King Lear By William Shakespeare Act I: Scene 2

Scene II. A Hall in the Earl of Gloucester's Castle.

[Enter Edmund with a letter.]

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 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 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! subscrib'd his pow'r!
Confin'd 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 perus'd,
I find it not fit for your o'erlooking.

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 enjoy 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 before 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 declined, 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 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.

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.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How did the original audience respond to the ending of King Lear?




Quiz