Fiction > Harvard Classics > William Shakespeare > King Lear
William Shakespeare (1564–1616).  The Tragedy of King Lear.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act I
Scene II
[The Earl of Gloucester’s castle]
Enter Bastard [EDMUND with a letter]

  Edm.  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 1 of nations to deprive me,        4
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of 2 a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, 3 and my shape as true,        8
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 4 and fierce quality        12
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got ’tween asleep and wake? Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.        16
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        20
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

  Glou.  Kent banish’d thus! and France in choler parted!
And the King gone to-night! subscrib’d 5 his power!        24
Confin’d to exhibition! 6 All this done
Upon the gad! 7 Edmund, how now! what news?
  Edm.  So please your lordship, none.  [Putting up the letter.]
  Glou.  Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?        28
  Edm.  I know no news, my lord.
  Glou.  What paper were you reading?
  Edm.  Nothing, my lord.
  Glou.  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.        32
  Edm.  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’er-looking.
  Glou.  Give me the letter, sir.
  Edm.  I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.
  Glou.  Let’s see, let’s see.        36
  Edm.  I hope, for my brother’s justification, he wrote this but as an essay 8 or taste of my virtue.
  Glou. (Reads.)  “This policy and reverence of age makes the world 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 wak’d him, you should enjoy half his revenue for ever, and live the beloved of your brother,

Hum—conspiracy!—“Sleep till I wake him, you should enjoy half his revenue!”—My son Edgar! Had he a hand to write this? a heart and brain to breed it in?—When came this to you? Who brought it?
  Edm.  It was not brought me, my lord; there’s the cunning of it. I found it thrown in at the casement of my closet.
  Glou.  You know the character to be your brother’s?        40
  Edm.  If the matter were good, my lord, I durst swear it were his; but, in respect of that, I would fain think it were not.
  Glou.  It is his.
  Edm.  It is his hand, my lord; but I hope his heart is not in the contents.
  Glou.  Has he never before sounded you in this business?        44
  Edm.  Never, my lord; but I have heard him oft maintain it to be fit that, sons at perfect age, and fathers declin’d, the father should be as ward to the son, and the son manage his revenue.
  Glou.  O villain! His very opinion in the letter! Abhorred villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish villain! worse than brutish! Go, sirrah, seek him; I’ll apprehend him. Abominable villain! Where is he?
  Edm.  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; 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.
  Glou.  Think you so?        48
  Edm.  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.
  Glou.  He cannot be such a monster—
  [Edm.  Nor is not, sure.
  Glou.  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 9 myself, to be in a due resolution. 10        52
  Edm.  I will seek him, sir, presently; 11 convey the business as I shall find means, and acquaint you withal.
  Glou.  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 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 of nature; 12 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 offence, honesty! ’Tis strange.  Exit.
  Edm.  This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune,—often the surfeits 13 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, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, 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 whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star! My father 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—

and pat he comes like the catastrophe of the old comedy. My cue is villanous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o’ Bedlam 14—O, these eclipses do portend these divisions! fa, sol, la, mi.
  Edg.  How now, brother Edmund! what serious contemplation are you in?
  Edm.  I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read this other day, what should follow these eclipses.
  Edg.  Do you busy yourself with that?
  Edm.  I promise you, the effects he writes of succeed unhappily; [as 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, 15 banishment of friends, dissipation of cohorts, nuptial breaches and I know not what.        60
  Edg.  How long have you been a sectary astronomical? 16
  Edm.  Come, come;] when saw you my father last?
  Edg.  [Why,] the night gone by.
  Edm.  Spake you with him?        64
  Edg.  Ay, two hours together.
  Edm.  Parted you in good terms? Found you no displeasure in him by word not countenance?
  Edg.  None at all.
  Edm.  Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended him; and at my entreaty forbear his presence until some little time hath 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.        68
  Edg.  Some villain hath done me wrong.
  Edm.  That’s my fear. I pray you, have a continent 17 forbearance till 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.
  Edg.  Arm’d, brother!
  Edm.  Brother, I advise you to the best; go armed; 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.        72
  Edg.  Shall I hear from you anon?
  Edm.  I do serve you in this business.  Exit EDGAR.
A credulous father, and a brother noble,
Whose nature is so far from doing harms        76
That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty
My practices 18 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.        80
Note 1. Fastidiousness. [back]
Note 2. Younger than. [back]
Note 3. A richer blending. [back]
Note 4. A richer blending. [back]
Note 5. Having signed away. [back]
Note 6. Spur of the moment. [back]
Note 7. Spur of the moment. [back]
Note 8. Trial. [back]
Note 9. Give up my rank. [back]
Note 10. Free from doubt. [back]
Note 11. At once. [back]
Note 12. Natural inclination. [back]
Note 13. Bad effects. [back]
Note 14. A crazy beggar. [back]
Note 15. Suspicions. [back]
Note 16. A believer in astrology. [back]
Note 17. Restrained. [back]
Note 18. Plots. [back]


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