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A Hall in the Earl of Gloster's Castle.

[Enter Edmund with a letter.]

Edm.
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, tired bed,
Go to the 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 the legitimate: fine word--legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper.--
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

[Enter Gloster.]

Glou.
Kent banish'd thus! and France in choler parted!
And the king gone to-night! subscrib'd his pow'r!
Confin'd to exhibition! All this done
Upon the gad!--Edmund, how now! What news?

Edm.
So please your lordship, none.

[Putting up the letter.]

Glou.
Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?

Edm.
I know no news, my lord.

Glou.
What paper were you reading?

Edm.
Nothing, my lord.

Glou.
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.

Edm.
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 perus'd,
I find it not fit for your o'erlooking.

Glou.
Give me the letter, sir.

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

Glou.
Let's see, let's see!

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

Glou.
[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 for ever, and live
the beloved of your brother,
'EDGAR.'
Hum! Conspiracy?--'Sleep 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?

Edm.
It was not brought me, my lord, there's the cunning of it; I
found it thrown in at the casement of my closet.

Glou.
You know the character to be your brother's?

Edm.
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.

Glou.
It is his.

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

Glou.
Hath he never before sounded you in this business?

Edm.
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.

Glou.
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?

Edm.
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 honour, 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
honour, and to no other pretence of danger.

Glou.
Think you so?

Edm.
If your honour 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.

Glou.
He cannot be such a monster.

Edm.
Nor is not, sure.

Glou.
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.

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

Glou.
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
offence, honesty!--'Tis strange.

[Exit.]

Edm.
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are
sick in fortune,--often the surfeit of our own behaviour,--we
make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as
if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion;
knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance;
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 under
ursa major; so that it follows I am rough and lecherous.--Tut! I
should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the
firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.

[Enter Edgar.]

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.

Edg.
How now, brother Edmund! what serious contemplation are you in?

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

Edg.
Do you busy yourself with that?

Edm.
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.

Edg.
How long have you been a sectary astronomical?

Edm.
Come, come! when saw you my father last?

Edg.
The night gone by.

Edm.
Spake you with him?

Edg.
Ay, two hours together.

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

Edg.
None at all.

Edm.
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
scarcely allay.

Edg.
Some villain hath done me wrong.

Edm.
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, go
armed.

Edg.
Armed, brother!

Edm.
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 you, away!

Edg.
Shall I hear from you anon?

Edm.
I do serve you in this business.

[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.

[Exit.]