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About this text

  • Title: King Lear (Modern, Quarto)
  • Editor: Michael Best
  • Textual editors: James D. Mardock, Eric Rasmussen
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-463-9

    Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: William Shakespeare
    Editor: Michael Best
    Not Peer Reviewed

    King Lear (Modern, Quarto)

    [Scene 2]
    Enter [the] Bastard alone, [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
    340Lag 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," "base bastardy,"
    345Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
    More composition and fierce quality
    Than doth within a stale, dull-eyed bed
    Go to the creating of a whole tribe of fops
    Got 'tween asleep and wake. Well, then,
    350Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
    Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
    As to the legitimate.
    Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed
    And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
    355Shall to th'legitimate. I grow, I prosper.
    Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
    Enter Gloucester.
    Kent banished thus, and France in choler parted?
    And the king gone tonight, subscribed his power,
    360Confined to exhibition? All this done
    Upon the gad?--Edmund, how now? What news?
    [Pockets the letter.] So please your lordship, none.
    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 needs 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 370nothing I shall not need spectacles.
    I beseech you, sir, pardon me. It is a letter from my brother that I have not all o'er-read. For so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for your liking.
    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 assay or taste of my virtue.
    [He gives Gloucester the] letter.
    This policy 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 385and 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,
    390Hum, conspiracy! "Slept 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?
    It was not brought me, my lord, there's the 395cunning 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 400were not.
    It is his?
    It is his hand, my lord, but I hope his heart is not in the contents.
    Hath he never heretofore sounded you in this business?
    Never, my lord, but I have often heard him maintain it to be fit that sons at perfect age, and fathers declining, his father should be as ward to the son, and the son manage the revenue.
    O villain, villain! His very opinion in the 410letter. Abhorred villain. Unnatural, detested, brutish villain, worse than brutish. Go sir, seek him. Ay, 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 415derive from him better testimony of this 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 honor and shake in pieces the heart of his obedience. I dare pawn down my life for him, 420he hath wrote this to feel my affection to your honor, and to no further pretense of danger.
    Think you so?
    If your honor judge it meet, I will place you where you shall hear us confer of this, and by an 425auricular assurance have your satisfaction--and that without any further delay than this very evening.
    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 your business after your own wisdom. I would unstate 430myself to be in a due resolution.
    I shall seek him sir, presently, convey the business as I shall see means, and acquaint you withal.
    These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us. Though the wisdom of nature can 435reason thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects. Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide. In cities mutinies, in countries discords, palaces treason; the bond cracked between son and father. Find out this villain, Edmund. It shall lose 445thee nothing. Do it carefully. And the noble and true-hearted Kent banished, his offence honesty. Strange, strange!
    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 450moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treacherers by spiritual predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in by a divine 455thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of stars. "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 460have been that I am had the maidenliest star of the firmament twinkled on my bastardy. Edgar--
    Enter Edgar.
    --and out he comes like the catastrophe of the old comedy. Mine is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like them of 465Bedlam. --Oh, these eclipses do portend these divisions.
    How now, brother Edmund. What serious contemplation are you in?
    I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read this 470other day, what should follow these eclipses.
    Do you busy yourself about that?
    I promise you the effects he writ of succeed unhappily, 473.1as 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?
    Why, 475the night gone by.
    Spake you with him?
    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 till some little time hath qualified the heat of his displeasure, which at this instant so rageth in him that with the 485mischief of your person it would scarce allay.
    Some villain hath done me wrong.
    That's my fear, 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 495you 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,
    500Whose 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.