Act II - Scene I

Gloucester's castle.

[Enter Edmund, and Curan meets him]

EDMUND:
Save thee, Curan.
CURAN:
And you, sir. I have been with your father, and given him
notice that the Duke of Cornwall and Regan his duchess will
be here with him this night.
EDMUND:
How comes that?(5)
CURAN:
Nay, I know not. You have heard of the news abroad;
I mean the whispered ones, for they are yet but ear-kissing
arguments?
EDMUND:
Not I pray you, what are they?
CURAN:
Have you heard of no likely wars toward, 'twixt the(10)
Dukes of Cornwall and Albany?
EDMUND:
Not a word.
CURAN:
You may do, then, in time. Fare you well, sir.

[Exit Curan.]

EDMUND:
The duke be here tonight? The better! best!
This weaves itself perforce into my business.(15)
My father hath set guard to take my brother;
And I have one thing, of a queasy question,
Which I must act: briefness and fortune, work!
Brother, a word; descend: brother, I say!

[Enter Edgar]

My father watches: O sir, fly this place;(20)
Intelligence is given where you are hid;
You have now the good advantage of the night:
Have you not spoken 'gainst the Duke of Cornwall?
He's coming hither: now, i' the night, i' the haste,
And Regan with him: have you nothing said(25)
Upon his party 'gainst the Duke of Albany?
Advise yourself.
EDGAR:
I am sure on't, not a word.
EDMUND:
I hear my father coming: pardon me:
In cunning I must draw my sword upon you(30)
Draw; seem to defend yourself; now quit you well.
Yield: come before my father. Light, ho, here!
Fly, brother. Torches, torches! So, farewell.

[Exit Edgar]

Some blood drawn on me would beget opinion [wounds his arm]
Of my more fierce endeavor. I have seen drunkards(35)
Do more than this in sport. Father, father!
Stop, stop! No help?

[Enter Gloucester, and Servants with torches]

GLOUCESTER:
Now, Edmund, where's the villain?
EDMUND:
Here stood he in the dark, his sharp sword out,
Mumbling of wicked charms, conjuring the moon(40)
To stand auspicious mistress,—
GLOUCESTER:
But where is he?
EDMUND:
Look, sir, I bleed.
GLOUCESTER:
Where is the villain, Edmund?
EDMUND:
Fled this way, sir. When by no means he could—(45)
GLOUCESTER:
Pursue him, ho! Go after.

[Exeunt some Servants]

By no means what?
EDMUND:
Persuade me to the murder of your lordship;
But that I told him, the revenging gods
'Gainst parricides did all their thunders bend;(50)
Spoke, with how manifold and strong a bond
The child was bound to the father; sir, in fine,
Seeing how loathly opposite I stood
To his unnatural purpose, in fell motion,
With his prepared sword, he charges home(55)
My unprovided body, lanced mine arm:
But when he saw my best alarumed spirits,
Bold in the quarrel's right, roused to the encounter,
Or whether gasted by the noise I made,
Full suddenly he fled.(60)
GLOUCESTER:
Let him fly far:
Not in this land shall he remain uncaught;
And found—dispatch. The noble duke my master,
My worthy arch and patron, comes tonight:
By his authority I will proclaim it,(65)
That he which finds him shall deserve our thanks,
Bringing the murderous coward to the stake;
He that conceals him, death.
EDMUND:
When I dissuaded him from his intent,
And found him pight to do it, with curst speech(70)
I threatened to discover him: he replied,
'Thou unpossessing bastard! dost thou think,
If I would stand against thee, would the reposal
Of any trust, virtue, or worth in thee
Make thy words faithed? No: what I should deny,—(75)
As this I would: ay, though thou didst produce
My very character,—I'ld turn it all
To thy suggestion, plot, and damned practice:
And thou must make a dullard of the world,
If they not thought the profits of my death(80)
Were very pregnant and potential spurs
To make thee seek it.'
GLOUCESTER:
O strange and fastened villain!
Would he deny his letter? I never got him.

[Trumpet within]

Hark, the duke's trumpets! I know not why he comes.(85)
All ports I'll bar; the villain shall not 'scape;
The duke must grant me that: besides, his picture
I will send far and near, that all the kingdom
May have the due note of him; and of my land,
Loyal and natural boy, I'll work the means(90)
To make thee capable.

[Enter Cornwall, Regan, and Attendants]

CORNWALL:
How now, my noble friend! since I came hither,
Which I can call but now, I have heard strange news.
REGAN:
If it be true, all vengeance comes too short
Which can pursue the offender. How dost, my lord?(95)
GLOUCESTER:
O, madam, my old heart is cracked, it's cracked!
REGAN:
What, did my father's godson seek your life?
He whom my father named? your Edgar?
GLOUCESTER:
O, lady, lady, shame would have it hid!
REGAN:
Was he not companion with the riotous knights(100)
That tend upon my father?
GLOUCESTER:
I know not, madam: 'tis too bad, too bad.
EDMUND:
Yes, madam, he was of that consort.
REGAN:
No marvel, then, though he were ill affected:
'Tis they have put him on the old man's death,(105)
To have the expense and waste of his revenues.
I have this present evening from my sister
Been well informed of them; and with such cautions,
That if they come to sojourn at my house,
I'll not be there.(110)
CORNWALL:
Nor I, assure thee, Regan.
Edmund, I hear that you have shown your father
A childlike office.
EDMUND:
'Twas my duty, sir.
GLOUCESTER:
He did bewray his practice; and received(115)
This hurt you see, striving to apprehend him.
CORNWALL:
Is he pursued?
GLOUCESTER:
Ay, my good lord.
CORNWALL:
If he be taken, he shall never more
Be feared of doing harm: make your own purpose,(120)
How in my strength you please. For you, Edmund,
Whose virtue and obedience doth this instant
So much commend itself, you shall be ours:
Natures of such deep trust we shall much need;
You we first seize on.(125)
EDMUND:
I shall serve you, sir,
Truly, however else.
GLOUCESTER:
For him I thank your grace.
CORNWALL:
You know not why we came to visit you,—
REGAN:
Thus out of season, threading dark-eyed night:(130)
Occasions, noble Gloucester, of some poise,
Wherein we must have use of your advice:
Our father he hath writ, so hath our sister,
Of differences, which I least thought it fit
To answer from our home; the several messengers(135)
From hence attend dispatch. Our good old friend,
Lay comforts to your bosom; and bestow
Your needful counsel to our business,
Which craves the instant use.
GLOUCESTER:
I serve you, madam:(140)
Your graces are right welcome.

[Exeunt]

Footnotes

  1. Regan’s request for Gloucester’s wisdom and counsel represents a different take on old age than has been presented in the play thus far. Goneril and Regan have both stated that their father is old and foolish; however, here it at least appears that Regan values Gloucester’s council, suggesting that his age has provided him with experience to advise her. Shakespeare likely includes such moments to complicate and add nuance to his themes while simultaneously encouraging us to question the motivations of deceitful characters like Regan.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Edmund again uses an elaborate scheme for the sole purpose of duping his father, and thus, manipulates truth and perception to assure that Gloucester remains blind to his betrayal. Although Edmund’s trickery is somewhat convincing, it is ultimately successful due to Gloucester’s profound misjudgment of both of his son’s characters. This illustrates Edmund’s intelligence and cunning, but also Gloucester’s lack of insight concerning his own children.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The moon in this context refers to Hecate, the Greek goddess of the moon and witchcraft. By telling Gloucester that Edgar was invoking Hecate and mumbling “wicked” incantations, Edmund associates Edgar with dark magic. This slick trickery helps Edmund to further deceive Gloucester, and others, into being convinced of Edgar’s guilt and villainy.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. In this context “capable” means “able to inherit.” When Gloucester states that he will “make Edmund” capable,” he means that he will find some way to make Edmund his heir. During this time, Gloucester would face difficulty doing so since Edmund is an “illegitimate” son—the legal system would recognize Edgar as the rightful heir.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. “Bewray” means to expose or divulge someone’s secrets. Gloucester is telling Cornwall that Edmund has exposed Edgar’s murderous plans.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. “Alarumed” is an archaic word meaning “stirred.” What Edmund describes here is something similar to an adrenaline rush. Edmund means that Edgar was scared off by Edmund’s emboldened and energized response in the face of a budding quarrel.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Gloucester’s use of “cracked” speaks to a breaking down of function and order, and the image of things, like Gloucester’s heart, becoming “cracked” appears elsewhere in the play and signifies madness. Shakespeare uses the imagery of the cracked heart in this line to help illustrate the connection between the pain of betrayal, like Lear has experienced, and madness.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Gloucester draws our attention to his “old heart,” implying that the pain of Edgar’s betrayal is not only damaging because of the relationship they have as father and son, but also it is more damaging because of Gloucester’s age. The pain of losing Edgar in this way causes Gloucester to start acting in ways similar to Lear, like choosing to help a lying and dishonest child instead of a loving and honest one.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The presence of the apostrophe at the beginning of a word, like here, signals an omission of letters. While “‘twixt” and “twixt” are found in the dictionary, they are a shortening of the word “betwixt,” which means “between.” Curan is therefore asking Edmund if he has heard the rumors of war occurring between Albany and Cornwall.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. An ear being kissed is easy to picture: someone’s mouth is close to another’s ear. Such an image is often associated with whispers, rumors, or confessions. In this case, “ear-kissing arguments,” in conjunction with the word “whispers” earlier, means “rumors.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. This suggests that Edmund has been keeping some bad company and picking up some sinister ideas during his years abroad. His father Gloucester provided for him but did not give him any paternal guidance. He told Kent in Act 1, Scene 1: > He hath been out nine years, and away he shall > again. 

    — William Delaney
  12. This is such a blatant lie that it must have elicited laughter from Shakespeare's audiences. Edmund is a first-class villain. He is incapable of serving anyone "truly" except himself. Thus far in the play only the audience is aware of Edmund's real character. 

    — William Delaney
  13. Edmund is not only a villain but a hypocrite. Perhaps this combination is characteristic of most villains, past and present. 

    — William Delaney
  14. Edmund is still trying to keep his father engaged in conversation in order to give Edgar as much time as possible to escape. But Gloucester interrupts and sends his servants in pursuit of his son before asking, "By no means what?" Perhaps Gloucester's interruption gives Edmund a bit of time to improvise what he will say when his father asks, "By no means what?" Edmund is very quick-witted and adaptable.

    — William Delaney
  15. What Edmund means is that he is really trying his best to help Edgar but must pretend to be on his father's side against Edgar so as to be able to obtain information that will be of aid to his half-brother. Therefore he must pretend that he is with Edgar because he is trying to apprehend him for his father. He induces Edgar to draw his own sword to help him in his pretense that they are not secret allies but foes. Of course, it looks to Gloucester as if Edmund was trying to detain Edgar but Edgar drew his sword first and then fled when he heard his father coming with "some Servants."

    — William Delaney
  16. Honest people are easy victims for unscrupulous people because they tend to judge others by themselves. Both Edgar and his father are easy for Edmund to fool. Like most dishonest and cunning types, he considers his victims "suckers."

    — William Delaney
  17. Edmund might not necessarily become Gloucester's successor if his father disowned Edgar. Edmund is an illegitimate son. Gloucester would have to "work the means" to legitimize him. This would probably involve some negotiating with the church authorities.

    — William Delaney
  18. Evidently Gloucester means that he will have notices sent to all seaports, such as Dover and Liverpool, to prevent Edgar from fleeing to another country, most likely to France. Gloucester does not have the authority to do this himself, but he can ask "the duke," presumably the Duke of Cornwall, since Gloucester is expecting his arrival, to do it in his behalf, since Cornwall has the power of a king. Shakespeare has Gloucester propose to bar all ports because the audience would naturally expect Edgar to try to get out of England.

    — William Delaney
  19. Gloucester asks Edmund to continue what he started to say before he was interrupted. Edmund would have preferred to finish his whole calumny before telling his father where Edgar went, but Edmund is exceedingly cunning and versatile; he picks up right where he was interrupted and continues with: "Persuade me to the murder of your lordship." He has the intelligence and presence of mind to deliver a whole extemporaneous speech blackening Edgar and embellishing his own image as a loving, devoted son.

    — William Delaney
  20. Edmund does not answer his father's question but uses his self-inflicted wound as an excuse to pretend to be in a state of shock. He wants to give Edgar as much time as possible to make his escape. With Edgar not present, Edmund can tell his father anything he wants to; otherwise, Edgar would naturally understand that his half-brother was a villain plotting against him and would plead with his father in his own behalf. So Edmund's wound not only makes Edgar look desperate and vicious, but it gives Edmund an excuse for stalling about answering the simple question that Gloucester has to keep asking him: > "Now, Edmund, where's the villain?" > > "But where is he?" > > "Where is the villain, Edmund?" It is ironic that twice Gloucester asks, "Where is the villain?" when everybody in the audience knows that the old man is talking to the real villain directly.

    — William Delaney