King Lear

by William Shakespeare

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ACT I - Scene II.

The Earl of Gloucester's Castle.

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

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!

Enter 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?

So please your lordship, none.

[Puts up the letter.]

Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?

I know no news, my lord.

What paper were you reading?

Nothing, my lord.

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

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.

Give me the letter, sir.

I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as
in part I understand them, are to blame.

Let's see, let's see!

I hope, for my brother's justification, he wrote this but as
an essay or taste of my virtue.

(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 wak'd 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?

It was not brought me, my lord: there's the cunning of it. I
found it thrown in at the casement of my closet.

You know the character to be your brother's?

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.

It is his.

It is his hand, my lord; but I hope his heart is not in the

Hath he never before sounded you in this business?

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.

O villain, 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?

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.

Think you so?

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

He cannot be such a monster.

Nor is not, sure.

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
myself to be in a due resolution.

I will seek him, sir, presently; convey the business as I
shall find means, and acquaint you withal.

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; 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.


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;
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
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.

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.

How now, brother Edmund? What serious contemplation are you

I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read this other day,
what should follow these eclipses.

Do you busy yourself with that?

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, banishment of friends, dissipation of cohorts,
nuptial breaches, and I know not what.

How long have you been a sectary astronomical?

Come, come! When saw you my father last?

The night gone by.

Spake you with him?

Ay, two hours together.

Parted you in good terms? Found you no displeasure in him by
word or countenance

None at all.

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.

Some villain hath done me wrong.

That's my fear. I pray you have a continent 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.

Arm'd, brother?

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!

Shall I hear from you anon?

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
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.


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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.