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King Lear

King Lear Translation Act 1, Scene 2

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Enter EDMUND the bastard, 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, tirèd bed Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops Got ’tween a sleep 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 th' legitimate. I grow, I prosper. Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

EDMUND

You, Nature, are my goddess, and I only serve the laws of nature. So why should I put up with the sick injustice of man-made social rules, which deprive me of rights just because I was born some twelve or fourteen months after my brother? Why call me a "bastard?" Why is a bastard inherently "worthless" when I'm as sound in my body and my mind as any legitimate child? Why do they call us "worthless," with "worthlessness," "bastard," "worthless," "worthless?" We bastards were at least conceived in a moment of passionate, stealthy lust, and so we have a stronger and fiercer nature than those shallow fools who were conceived in a dull, stale, tired marriage bed, where half-asleep couples churn out whole tribes of children. Well then, legitimate brother Edgar, I must have your land. Our father loves me just as much as he loves his legitimate son. What a fine word, "legitimate!" Well, my legitimate brother, if this letter succeeds and my plan goes well, Edmund the worthless will triumph over Edgar the legitimate. I will grow, I will prosper. Now, gods, stand up for the bastards!

Enter GLOUCESTER. EDMUND looks over his letter

GLOUCESTER

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?

GLOUCESTER

Has Kent really been banished like this? And the King of France has gone away angry? And King Lear has left tonight, having given up all his power except for some money and his title? All this done on the spur of the moment? Edmund, what's going on? What's the news?

EDMUND

[pocketing the letter] So please your lordship, none.

EDMUND

[Slipping the letter into his pocket] There is no news, my lord.

GLOUCESTER

Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?

GLOUCESTER

Why are you being so secretive about that letter?

EDMUND

I know no news, my lord.

EDMUND

I don't have any news, my lord.

GLOUCESTER

What paper were you reading?

GLOUCESTER

What's that letter you were reading?

EDMUND

Nothing, my lord.

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.

GLOUCESTER

No? Why did you look so terrified and stuff it in your pocket then? If it's nothing, then there's no need to hide it. Let's see it. Come on, if it's nothing, I won't need my glasses to read it.

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 perused, I find it not fit for your o'erlooking.

EDMUND

Please sir, forgive me. It's a letter from my brother that I haven't finished reading yet. And, judging by what I have read, it's not fit for you to look over.

GLOUCESTER

Give me the letter, sir.

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.

EDMUND

I see that I'll offend you whether I keep it or give it to you. The only offensive thing is the content of the letter, as far as I can understand it.

GLOUCESTER

[taking the letter] Let’s see, let’s see.

GLOUCESTER

[Taking the letter] 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.

EDMUND

I hope, for my brother's sake, that he wrote this just to test 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 oppressionof 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 this to you? Who brought it?

GLOUCESTER

[Reading] "The craftiness of old men and society's custom of treating them with reverence makes life bitter for those of us in the prime of our lives, and keeps us from our inheritance until we're too old to enjoy it. I begin to see a kind of useless, foolish slavery in the oppressive power of the elderly—and they only have this power because we allow them to have it. Come visit me, so I can speak more about this. If our father should happen to go to his eternal rest, then you would enjoy half of his wealth forever, and live as my beloved brother.
Edgar"
 

Hmm, is this a conspiracy?
"If our father should happen to go to his eternal rest, then you would enjoy half of his wealth"—my son Edgar said this? How could he have a hand that would write such things, and a heart and brain to think them up? When did this letter come 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.

EDMUND

It wasn't brought to me, my lord. That's what's cunning about it. I found it. It had been thrown through the window of my room.

GLOUCESTER

You know the character to be your brother’s?

GLOUCESTER

And you're sure this is your brother's handwriting?

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.

EDMUND

My lord, if the letter's contents were good, I would swear that it was his handwriting. But because of what the letter does say, I would rather believe otherwise.

GLOUCESTER

It is his.

GLOUCESTER

It is his.

EDMUND

It is his hand, my lord, but I hope his heart is not inthe contents.

EDMUND

It is his handwriting, my lord. But I hope he didn't really mean what he said.

GLOUCESTER

Hath he never heretofore sounded you in this business?

GLOUCESTER

Has he ever spoken to you about anything like this before?

EDMUND

Never, my lord. But I have heard him oft maintain it tobe fit that, sons at perfect age and fathers declined, the father should be as ward to the son, and the son manage his revenue.

EDMUND

Never, my lord. But I've often heard him argue that when sons reach full maturity and their fathers grow old and feeble, the son should take care of the father, and manage his money.

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?

GLOUCESTER

Oh, the villain, the villain! That's the same opinion he expresses in the letter! The hateful villain! The unnatural, hateful, beastly villain—worse than a beast! Go, sir, and find him. I'll arrest him. The abominable villain! Where is he?

EDMUND

I do not well know, my lord. If it shall please you tosuspend your indignation against my brother till you can derive from him better testimony of his intent, you shall 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 forhim that he hath wrote this to feel my affection to your honor and to no other pretense of danger.

EDMUND

I don't know, my lord. If you can, you should restrain your anger against my brother until you can find out exactly what his intentions are. That would be a safer course. For if you immediately act violently against him and are mistaken about his purpose, then it would damage your own honor and badly hurt his loyalty to you. I would dare to bet my life that he wrote this letter only to test my love for you, and he didn't actually mean anything dangerous.

GLOUCESTER

Think you so?

GLOUCESTER

Do you think so?

EDMUND

If your honor judge it meet, I will place you where youshall hear us confer of this and by an auricular assurance have your satisfaction—and that without any further delay than this very evening.

EDMUND

If it would be acceptable to your sense of honor, I can hide you somewhere where you can hear us talking about the letter, and then you'll have the proof of your own hearing about his intentions. We can do it this very evening.

GLOUCESTER

He cannot be such a monster—

GLOUCESTER

He can't be such a monster—

EDMUND

Nor is not, sure.

EDMUND

I'm sure he isn't.

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.

GLOUCESTER

—to his own father, who so tenderly and completely loves him. By heaven and earth! Edmund, go find him, and gain his confidence for my sake, please. Do whatever needs to be done, and use your own common sense. I would give up anything to relieve my doubts.

EDMUND

I will seek him, sir, presently, convey the business asI shall find means, and acquaint you withal.

EDMUND

Sir, I'll find him immediately, and manage the business in the best way I can. Then I'll tell you everything.

GLOUCESTER

These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no goodto 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 ’twixtson 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.—Andthe noble and true-hearted Kent banished, his offense honesty! 'Tis strange, strange.

GLOUCESTER

These recent eclipses of the sun and moon are evil omens for us. Though science can explain how they happen, they are still omens, and bad things always follow eclipses. Love loses its passion, friendships fall apart, brothers become enemies, riots break out in cities, civil wars begin, treason infiltrates palaces, and the bond between fathers and sons is broken. This villainous son of mine fits the prediction of the bad omens—that's son against father. The king goes against his former nature—that's father against child. The best part of our age has passed. Schemes, emptiness, treachery, and chaos will follow us loudly to our graves. Find out the truth about this villain, Edmund. It won't damage your reputation. Just do it carefully. And the noble and true-hearted Kent has been banished, for the crime of being honest! It's strange, strange.

Exit GLOUCESTER

EDMUND

This is the excellent foppery of the world that when weare sick in fortune—often the surfeit of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by 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 to the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the dragon’s tail and my nativity was underUrsa 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—

EDMUND

This is the foolishness of the world, that when we are having bad luck—often because of our own excesses—we lay the blame for our disasters on the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if they forced us to be villains! As if we were fools because of the heavens' decree, or scoundrels, thieves, and traitors because of the influence of the planets, or drunkards, liars, and adulterers because the planets forced us to act that way. As if all our evil was the result of some divine compulsion! This is a good technique for avoiding blame, a trick by which a lustful man can blame his lechery on a star! My father slept with my mother under the influence of Draco, and I was born under the Big Dipper, so it naturally follows that I have a rude and lustful nature. Good God! I would have turned out the way I am even if the most virginal star in the sky had twinkled over my conception. Edgar—

Enter EDGAR

and pat on ’s cue he comes like the catastrophe of the old comedy. My cue is villainous melancholy, with a sighlike Tom o' Bedlam. Oh, these eclipses do portend thesedivisions! Fa, sol, la, mi.

And here he comes, right on cue, like the neat ending of a clichéd comedy. My role is to be falsely sad, and sigh like a crazy beggar. Oh, these eclipses are bad omens of such disasters! Fa, sol, la, mi.

EDGAR

How now, brother Edmund? What serious contemplation areyou in?

EDGAR

How's it going, brother Edmund? What are you thinking about so seriously?

EDMUND

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

EDMUND

Brother, I am thinking of a prediction I read about the other day. An astrologer wrote about what will follow these eclipses.

EDGAR

Do you busy yourself about that?

EDGAR

Are you really wasting your time with such things?

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.

EDMUND

I promise you, the predictions he made keep getting worse—things like divisions among children and parents, death, famine, the breaking of old friendships, political fighting, treason and threats against kings and nobles, baseless suspicions, the banishment of friends, the desertion of troops, adultery, and I don't even know what else.

EDGAR

How long have you been a sectary astronomical?

EDGAR

How long have you been a follower of astrology?

EDMUND

Come, come. When saw you my father last?

EDMUND

Come now. When did you last see my father?

EDGAR

Why, the night gone by.

EDGAR

Why, just last night.

EDMUND

Spake you with him?

EDMUND

Did you speak with him?

EDGAR

Ay, two hours together.

EDGAR

Yes, we spent two hours together.

EDMUND

Parted you in good terms? Found you no displeasure in him by word or countenance?

EDMUND

Did you part on good terms? Did he seem displeased with you, in either his words or in his expression?

EDGAR

None at all.

EDGAR

Not at all.

EDMUND

Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended him. And at my entreaty forbear his presence till some littletime hath qualified the heat of his displeasure, which at this instant so rageth in him that with the mischief of your person it would scarcely allay.

EDMUND

Try to remember how you might have offended him. And let me advise you to avoid his presence until he has some time to let off his rage. At this moment his anger is so hot that even physically injuring you would hardly cool it down.

EDGAR

Some villain hath done me wrong.

EDGAR

Some villain has told a malicious lie about me.

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 ye, go.There’s my key. If you do stir abroad, go armed.

EDMUND

That's what I'm afraid of. But please, keep control of yourself until his rage slows down a little. And now come with me to my rooms, and at the right moment I'll bring you to hear my father speak. Please, go. There's my key. If you do go outside, arm yourself.

EDGAR

Armed, brother?

EDGAR

Arm myself, brother?

EDMUND

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 you what I have seen and heard—but faintly, nothing like the image and horror of it. Pray you, away.

EDMUND

Brother, I'm giving you the best advice I can. Arm yourself. I would be lying if I said that our father had good intentions towards you. I've told you what I've seen and heard—but only vaguely. I've toned down the horrible reality. Now please, go.

EDGAR

Shall I hear from you anon?

EDGAR

Will I hear from you soon?

EDMUND

I do serve you in this business.

EDMUND

Everything I'm doing in this business is to help you.

Exit EDGAR

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.

A gullible father, and a noble brother, whose nature is so innocent of evil that he suspects no evil. My plots will easily work on his foolish honesty. I see what I must do. If I can't have lands by birthright, then let me have them through cunning. Everything that I can shape to fit my own purposes is good for me.

Exit

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Matt cosby
About the Translator: Matt Cosby
Matt Cosby graduated from Amherst College in 2011, and currently works as a writer and editor for LitCharts. He is from Florida but now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he also makes art, plays the piano, and goes to dog parks.