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Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.


King Lear : Act 1, Scene 2



           Enter Bastard [EDMUND, with a letter].

      EDMUND
  1   Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
1. nature — In Edmund's mind, nature is the great foe of all conventional morality.

  2   My services are bound. Wherefore should I
  3   Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
3. Stand . . . custom i.e., put up with the sick injustice customarily heaped on bastards.

  4   The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
4. curiosity of nations: the random biases of society.

  5   For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
5. For that: because.  moonshines: i.e., months.

  6   Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
6. Lag of: younger than.

  7   When my dimensions are as well compact,
7. well compact: well put together.

  8   My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
8. true: correctly proportioned.

  9   As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
9. honest madam's issue: chaste matron's child.

 10   With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
 11   Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
11. lusty stealth of nature: i.e.,secret enjoyment of natural sexual appetite.

 12   More composition and fierce quality
12. composition: strength of constitution.  fierce quality: natural vigor. 12. fops: shallow fools.

 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,
15. Got: begotten.

 16   Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
 17   Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
17-18. Our . . . legitimate: i.e., Our father loves the bastard Edmund as well as he loves the legitimate Edward.

 18   As to the legitimate: fine word,—legitimate!
 19   Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
19. speed: succeed.

 20   And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
20. invention thrive: scheme goes well.

 21   Shall top th' legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
21. top: screw over; triumph over.

 22   Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

           Enter GLOUCESTER.

      GLOUCESTER
 23   Kent banish'd thus! and France in choler parted!
23. choler: anger.  parted: departed.

 24   And the king gone tonight! subscrib'd his pow'r!
24. subscrib'd his pow'r!: the number of his troops reduced!

 25   Confined to exhibition! All this done
25. Confined to exhibition: [he] has been put on an allowance

 26   Upon the gad! Edmund, how now! what news?
26. upon the gad: gadding about, upon the spur of the moment.  >>>


      EDMUND
 27   So please your lordship, none.

Philip Winchester as Edmund
Philip Winchester as Edmund
2008 TV Movie
           [He hides the letter in his pocket,
           but in an obvious way.]

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

      EDMUND
 29   I know no news, my lord.

      GLOUCESTER
 30   What paper were you reading?

      EDMUND
 31   Nothing, my lord.

      GLOUCESTER
 32   No? What needed, then, that terrible dispatch of
32. terrible dispatch: terrified putting away

 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.

      EDMUND
 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
 39   fit for your o'er-looking.
39. o'er-looking: seeing, reading.


      GLOUCESTER
 40   Give me the letter, sir.

      EDMUND
 41   I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The
41. I . . . it: i.e., Either keeping the letter from you or showing it to you will be an offense.

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


      GLOUCESTER
 43   Let's see, let's see.

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


      GLOUCESTER:  [Reads]
 46      "This policy and reverence of age makes the world
46. This . . . age: the craftiness of old men and the habit of treating them with reverence.

 47      bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes
47. best of our times: best part of our lives.

 48      from us till our oldness cannot relish them. I begin
 49      to find an idle and fond bondage in the oppression
49. idle and fond: useless and foolish.

 50      of aged tyranny; who sways, not as it hath power,
50. who . . . suffer'd: which rules not because of its own power but because we put up with it.

 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,
53. enjoy half his revenue for ever: — This is an offer of a bribe. Ordinarily, a bastard son would have no inheritance at all unless his father made a special provision for him in his will.

 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?


      EDMUND
 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
 61   closet.
61. closet: private room, such as a study or sewing room.


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


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


      GLOUCESTER
 66   It is his.

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

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

      EDMUND
 71   Never, my lord: but I have heard him oft
 72   maintain it to be fit, that, sons at perfect age,
72. perfect age: full maturity.

 73   and fathers declin'd, the father should be as
73. declin'd: declined, having become feeble.

 74   ward to the son, and the son manage his revenue.

      GLOUCESTER
 75   O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter!
 76   Abhorred villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish
76. Abhorred: abhorrent.   detested: detestable.

 77   villain! worse than brutish! Go, sirrah, seek him;
77. 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.

 78   I'll apprehend him: abominable villain! Where is he?

      EDMUND
 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
 82   his intent, you should run a certain course; where,
82. certain: reliable, safe.  where: i.e., on the other hand.

 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
 87   he hath wrote this to feel my affection to your
87. feel: test, sound out.

 88   honour, and to no further pretense of danger.
88. and to no further pretense of danger: and for no other reason, and for no dangerous intention.


      GLOUCESTER
 89   Think you so?

      EDMUND
 90   If your honour judge it meet, I will place you
90. meet: fitting.

 91   where you shall hear us confer of this, and by an
 92   auricular assurance have your satisfaction; and
92. by an auricular assurance have your satisfaction: i.e., by hearing for yourself, have your suspicions confirmed or disproved.

 93   that without any further delay than this very evening.

      GLOUCESTER
 94   He cannot be such a monster—

      EDMUND
 95   Nor is not, sure.

      GLOUCESTER
 96   To his father, that so tenderly and entirely
 97   loves him. Heaven and earth! Edmund, seek him
 98   out: wind me into him, I pray you: frame the
98. wind me into him: worm your way into his confidence in order to serve my purposes.

 99   business after your own wisdom. I would unstate
100   myself, to be in a due resolution.
99-100. 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.


      EDMUND
101   I will seek him, sir, presently: convey the business
101. presently: at once.  convey: manage.

102   as I shall find means and acquaint you withal.

      GLOUCESTER
103   These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no
104   good to us: though the wisdom of nature can reason
104-106. though . . . effects: i.e., though science can explain the causes of eclipses, they are still portents, and nature is punished by the terrible things that happen after an eclipse.

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,
107. mutinies: insurrections, riots.

108   discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked
109   'twixt son and father. This villain of mine comes
109. villain of mine: i.e., Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son.

110   under the prediction; there's son against father: the
109-110. comes . . . prediction: i.e., shows the truth of the evil portents of the "late eclipses."

111   king falls from bias of nature; there's father against
111.falls . . . nature: i.e., acts contrary to his nature.

112   child. We have seen the best of our time. Machinations,
113   hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders,
112. We have seen the best of our time: i.e., the best of our time is past, and it's all downhill from here.

114   follow us disquietly to our graves. Find out this
115   villain, Edmund; it shall lose thee nothing; do it
114-115. Find . . . nothing: i.e., find out the truth about Edgar; I won't blame you for anything you discover.

116   carefully. And the noble and true-hearted Kent
117   banished! his offence, honesty! 'Tis strange.

           Exit.

      EDMUND
118   This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when
118. foppery: foolishness.

119   we are sick in fortune,—often the surfeits of our own
120   behaviour,—we make guilty of our disasters the sun,
120. often the surfeits of our own behaviour: i.e., often the results of our own excesses.

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;
123. spherical predominance: ascendancy of one of the planets, each of which was thought to be fixed in a revolving sphere.

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
127. goatish: lecherous.

128   disposition to the charge of a star! My father
129   compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail;
129. compounded with: had sex with.  >>>

130   and my nativity was under Ursa Major; so that it
130. nativity: birthday.  >>>

131   follows, I am rough and lecherous. Fut, I should have
131. Fut: tut —an exclamation of contempt, disdain, impatience, etc.

132   been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the
133   firmament twinkled on my bastardizing. Edgar—

           Enter EDGAR.

134   And pat he comes like the catastrophe of the old
135   comedy: my cue is villainous melancholy, with a
135. And . . . old comedy: i.e., and on cue he comes, like the neat final wrap-up of a tried-and-true comedy.

136   sigh like Tom o' Bedlam.  —O, these eclipses do
136. Tom O'Bedlam: according to Wikipedia, "The terms 'Tom o' Bedlam' and 'Bedlam begger' were used in Early Modern Britain and later to describe beggars and vagrants who had or feigned mental illness . . . .They claimed, or were assumed, to have been former inmates at the Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam)."
Tom O'Bedlam
137   portend these divisions! [Humming.] fa, sol, la, mi.

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

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

      EDGAR
142   Do you busy yourself about that?

      EDMUND
143   I promise you, the effects he writes of succeed
143. succeed: follow.

144   unhappily; as of unnaturalness between the child
144. unnaturalness: the end of natural love.

145   and the parent; death, dearth, dissolutions of
145. dearth: famine.

146   ancient amities; divisions in state, menaces and
146. ancient amities: long-standing friendships and alliances.

147   maledictions against king and nobles; needless
148   diffidences, banishment of friends, dissipation
148. needless diffidences: groundless suspicions.

149   of cohorts, nuptial breaches, and I know not what.
148-149. dissipation of cohorts: i.e., dissolution of armed forces by large-scale desertion.  nuptial breaches: broken engagements.


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


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

      EDGAR
152   Why, the night gone by.

      EDMUND
153   Spake you with him?

      EDGAR
154   Ay, two hours together.

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


      EDGAR
157   None at all.

      EDMUND
158   Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended
159   him: and at my entreaty forbear his presence
159. at my entreaty forbear his presence: i.e., I'm asking you to please stay out of his sight.

160   till some little time hath qualified the heat of
160. qualified: moderated.

161   his displeasure; which at this instant so rageth
162   in him, that with the mischief of your person it
163   would scarcely allay.
161-163. which . . . allay: i.e., [his anger] is right now so hot that even serious injury to your body would hardly cool it down.


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


      EDMUND
165   That's my fear. I pray you, have a continent
166   forbearance till the speed of his rage goes
165-166. have a continent forbearance: i.e., keep control of yourself, and don't lash out against him.

167   slower; and, as I say, retire with me to my
168   lodging, from whence I will fitly bring you to
168. fitly: at just the right moment.

169   hear my lord speak. Pray ye, go; there's my key.
169. my lord: i.e., Gloucester, father of both of them.

170   If you do stir abroad, go armed.
170. stir abroad: venture out of doors.

Edgar


      EDGAR
171   Armed, brother?

      EDMUND
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
172-174. I . . . you: I wouldn't be an honest man if I told you that our father had any good intentions towards you.

175   and heard; but faintly, nothing like the image
176   and horror of it: pray you, away.
175-176. image and horror: horrible actuality.  pray you, away: i.e., please leave [right now].


      EDGAR
177   Shall I hear from you anon?
177. anon: very soon.


      EDMUND
178   I do serve you in this business.
178. I . . . business.: everything I'm doing in this affair is for your benefit.


           Exit [EDGAR].

179   A credulous father! and a brother noble,
179. credulous: gullible.

180   Whose nature is so far from doing harms,
181   That he suspects none: on whose foolish honesty
182   My practises ride easy! I see the business.
182. practises: plots.  I see the business: i.e., I know what's going on and how it's going to turn out.

183   Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit:
183. Let . . . wit: i.e., let me, if I can't inherit land by birth, get land by my cunning.

184   All with me's meet that I can fashion fit.

184. All . . . fit: everything is suitable to me that I can turn to my own purposes.


           Exit.