Notes on Act I, scene ii

nature: the natural world, governed by amoral laws of cause and effect, not human decrees and social restrictions, such as the censure of illegitimacy that holds Edmund back (see commentary)

Wherefore: why

Stand ... custom: accept the curse that society places on me, just because I'm a bastard

curiosity: moral scruples of a society that looks down on the illegitimate

moon-shines: months

lag: short of, younger than; Edmund is a year or so younger than Edgar, so he also loses the major part of the inheritance by not being the first-born

wherefore base?: why does my being born illegitimate make me a lowly and unworthy person?

compact: his body and features are well put together; that is, he's well built and good looking

generous: as well endowed with intellect and ability (not generous in the sense of willing to give to others)

honest madam's issue: a married woman's child

Who: the antecedent appears to be "us"; that is, we bastards gain more qualities in our lusty birth than do most legitimate children who are born fools

lusty stealth of nature: the secret, hidden affairs of natural lust

composition and fierce quality: complete and full of energy, robust

dull ... bed: reference to the faithful marriage bed, dull and stale because of a lack of variety of lovers

fops: fools

Got: begotten

speed: succeed

invention: plot

top: rise above, defeat ("top" is the editor Capell's suggested correction, 1768; Q has "tooth," F has "to th")

choler: anger

prescribed: limited

exhibition: an allowance or pension

gad: goad, as a horse is pricked by a goad; that is, on the spur of the moment

put up: Edmund makes an obvious attempt to hide the letter

terrible dispatch: trying to conceal the letter hastily

o'er-looking: examination

taste: test

policy: the practice of a son having to wait for his father to die in order to receive the inheritance

fond: foolish

who sways: which rules

suffered: allowed, that is, this custom stands only because we permit it

sleep: metaphor for death

casement of my closet: window of his room

character: the handwriting

matter: subject matter of the letter

durst: would dare

fain: prefer to

sounded: tested these ideas on you

perfect age: the prime of life

sirrah: sir

certain course: proceed safely, knowing the path

pawn down: stake, put at risk

feel: feel out, test

meet: fitting

auricular: hearing with your own ears

wind: work your way into his confidence

unstate ... resolution: I would give everything I own to know the truth about this matter

eclipses: Gloucester blames ominous astrological signs for the recent misfortunes

wisdom of nature: scientific learning

scourged: whipped, punished

sequent: consequent; the effects following these bad omens

'twixt: between

prediction: my son's treason falls under the stars' influence

bias of nature: Lear has fallen away from the natural bias he should have toward Cordelia

machinations: plots

hollowness: insincerity

disquietly: unquietly

foppery: foolishness

sick in fortune: suffering bad luck

surfeit: excesses

guilty: we blame the results of our own misdeeds on the stars

heavenly compulsion: as if the stars made us act this way without our free will

treachers: traitors, those who commit treachery

spherical predominance: whichever planet he was born under (astrology)

divine thrusting on: influence by the gods

whoremaster: lecherous 

goatish: lustful, after the mythical satyrs which were known to be lecherous

charge: fault (we lay the blame for our own sins on the stars)

compounded: joined with her sexually

dragon's tail: the constellation of Draco

nativity: birth

Ursa Major: the Great Bear (also known as the Big Dipper)

Fut: swear word, short for "God's foot"

maidenliest: most virginal

firmament: heavens

pat: immediately ("speak of the devil, here he is")

castastrophe: conclusion of a play, referring to predictable comedies which resolve the dramatic conflict in the nick of time

Tom o' Bedlam: a madman from Bethlehem (Bedlam) Hospital (ironically, Edgar will later take on this disguise); Q1 has "them of Bedlam"

portend: predict  (ironically echoing his father)

fa, so, la, mi: notes on a scale (singing to himself)

succeed: unfortunately, this man's unfortunate (unhappy) predictions often come true

amities: friendships

diffidences: distrust

nuptial breaches: broken marriages

sectary: believer in astrology

countenance: facial expression

forbear: avoid

allay: even an injury to you would not appease his anger

continent forbearance: keep a cautious distance 

fitly: when it's appropriate 

good meaning: if our father means you any good

faintly: my words can barely express the trouble you are in

anon: soon

credulous: all too believing, gullible

practices: plots

meet: proper

fashion fit: shape to my purposes

 


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