In a soliloquy to nature, Edmund declares himself as true to nature as anyone born according to the fashion of legitimacy. He swears a personal oath to replace his brother in his father’s affections and inheritance as he pleads with the gods to “stand up for bastards.” (His tone suggests greater ambitions, to be realized.) Gloucester enters, grieving for the loss of Kent and, in effect, Cordelia. Edmund feigns to pocket a letter, noticed of course by Gloucester, who insists on seeing its contents. It appears to be in Edgar’s hand, and proposes a plan to rid the earth of their father to hasten their inheritance. Gloucester takes the bait. Edmund feigns disbelief, and so proposes a test of Edgar’s intentions which Gloucester may be placed to overhear. In a kind of soliloquy in parallel to the one opening the scene, Gloucester laments the many ways in which the world seems to be cracking. He orders Edmund to “find out this villain” and exits. In colorful language, Edmund observes that people tend to blame nature for their own faults.
ACT I. SCENE II. SEGMENT A. The Earl of Gloucester’s castle.
Enter Bastard [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, 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.
GLOUCESTER Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?
EDMUND I know no news, my lord.
GLOUCESTER What paper were you reading? 
EDMUND Nothing, my lord.
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. 
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’er-looking.
GLOUCESTER Give me the letter, sir. 
I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The
contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.
GLOUCESTER Let’s see, let’s see.
I hope for my brother’s justification he wrote
this but as an essay or taste of my virtue. 
Goucester 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 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 you to this? Who
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 brother’s?
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?
It is his hand, my lord. But I hope his heart is
not in the contents.
GLOUCESTER Hath he never heretofore sounded you in this business?
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.
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?
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 further
pretence of danger.
GLOUCESTER Think you so?
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. 
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. 
I will seek him, sir, presently, convey the
business as I shall find means, and acquaint you withal.
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, strange! Exit
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that 
when we are 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 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.