edgar! Had he a hand to write this? a heart 390
    and brain to breed it in? When came this to you? Who brought it?
  • Edmund. It was not brought me, my lord: there's the cunning of it. I
    found it thrown in at the casement of my closet.
  • Edmund. If the matter were good, my lord, I durst swear it were his; 395
    but in respect of that, I would fain think it were not.
  • Edmund. It is his hand, my lord; but I hope his heart is not in the
  • Edmund. Never, my lord. But I have heard him oft maintain it to be fit
    that, sons at perfect age, and fathers declining, the father
    should be as ward to the son, and the son manage his revenue.
  • Earl of Gloucester. O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter! Abhorred
    villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish villain! worse than 405
    brutish! Go, sirrah, seek him. I'll apprehend him. Abominable
    villain! Where is he?
  • Edmund. I do not well know, my lord. If it shall please you to suspend
    your indignation against my brother till you can derive from him
    better testimony of his intent, you should run a certain course; 410
    where, if you violently proceed against him, mistaking his
    purpose, it would make a great gap in your own honour and shake
    in pieces the heart of his obedience. I dare pawn down my life
    for him that he hath writ this to feel my affection to your
    honour, and to no other pretence of danger. 415
  • Edmund. If your honour judge it meet, I will place you where you shall
    hear us confer of this and by an auricular assurance have your
    satisfaction, and that without any further delay than this very
    evening. 420
  • Earl of Gloucester. To his father, that so tenderly and entirely loves him.
    Heaven and earth! Edmund, seek him out; wind me into him, I pray
    you; frame the business after your own wisdom. I would unstate 425
    myself to be in a due resolution.
  • Edmund. I will seek him, sir, presently; convey the business as I
    shall find means, and acquaint you withal.
  • Earl of Gloucester. These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to
    us. Though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet 430
    nature finds itself scourg'd by the sequent effects. Love cools,
    friendship falls off, brothers divide. In cities, mutinies; in
    countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond crack'd
    'twixt son and father. This villain of mine comes under the
    prediction; there's son against father: the King falls from bias 435
    of nature; there's father against child. We have seen the best
    of our time. Machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all
    ruinous disorders follow us disquietly to our graves. Find out
    this villain, Edmund; it shall lose thee nothing; do it
    carefully. And the noble and true-hearted Kent banish'd! his 440
    offence, honesty! 'Tis strange. Exit.
  • Edmund. This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are
    sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make
    guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if
    we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; 445
    knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance;
    drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of
    planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine
    thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay
    his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father 450
    compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail, and my
    nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and
    lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am, had the
    maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.
    Edgar- 455
    [Enter Edgar.]
    and pat! he comes, like the catastrophe of the old comedy. My
    cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o' Bedlam.
    O, these eclipses do portend these divisions! Fa, sol, la, mi.
  • Edgar. How now, brother Edmund? What serious contemplation are you 460
  • Edmund. I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read this other day,
    what should follow these eclipses.
  • Edgar. Do you busy yourself with that?
  • Edmund. I promise you, the effects he writes of succeed unhappily: as 465
    of unnaturalness between the child and the parent; death,
    dearth, dissolutions of ancient amities; divisions in state,
    menaces and maledictions against king and nobles; needless
    diffidences, banishment of friends, dissipation of cohorts,
    nuptial breaches, and I know not what. 470
  • Edgar. How long have you been a sectary astronomical?
  • Edmund. Come, come! When saw you my father last?
  • Edgar. The night gone by.
  • Edgar. Ay, two hours together. 475
  • Edmund. Parted you in good terms? Found you no displeasure in him by
    word or countenance
  • Edmund. Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended him; and at my
    entreaty forbear his presence until some little time hath 480
    qualified the heat of his displeasure, which at this instant so
    rageth in him that with the mischief of your person it would
    scarcely allay.
  • Edgar. Some villain hath done me wrong.
  • Edmund. That's my fear. I pray you have a continent forbearance till 485
    the speed of his rage goes slower; and, as I say, retire with me
    to my lodging, from whence I will fitly bring you to hear my
    lord speak. Pray ye, go! There's my key. If you do stir abroad,
    go arm'd.
  • Edgar. Arm'd, brother? 490
  • Edmund. Brother, I advise you to the best. Go arm'd. I am no honest man
    if there be any good meaning toward you. I have told you what I
    have seen and heard; but faintly, nothing like the image and
    horror of it. Pray you, away!
  • Edgar. Shall I hear from you anon? 495
  • Edmund. I do serve you in this business.
    [Exit Edgar.]
    A credulous father! and a brother noble,
    Whose nature is so far from doing harms
    That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty 500
    My practices ride easy! I see the business.
    Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit;
    All with me's meet that I can fashion fit. Exit.