Page images


O, he is gone, indeed. Kent. The wonder is, he hath endur'd so long : He but usurp'd his life. Alb. Bear them from hence. -Our present bu

siness Is general woe. Friends of my soul, you twain

[To Kent and EDGAR. Rule in this realm, and the gor'd state - sustain.

Kent. I have a journey, sir, shortly to go ; My master calls, and I must not say, no Alb. The weight of this sad time we must

obey "; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.


s The Gor'd state,] So in Hamlet, vol. vii. p. 507 :

“ To keep my name ungor'd.” Boswell.

I must not say, no.] The modern editors have supposed that Kent expires after he has repeated these two last lines ; but the speech rather appears to be meant for a despairing than a dying man; and as the old editions give no marginal direction for his death, I have forborne to insert any.

I take this opportunity of retracting a declaration which I had formerly made on the faith of another person, viz. that the quartos 1608 were exactly alike. I have since discovered they vary one from another in many instances. Steevens. Kent in his entrance in this scene says

“ I am come

“ To bid my king and master aye good night; but this, like the speech before us, only marks the despondency of the speaker. The word shortly [i. e. some time hence, at no very distant period,] decisively proves, that the poet did not mean to make him die on the scene. He merely says that he shall not live long, and therefore cannot undertake the office assigned to him.

The marginal direction, he dies, was first introduced by the ignorant editor of the second folio. MALONE.

It was not adopted either by Hanmer or Capell. Boswell.

7 The weight of this sad time, &c.] This speech from the authority of the old quarto is rightly placed to Albany: in the edition by the players, it is given to Edgar, by whom, I doubt not, it was of custom spoken. And the cause was this : he who played Edgar, being a more favourite actor than he who performed Albany, in spite of decorum it was thought proper he should have the last word. Theobald.

The oldest hath borne most : we, that are young, Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

[Ereunt, with a dead March%.

So power

8 The tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakspeare. There is perhaps no play which keeps the attention so strongly fixed ; which so much agitates our passions, and interests our curiosity. The artful involutions of distinct interests, the striking oppositions of contrary characters, the sudden changes of fortune, and the quick succession of events, fill the mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity, and hope. There is no scene which does not contribute to the aggravation of the distress or conduct of the action, and scarce a line which does not conduce to the progress of the scene. ful is the current of the poet's imagination, that the mind which once ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly along.

On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct, it may be observed, that he is represented according to histories at that time vulgarly received as true. And, perhaps, if we turn our thoughts upon the barbarity and ignorance of the age to which this story is referred, it will appear not so unlikely as while we estimate Lear's manners by our own. Such preference of one daughter to another, or resignation of dominion on such conditions, would be yet credible, if told of a petty prince of Guinea or Madagascar. Shakspeare, indeed, by the mention of his earls and dukes, has given us the idea of times more civilized, and of life regulated by softer manners ; and the truth is, that though he so nicely discriminates, and so minutely describes the characters of men, he commonly neglects and confounds the characters of ages, by mingling customs ancient and modern, English and foreign.

My learned friend, Mr. Warton, who has in The Adventurer very minutely criticised this play, remarks that the instances of cruelty are too savage and shocking, and that the intervention of Edmund destroys the simplicity of the story. These objections may, I think, be answered, by repeating, that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical fact, to which the poet has added little, having only drawn it into a series of dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologize with equal plausibility for the extrusion of Gloster's eyes, which seems an act too horrid to be endured in dramatick exhibition, and such as must always compel the mind to relieve its distresses by incredulity. Yet let it be remembered that our author well knew what would please the audience for which he wrote.

The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the action is abundantly recompensed by the addition of variety, by the art


with which he is made to co-operate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked son with the wicked daughters, to impress this important moral, that villainy is never at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last terminate in ruin.

But though this moral be incidentally enforced, Shakspeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and what is yet more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified by The Spectator, who blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and happiness in his alteration, and declares, that in his opinion, “the Tragedy has lost half its beauty." Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to secure the favourable reception of Cato, “the town was poisoned with much false and abominable criticism," and that endeavours had been used to discredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life: but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or, that if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.

In the present case the publick has decided.* Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, i might relate, I was many years ago so 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.

There is another controversy among the criticks concerning this play. It is disputed whether the predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a very judicious critick, has evinced by induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes, with great justness, that Lear would move our compassion but little, did we not rather consider the injured father than the degraded king.

The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, which is

* Dr. Johnson should rather have said that the managers of the theatres-royal have decided, and the publick has been obliged to acquiesce in their decision. The altered play has the upper gallery on its side; the original drama was patronized by Addison :

Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni. STEEVENS.

derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom Holinshed generally copied; but perhaps immediately from an old historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakspeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications : it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had seen Shakspeare. Johnson.

The episode of Gloster and his sons is borrowed from Sidney's Arcadia, in which we find the following chapter, which is said to be entitled, in the first edition of 1590, “The pitifull state and storie of the Paphlagonian unkinde king, and his kind sonne : first related by the sonne, then by the blind father.”

In the second edition printed in folio in 1593, there is no division of chapters. There the story of the king of Paphlagonia commences in p. 69, b, and is related in the following words :

“ It was in the kingdome of Galacia, the season being (as in the depth of winter) very cold, and as then sodainely growne to so extreame and foule a storme, that neuer any winter (I thinke) brought foorth a fowler child; so that the princes were euen compelled by the haile, that the pride of the winde blew into their faces, to seeke some shrowding place, which a certaine hollow rocke offering vnto them, they made it their shield against the tempests furie. And so staying there, till the violence thereof was passed, they heard the speach of a couple, who, not perceiuing them, (being hidde within that rude canapy) helde a straunge and pitifull disputation, which made them steppe out; yet in such sort, as they might see vnseene. There they perceaued an aged man, and a young, scarcely come to the age of a man, both poorely arayed, extreamely weather-beaten ; the olde man blinde, the young man leading him : and yet through all those miseries, in both there seemed to appeare a kind of noblenesse, not sutable to that affliction. But the first words they heard, were these of the old man. Well, Leonatus, (said he) since I cannot perswade thee to leade mee to that which should end my griefe, and thy trouble, let me now entreat thee to leaue me: feare not, my miserie cannot be greater then it is, and nothing doth become me but miserie ; feare not the danger of my blind steps ; I cannot fall worse then I am. And doo not, I pray thee, doo not obstinately continue to infect thee with my wretchedness. But flie, flie from this region, only worthy of me. Deare father, (answered hen) doo not take away from me the onely remnant of my happi- , nesse : while I have power to doo you seruice, I am not wholly

miserable : Ah, my sonne, (said he, and with that he groned, as if sorrow straue to breake his barte,) how euill fits it me to have such a sonne, and how much doth thy kindnesse vpbraide my wickednesse ! These dolefull speeches, and some others to like purpose, (well showing they had not been borne to the fortune they were in,) moued the princes to goe out vnto them, and aske the younger, what they were. Sirs, (answered he, with a good grace, and made the more agreeable by a certain noble kinde of pitiousnes) I see well you are straungers, that know not our miserie, so well here knowne, that no man dare know, but that we must be miserable. In deede our state is such, as though nothing is so needful vnto vs, as pittie, yet nothing is more dangerous vnto vs then to make our selues so knowne as may stirre pittie. But your presence promiseth, that cruelty shall not ouer-runne hate. And if it did, in truth our state is soncke below the degree of feare.

“ This old man whom I leade, was lately rightfull prince of this countrie of Paphlagonia, by the hard-harted vngratefulnes of a sonne of his, depriued, not onely of his kingdome (whereof no forraine forces were euer able to spoyle him) but of his sight; the riches which nature graunts to the poorest creatures. Whereby, and by other his vnnaturall dealings, he hath been driuen to such griefe, as euen now he would haue had me to haue led him to the toppe of this rocke, thence to cast himselfe headlong to death : and so would have made me, who receiued my life of him, to be the worker of his destruction. But noble gentlemen, (said he) if either of you haue a father, and feele what duetifull affection is engraffed in a sonnes heart, let me entreate you to conuay this afflicted prince to some place of rest and securitie. Amongst your worthie actes it shall be none of the least, that a king, of such might and fame, and so vniustlie oppressed, is in any sort by

“ But before they coulde make him a..yswere, his father began to speake. Ah, my sonne, (said he) how euill an historian are you, that leaue out the chief knot of all the discourse ? my wickednes, my wickednes. And if thou doest it to spare my ears, (the onely sense now left mee proper for knowledge,) assure thy selfe thou doest mistake me. And I take witnesse of that sunne which you see, (with that he cast vp his blinde eies, as if he would hunt for light,) and wish my selfe in worse case then I doe wish my selfe, which is as euill as may bee, if I speake untruely, that nothing is so welcome to my thoughts, as the publishing of

Therefore know you, gentlemen, (to whome from my heart I wish that it may not proue some ominous foretoken of misfortune to haue met with such a miser as I am,) that whatsoeuer my sonne (Ô God, that truth bindes me to reproach him with the name of my son !) hath saide, is true. But besides those truthes, this also is true ; that hauing

you relieved.

my shame.

« PreviousContinue »