Read King Lear’s Thou, Nature, Art My Goddess soliloquy below with modern English translation & analysis

Spoken by Edmund, King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2

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!


Thou, Nature, Art My Goddess” Soliloquy Translation:

Nature was his guide and it was her laws he followed. Why should he have to put up with the stupidity of convention and let the idiosyncrasies of an old fashioned society deprive him of his rights, just because he was some twelve or fourteen months younger than his brother? Why should he have to carry the stigma of “bastard”; why should he accept that he was inferior? His body was as compact, his mind as intelligent, and his figure as good as the son of his father’s legal wife was. Why did they brand people like him with the word “inferior”? With inferiority? Bastardy? Inferior, inferior? – They had stronger constitutions and were more red-blooded as a result of the lust and passion that accompanied their conception than a whole tribe of fops conceived between bedtime and morning in a boring, tedious matrimonial bed had.

So, legitimate Edgar. He would have his brother’s inheritance Their father loved the bastard Edmund as much as the legitimate Edgar. Fine word, “legitimate”! Well then, legitimate brother, if this letter proved effective and his plot succeeded, Edmund the bastard was going to oust the legitimate. Grow! Prosper! Now, gods, stand up for bastards!


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2 replies
  1. Pam
    Pam says:

    I liked the “translation” very much. While I got the idea from the original, sort of, the modern English confirmed and deepened my understanding and made me delighted.


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