King Lear : Act 1, Scene 2

           Enter Bastard [EDMUND, with a letter].

nature —In Edmund's mind, nature is the great foe of all conventional morality.
  1   Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
  2   My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand ... custom i.e., put up with the sick injustice customarily heaped on bastards
curiosity of nations i.e., biases of society
For that because | moonshines i.e., months
Lag of behind (in years); i.e., younger
well compact well put together
true correctly proportioned
honest madam's issue chaste matron's child

lusty stealth of nature stealthy enjoyment of natural sexual appetite composition strength of constitution fierce quality natural vigor
fops shallow fools
Got begotten
  3   Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
  4   The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
  5   For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
  6   Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
  7   When my dimensions are as well compact,
  8   My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
  9   As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
 10   With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
 11   Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
 12   More composition and fierce quality
 13   Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
 14   Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
 15   Got 'tween asleep and wake? Well, then,
 16   Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
 17   Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
 18   As to the legitimate: fine word,—legitimate!
speed succeed
 19   Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
invention thrive scheme goes well
 20   And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
top screw over; triumph over
 21   Shall top th' legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
 22   Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

           Enter GLOUCESTER.

choler anger | parted departed
 23   Kent banish'd thus! and France in choler parted!
subscrib'd limited
 24   And the king gone tonight! subscrib'd his pow'r!
exhibition an allowance of money
 25   Confined to exhibition! All this done
 26   Upon the gad! Edmund, how now! what news?

 27   So please your lordship, none.

           [Putting up the letter.]

 28   Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?

 29   I know no news, my lord.

 30   What paper were you reading?

 31   Nothing, my lord.

terrible terrified —Of course Edmund is only pretending that he is terrified that his father will see the letter.
 32   No? What needed, then, that terrible dispatch of
 33   it into your pocket? the quality of nothing hath
 34   not such need to hide itself. Let's see: come,
 35   if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.

 36   I beseech you, sir, pardon me: it is a letter
 37   from my brother, that I have not all o'er-read;
 38   and for so much as I have perused, I find it not
o'er-looking looking over
 39   fit for your o'er-looking.

 40   Give me the letter, sir.

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

 43   Let's see, let's see.

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

      GLOUCESTER  [Reads]
 46      "This policy and reverence of age makes the world
best of our times best part of our lives
 47      bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes
 48      from us till our oldness cannot relish them. I begin
idle and fond useless and foolish
 49      to find an idle and fond bondage in the oppression
sways exercises power
 50      of aged tyranny; who sways, not as it hath power,
suffer'd allowed; put up with
 51      but as it is suffer'd. Come to me, that of this I may
 52      speak more. If our father would sleep till I waked
 53      him, you should enjoy half his revenue for ever,
 54      and live the beloved of your brother,  —EDGAR."
 55   Hum—conspiracy!—"Sleep till I waked him,—you
 56   should enjoy half his revenue,"—My son Edgar! Had
 57   he a hand to write this? a heart and brain to breed
 58   it in?—When came this to you? who brought it?

 59   It was not brought me, my lord; there's the cunning
 60   of it; I found it thrown in at the casement of my
closet private room, such as a study or sewing room
 61   closet.

character handwriting
 62   You know the character to be your brother's?

 63   If the matter were good, my lord, I durst swear
 64   it were his; but, in respect of that, I would
fain gladly
 65   fain think it were not.

 66   It is his.

 67   It is his hand, my lord; but I hope his heart is
 68   not in the contents.

 69   Hath he never heretofore sounded you in this
 70   business?

 71   Never, my lord: but I have heard him oft
perfect age full maturity
 72   maintain it to be fit, that, sons at perfect age,
declin'd declined, having become feeble
 73   and fathers declin'd, the father should be as
 74   ward to the son, and the son manage his revenue.

 75   O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter!
Abhorred abhorrent | detested detestable | sirrah — This is a familiar form of address used by parents to children or by masters to servants. It can be insulting, but in this case, it's not meant to be.
 76   Abhorred villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish
 77   villain! worse than brutish! Go, sirrah, seek him;
 78   I'll apprehend him: abominable villain! Where is he?

 79   I do not well know, my lord. If it shall please you
 80   to suspend your indignation against my brother
 81   till you can derive from him better testimony of
certain reliable, safe | where whereas
 82   his intent, you should run a certain course; where,
 83   if you violently proceed against him, mistaking his
 84   purpose, it would make a great gap in your own
 85   honour, and shake in pieces the heart of his
 86   obedience. I dare pawn down my life for him, that
feel test, sound out
 87   he hath wrote this to feel my affection to your
pretense of danger dangerous intention
 88   honour, and to no further pretense of danger.

 89   Think you so?

meet fitting
 90   If your honour judge it meet, I will place you
by an auricular assurance have your satisfaction i.e., by hearing for yourself, have your suspicions confirmed or disproven
 91   where you shall hear us confer of this, and by an
 92   auricular assurance have your satisfaction; and
 93   that without any further delay than this very evening.

 94   He cannot be such a monster—

 95   Nor is not, sure.

 96   To his father, that so tenderly and entirely
 97   loves him. Heaven and earth! Edmund, seek him
wind me into him worm your way into his confidence in order to serve my purposes | I would unstate myself, to be in a due resolution I would give up all I am (my position and dignity) to have my uncertainty resolved
presently at once | convey manage
 98   out: wind me into him, I pray you: frame the
 99   business after your own wisdom. I would unstate
100   myself, to be in a due resolution.

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

late recent
103   These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no
though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus though science can explain it [an eclipse] thus and thus
sequent following
mutinies insurrections, riots
104   good to us: though the wisdom of nature can reason
105   it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by
106   the sequent effects: love cools, friendship falls off,
107   brothers divide: in cities, mutinies; in countries,
108   discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked
This villain of mine i.e., Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son | comes under the prediction i.e., conforms to the evil portents of the "late eclipses" | falls from the bias of nature i.e., acts contrary to his natural tendencies | We have seen the best of our time i.e., the best of our time is past, and it's all downhill from here
109   'twixt son and father. This villain of mine comes
110   under the prediction; there's son against father: the
111   king falls from bias of nature; there's father against
112   child. We have seen the best of our time. Machinations,
113   hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders,
114   follow us disquietly to our graves. Find out this
115   villain, Edmund; it shall lose thee nothing; do it
116   carefully. And the noble and true-hearted Kent
117   banished! his offence, honesty! 'Tis strange.


foppery foolishness
118   This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when
often the surfeits of our own behaviour i.e., often the results of our own excesses
119   we are sick in fortune,—often the surfeits of our own
120   behaviour,—we make guilty of our disasters the sun,
121   the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by
122   necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves,
123   thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance;
spherical predominance ascendancy of one of the planets

124   drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced
125   obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are
126   evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an admirable
127   evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
goatish lecherous

128   disposition to the charge of a star! My father
129   compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail;
130   and my nativity was under Ursa Major; so that it
Fut tut —It's an exclamation of contempt, disdain, impatience, etc.
131   follows, I am rough and lecherous. Fut, I should have
132   been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the
133   firmament twinkled on my bastardizing. Edgar—

           Enter EDGAR.
And ... old comedy i.e., and on cue he comes, like the neat final wrap-up of a tried-and-true comedy
134   And pat he comes like the catastrophe of the old
135   comedy: my cue is villainous melancholy, with a
136   sigh like Tom o' Bedlam.  —O, these eclipses do
137   portend these divisions! [Humming.] fa, sol, la, mi.

138   How now, brother Edmund! what serious
139   contemplation are you in?

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

142   Do you busy yourself about that?

succeed follow
143   I promise you, the effects he writes of succeed
unnaturalness disaffection
144   unhappily; as of unnaturalness between the child
dearth famine
145   and the parent; death, dearth, dissolutions of
ancient amities long-standing friendships and alliances | needless diffidences groundless suspicions | dissipation of cohorts dissolution of troops; i.e., large-scale desertion | nuptial breaches broken engagements
146   ancient amities; divisions in state, menaces and
147   maledictions against king and nobles; needless
148   diffidences, banishment of friends, dissipation
149   of cohorts, nuptial breaches, and I know not what.

sectary astronomical devotee of astrology
150   How long have you been a sectary astronomical?

151   Come, come; when saw you my father last?

152   Why, the night gone by.

153   Spake you with him?

154   Ay, two hours together.

155   Parted you in good terms? Found you no
countenance facial expression, demeanor
156   displeasure in him by word or countenance?

157   None at all.

158   Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended
159   him: and at my entreaty forbear his presence
qualified moderated
160   till some little time hath qualified the heat of
which ... allay. i.e., [his anger] is right now so hot that even serious injury to your body would hardly cool it down
161   his displeasure; which at this instant so rageth
162   in him, that with the mischief of your person it
163   would scarcely allay.

done me wrong i.e., told a malicious lie about me
164   Some villain hath done me wrong.

have a continent forbearance i.e., keep control of yourself, and don't lash out against him
165   That's my fear. I pray you, have a continent
166   forbearance till the speed of his rage goes
167   slower; and, as I say, retire with me to my
fitly at just the right moment
168   lodging, from whence I will fitly bring you to
my lord i.e., Gloucester, father of both Edmund and Edgar | stir abroad venture out of doors
169   hear my lord speak. Pray ye, go; there's my key.
170   If you do stir abroad, go armed.

171   Armed, brother?

I am ... towards you i.e., I wouldn't be telling the truth if I told you that our father (Gloucester) had any good intentions toward you | image and horror horrible actuality | pray you, away i.e., please, leave now
172   Brother, I advise you to the best; go armed: I
173   am no honest man if there be any good meaning
174   towards you: I have told you what I have seen
175   and heard; but faintly, nothing like the image
176   and horror of it: pray you, away.

anon very soon
177   Shall I hear from you anon?

I ... business. everything I'm doing in this affair is for your benefit. —Edgar has just asked if Edmund will get back to him very soon. This reply by Edmund is an emphatic "yes."
178   I do serve you in this business.

           Exit [EDGAR].

179   A credulous father! and a brother noble,
180   Whose nature is so far from doing harms,
181   That he suspects none: on whose foolish honesty
practises plots | I see the business i.e., I know what's going on and how it's going to turn out Let ... wit i.e., let me, if I can't inherit land [because I'm a bastard], get land by my cunning All ... fit everything is suitable to me that I can turn to my own purposes
182   My practises ride easy! I see the business.
183   Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit:
184   All with me's meet that I can fashion fit.