[Enter Edmund, the Bastard.]
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,”
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!
Kent banished thus? And France in choler parted?
 And the King gone tonight, prescribed his power,
Confined to exhibition? All this done
Upon the gad?—Edmund, how now? What news?
EDMUND So please your Lordship, none. [He puts a
paper in his pocket.]
GLOUCESTER Why so earnestly seek you to put up that
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’erread; and
 for so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for
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
GLOUCESTER Let’s see, let’s see.
[Edmund gives him the paper.]
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 forever and
live the beloved of your brother. Edgar.
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 you to this? 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
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 Has he never before sounded you in this
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
 honor 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 Honor, and to
no other pretense of danger.
GLOUCESTER Think you so?
EDMUND If your Honor 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
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 offense, honesty!
’Tis strange. [He exits.]
EDMUND This is the excellent foppery of the world, that
when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeits of
our own behavior) we make guilty of our disasters
the sun, the moon, and 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 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 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 villainous 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 with 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
EDMUND Come, come, when saw you my father last?
EDGAR 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 nor countenance?
EDGAR None at all.
EDMUND 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
EDGAR Some villain hath done me wrong.
EDMUND 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 you go. There’s my key. If you do stir abroad,
EDGAR Armed, brother?
EDMUND Brother, I advise you to the best. 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
EDGAR Shall I hear from you anon?
EDMUND I do serve you in this business. [Edgar exits.]
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.