Enter EDMUND, with a letterĀ 

EDMUND

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 moon-shines

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 the 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 the legitimate: fine word,–legitimate!

Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,

And my invention thrive, Edmund the base

Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:

Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

Enter GLOUCESTER

GLOUCESTER

Kent banish’d thus! and France in choler parted!

And the king gone to-night! subscribed his power!

Confined to exhibition! All this done

Upon the gad! Edmund, how now! what news?

EDMUND

So please your lordship, none.

Putting up the letter

GLOUCESTER

Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?

EDMUND

I know no news, my lord.

GLOUCESTER

What paper were you reading?

EDMUND

Nothing, my lord.

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.

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 perused, I find it not

fit for your o’er-looking.

GLOUCESTER

Give me the letter, sir.

EDMUND

I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The

contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.

GLOUCESTER

Let’s see, let’s see.

EDMUND

I hope, for my brother’s justification, he wrote

this but as an essay or taste of my virtue.

GLOUCESTER

[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 suffered. Come to

me, that of this I may speak more. If our father

would sleep till I waked him, you should half his

revenue for ever, and live the beloved of your

brother, EDGAR.’

Hum–conspiracy!–‘Sleep till I waked 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?

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.

GLOUCESTER

You know the character to be your brother’s?

EDMUND

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.

GLOUCESTER

It is his.

EDMUND

It is his hand, my lord; but I hope his heart is

not in the contents.

GLOUCESTER

Hath he never heretofore sounded you in this business?

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.

GLOUCESTER

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?

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 shall 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 wrote this to feel my

affection to your honour, and to no further

pretence of danger.

GLOUCESTER

Think you so?

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.

GLOUCESTER

He cannot be such a monster–

EDMUND

Nor is not, sure.

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

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.

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 nature finds itself

scourged by the sequent effects: love cools,

friendship falls off, brothers divide: in

cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in

palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘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 banished! his

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 behavior,–we make guilty of our

disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as

if we were villains by necessity; fools by

heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and

treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,

liars, and adulterers, by an enforced 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 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. Tut, I should have been that I am,

had the maidenliest star in the firmament

twinkled on my bastardizing. Edgar–

Enter EDGAR

And pat he comes like the catastrophe of the old

comedy: my cue is villanous 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 in?

EDMUND

I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read

this other day, what should follow these eclipses.

EDGAR

Do you busy yourself about that?

EDMUND

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.

EDGAR

How long have you been a sectary astronomical?

EDMUND

Come, come; when saw you my father last?

EDGAR

Why, the night gone by.

EDMUND

Spake you with him?

EDGAR

Ay, two hours together.

EDMUND

Parted you in good terms? Found you no

displeasure in him by word or countenance?

EDGAR

None at all.

EDMUND

Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended

him: and at my entreaty forbear his presence

till 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.

EDGAR

Some villain hath done me wrong.

EDMUND

That’s my fear. I pray you, have a continent

forbearance till the spied 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 armed.

EDGAR

Armed, brother!

EDMUND

Brother, I advise you to the best; go armed: I

am no honest man if there be any good meaning

towards 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?

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

My practises 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