« PreviousContinue »
I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow!
And all this is gone in the stage Lear. The “universal, ideal, and sublime” comedy, of which the Fool is the principal exponent, would have been incomprehensible to the Augustan age. We are quite sure that Tate would have got rid of the assumed madness of Edgar, if he had not found it convenient for the purpose of tacking a love-scene to it. As it is, he has brought the mad Tom and the mad king into juxta-position. We do not suspect Tate of comprehending the metaphysical principle upon which Shakspere worked, and which Coleridge has so well expounded :-"Edgar's assumed madness serves the great purpose of taking off part of the shock which would otherwise be caused by the true madness of Lear, and further displays the profound difference between the tvo. In every attempt at representing madness throughout the whole range of dramatic literature, with the single exception of Lear, it is mere light-headedness, as especially in Otway. In Edgar's ravings, Shakspeare all the while lets you see a fixed purpose, a practical end in view; in Lear's there is only the brooding of the one anguish, an eddy without progression." Tate has left us this contrast; but he has taken away the Fool, which completes the wonderful power of the third act of Shakspere's Lear. The Fool, as well as Edgar, takes off part of the shock which would otherwise be caused by the madness of Lear, whilst he yet contributes to the completeness of that moral chaos which Shakspere has represented—"all external nature in a storm, all moral nature convulsed." A writer of very rare depth and discrimination has thus described these scenes of which Edgar and the Fool make up such important accessories :-" The two characters, father and king, so high to our imagination and love, blended in the reverend image of Lear-both in their destitution, yet both in their height of greatness—the spirit blighted, and yet undepressed—the wits gode, and yet the moral wisdom of a good heart left unstained, almost unobscured—the wild raging of the elements, joined with human outrage and violence to persecute the helpless, unresisting, almost unoffending sufferer-and he himself in the midst of all imaginable misery and desolation, descanting upon himself, on the whirlwinds that drive around him, and then turning in tenderness to some of the wild motley associations of sufferers among whom he stands--all this is not like what has been seen on any stage, perhaps in any reality ; but it has made a world to our imagination about one single imaginary individual, such as draws the reverence and sympathy which would seem to belong properly only to living men. It is like the remembrance of some wild perturbed scene of real life. Everything is perfectly woeful in this world of woe. The very assumed madness of Edgar, which, if the story of Edgar atood alone, would be insufferable, and would utterly degrade him to us, kenns, associated as he is with Lear, to come within the consecration of Lear's madness. It agrees with all that is brought together ;-the night-the storms—the houselessness-Gloster with his eyes put out-the Fool—the semblance of a madman, and Lear in his madness,-are all bound together by å strange kind of sympathy, confusion in the elements of nature, of human society, and the human soul! Throughout all the play is there not sublimity felt amidst the continual presence of all kinds of disorder and confusion in the natural and moral world ;--a continual consciousness of eternal order, law, and good? This it is that so exalts it in our eyes." *
The love-scene between Edgar and Cordelia, in the first scene of the first act of Tate's Lear, was an assurance, under the hand and seal of Tate, that the play would end happily. He might be constrained, in the impossibility of wholly destroying Shakspere, to exhibit to us some of the most terrific conflicts of human passion, and the most striking displays of human suffering. He could not utterly conceal the terrible workings of the mind of Lear, which had been laid bare by the "explosions of his passion.” But he takes care to let it be understood that there is nothing real in this; that all will be right in the end; that, though the flames rage, the house is insured ; that a wedding and a dance will terminate the play much better than the "dead march" of Shakspere. "Cordelia,” says Dr. Johnson, “from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And if my sensations could add anything to the general suffrage, I might relate, I was many years ago 80 shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor."
This was a bold or a lazy avowal in Johnson; for Aristotle describes the popular admiration of the tragedy which ends happily for the good characters, and fatally for the bad, as a result of the “ weak. ness of the spectators ;" * and though Johuson vigorously attacked Aristotle's Unities-or rather the doctrine of the Unities imputed to Aristotle-the good critic must have been sleeping when he gare his voice to the general suffrage at the risk of being accounted weak. Johnson was too clever a man not to know that he lost something by not reading "the last scenes” of Shakspere's Lear; and we have considerable doubts whether he ever looked into the last scenes of Tate's Lear. Carrying the principle to the end with which we set out, we venture to print the last scene of each writer in apposition; and we ask our readers to apply the scale of Tate, in the manner which we have indicated, to the admeasurement of Shakspere :
Lear. Who are you? My eyes are none w' th' best, I'll tell you straight: Oh, Albany! Well, sir, we are your captives, And you are come to see death pass upon us. Why this delay 1-Or, is 't your highness' pleasure To give us first the torture? Say you so? Why here's old Kent, and I, as tough a pair As e'er bore tyrant stroke;--but my Cordelia, My poor Cordelia here, O pity
Alb. Thou injur'd majesty, The wheel of fortune now has made her circle, And blessings yet stand 'twixt thy grave and thee.
Lear. Com'st thou, inhuman lord, to sooth us back To a fool's paradise of hope, to make Our doom more wretched ? Go to, we are too well Acquainted with misfortune, to be gull'd With lying hope; no, we will hope no more.
Alb. Since then my injuries, Lear, fall in with thine, I have resolv'd the same redress for both.
Kent. What says my lord ?
Cord, Speak; for methought I heard The charming voice of a descending god.
Alb. The troops by Edmund rais'd, I have disbanded:
Kent. Hear you that, my liege.
Lear. Is't possible?
Kent. Here, my liege.
Lear. Why, I have news that will recall thy youth;
Kent. The prince, that like a god has pow'r, has said it.
Lear. Cordelia then shall be a queen, mark that;
Alb. Look, sir, where pious Edgar comes,
Lear. Howl, how], howl !_O, you are men of stones;
Is this the promis'd end !
Fall, and cease!
O my good master! [Kneeling.
"T is noble Kent, your friend,
Did I not, fellov!
Kent. If fortune brag of two she lov'd and hated,
Lear. This is a dull sight. Are you not Kent!
The saint: Your servant Kent: Where is your servant Caius?
Lear. He's a good fellow, I can tell you that:
Kent. No, my good lord; I am the very man -
Kent. That, from your first of difference and decay,
You are welcome hither. Kent. Nor no man else; all's cheerless, dark, ans
Ay, so I think.
Enter an Officer. of. Edmund is dead, my lord. Alb.
That's but a trilc bere.
• Treatise on Petry-Twining's Translation,
Re-enter EDGAR with GLOSTER, L.H.
Lear. My poor dark Gloster!
Laar. Hold, thou mistak'st the majesty; kneel here;
You lords, and noble friends, know our intent.
(To EDGAR and KENT.
Lear. And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life:
Look up, my lord.
Edg, Divine Cordelia, all the gods can witness
(Flourish of Drums and Trumpets.)”
(Exeunt with a dead march."
And why do we agk any one of our readers to compare what cannot be compared ?-why do we put one of the most divine conceptions of poetry side by side with the meanest interpretation of the most unimaginative feelings-equally remote from the verisimilitude of common life, as from the truth of ideal beauty ? It is, as we have said before, because we feel unable to impart to others our own conceptions of the marvellous power of the Lear of Shakspere, without employing some agency that may give distinctness to ideas which must be otherwise vague. There is only one mode in which such a production as the Lear of Shakspere can be understood—by study, and by reverential reflection. The age which produced the miserable parody of Lear that till within a few years has banished the Lear of Shakapere from the stage, was, as far as regards the knowledge of the highest efforts of intellect, a presumptuous, artificial, and therefore empty age. Tate was tolerated because Shakspere was not read. We have arrived, in some degree, to a better judgment, because we have learnt to judge more humbly. We have learnt to compare the highest works of the highest masters of poetry, not by the pedantic principle of considering a modern great only to the extent in which he is an imitator of an ancient, but by endeavouring to comprehend the idea in which the modern and the ancient each worked. The Cordelia of Shakspere and the Antigone of Sophocles have many points of similarity; but they each belong to a different system of art. It is for the highest minds only to carry their several systems to an approach to the perfection to which Shakspere and Sophocles have carried them. It was for the leeblest of imitators, in a feeble age, to produce such parodies as we have exhibited, under the pretence of substituting order for irregularity, but in utter ignorance of the principle of order which Was too skilfully framed to be visible to the grossness of their taste,