« AnteriorContinuar »
“I may add that the Fool of Lear was long ago forgotten. Having filled the space allotted him in the arrangement of the play, he appears to have been silently withdrawn in the sixth scene of the third act. That the thoughts of a father, in the bitterest of all moments, while his favourite child lay dead in his arms, should recur to the antic who had formerly diverted him, has somewhat in it that I cannot reconcile to the idea of genuine sorrow and despair. “Besides this, Cordelia was recently hanged; but we know not that the Fool had suffered in the same manner, nor can imagine why he should. The party adverse to Lear was little interested in the fate of his jester. The only use of him was to contrast and alleviate the sorrows of his master; and, that purpose being fully answered, the Poet’s solicitude about him was at an end. “The term, poor fool, might indeed have misbecome the mouth of a vassal commiserating the untimely end of a princess, but has no impropriety when used by a weak, old, distracted king, in whose mind the distinctions of nature only survive, while he is uttering his last frantic exclamations over a murdered daughter.”— STEvKNs. “I confess, I am one of those who have thought that Lear means his Fool, and not Cordelia. If he means Cordelia, then what I have always considered as a beauty, is of the same kind as the accidental stroke of the pencil that produced the foam.—Lear’s affectionate remembrance of the Fool in this place, I used to think, was one of those strokes of genius, or of nature, which are so often found in Shakespeare, and in him only. “Lear appears to have a particular affection for this Fool, whose fidelity in attending him, and endeavouring to divert him in his distress, seems to deserve all his kindness. ““Poor fool and knave,” says he, in the midst of the thunder storm, “I have one part in my heart that’s yet sorry for thee.” “It does not, therefore, appear to me to be allowing too much consequence to the Fool, in making Lear bestow a thought on him, even when in still greater distress. Lear is represented as a good-natured, passionate, and rather weak old man; it is the old age of a cockered spoiled boy. There is no impropriety in giving to such a character those tender domestic affections, which would ill become a more heroic character, such as Othello, Macbeth, or Richard III. “The words—“No, no, no life;’ I suppose to be spoken, not tenderly, but with passion: Let nothing now live;—let there be universal destruction;– Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, and thou no breath at all r? “It may be observed, that as there was a necessity, the necessity of propriety at least, that this Fool, the favourite of the author, of Lear, and consequently of the audience, should not be lost or forgot, it ought to be known what became of him: however, it must be acknowledged, that we cannot infer much from thence; Shakespeare is not always attentive to finish the figures of his groups. “I have only to add, that if an actor, by adopting the interpretation mentioned above, by applying the words poor fool to Cordelia, the audience would, I should imagine, think it a strange mode of expressing the grief and affection of a father for his dead daughter, and that daughter a queen. The words poor fool are undoubtedly expressive of endearment ; and Shakespeare himself, in another place, speaking of a dying animal, calls it poor dappled fool ; but it never is, nor never can be, used with any degree of propriety, but to commiserate some very inferior object, which may be loved without much esteem or respect.”—Sir Joshua REYNolds. “Lear, from the time of his entrance in this scene to his uttering these words, and from thence to his death, is wholly occupied by the loss of his daughter. He is
diverted indeed from it for a moment by the intrusion of Kent, who forces himself on his notice; but he instantly returns to his beloved Cordelia, over whose dead body he continues to hang. He is now himself in the agony of death; and surely, at such a time, when his heart is just breaking, it would be highly unnatural that he should think of his Fool. But the great and decisive objection to such a supposition is that which Mr. Stevens has mentioned—that Lear had just seen his daughter hanged, having unfortunately been admitted too late to preserve her life, though time enough to punish the perpetrator of the act: but we have no authority whatsoever for supposing his Fool hanged also.
“In old English, a fool and an innocent are synonymous terms. Hence probably the peculiar use of the expression—poor fool. In the passage before us, Lear, I conceive, means by it, dear, tender, helpless innocence "—MALoNE.
NOTES OMITTED IN ACT 1.
“Although our last, AND least,” etc.—With Collier and Knight we give the text as in the folio, by which we lose the so-often quoted words “Though last, not least,” which are, nevertheless, Shakespeare's. The modern text, made up of parts of each original reading is thus given— Although the last not least; to whose young love The vines of France, etc. The quartos read— But now, our joy, Although the last, not least in our dear lore, What can you say to win a third, more opulent Than your sisters? The Poet has revised his text, re-arranging the lines, and introducing a new member of the sentence “to whose young love,” etc.
“By Jupiter"—Johnson says, “Shakespeare makes his Lear too much of a mythologist; he Hecate and Apollo before.” The Poet is perfectly justified by the chroniclers in making Lear invoke the heathen deities. Hollingshed speaks of the temple of Apollo, which stood in the time of Bladud, Lear's father.
“Election makes not up on such conditions”—The use of “made up,” in TIMon and in CYMBELINE, shows that to make up is here—to decide, to conclude. The choice of Burgundy refuses to come to a decision on such terms.
“– Fall into taint”—M. Mason interprets the passage thus:—“Her offence must be monstrous, or the former affection which you professed for her must fall into taint—become the subject of reproach.” Monster, as a verb, is used in Coriol ANUs.
“ — what plighted cunning hides”—The quartos read pleated; modern editions, plaited; all having the same meaning in their literal sense, and here taken figuratively for complicate, intricate, involved.
“Who corers faults, at last with shame derides"— This line is ordinarily printed after the quartos, Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.
It was, perhaps, so written at first, and altered as in the folio and our text. Time covers faults, until at last it exposes them to shame: a clear and weighty sense.
“I would UN state myself,” etc.—There are several explanations of this passage. Stevens represents Gloster to say, he would unstate himself to be sufficiently resolved to punish Edgar—that is, he would give up his rank and his fortune. Mason, “he would give all he possessed to be certain of the truth.” Johnson, “I should unstate myself—it would in me be a departure from the paternal character—to be in a due resolution—to be settled and composed on such an occasion.” Tieck inclines to Johnson's explanation. Collier thinks the ob. vious sense is, “I would sacrifice my rank if I could arrive but at a thorough conviction of his design.”
“By day. As n N1cht he wrongs ne”—This is pointed
by Malone, and those who adopt his text-
But we follow the original punctuation, and with the later editors, think with Stevens that “By day or night” means—always, every way, constantly.
“To make this creature fruitful”—We print the four lines, of which this is the last, according to the metrical arrangement of the folio. In the quartos they are given as prose. I agree with Knight that there cannot be any thing more destructive to the terrific beauty of the sage than the “regulation” by which it is distorted into the following lines, the text of most of the modern editions:— It may be so, my lord.—Hear, nature, hear! Dear goddess, hear! Suspend thy purpose, if Thou didst intend to make this creature fruitful.
“The tragedy of LEAR is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakespeare. There is perha 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. So powerful 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, erhaps, 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. Shakespeare, 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 i. 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 criticized 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 i. act, 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 dramatic exhilition, 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 daughter, 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, Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, cont 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 ‘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 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 excellences are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue. “In the present case the public 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 . of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor. “There is another controversy among the critics 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 critic, 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.”— Joh N so N. In the “Introductory Remarks" prefixed to this play, the editor has stated his opinion on several of the points touched on in this criticism, and especially the modern alteration of Shakespeare's catastrophe to LEAR, and the Poet's probable motives for varying from the poetical and historical legend. Nothing can well be more improbable and incongruous than the plot of Tate's alterntion, thus commended by Johnson, in which he has endeavoured to heighten the interest by a secondary plot of mutual love between Edgar and Cordelia, ending with their happy marriage. Nor can anything be more feeble in style and thought than the dialogue thus interpolated among the dark and wild passion and condensed glowing language of the original. This improver of Shakespeare, who could flatter himself that he was giving new brilliancy to “the heap of unstrung and unpolished jewels”. he had found in the original, thus, at the end, makes all the deep agonies of the wronged father, and the dark insanity of the dethroned intellect, forgotten, and repaid by a childish joy at being “a king again:"— ...Alb. To your majesty we do resign Your kingdom, save what part yourself conferr'd On us in marriage. Kent. Hear you that, my liege 2 Cord. Then there are gods, and virtue is their care. Lear. Is’t possible? Let the spheres stop their course, the sun make halt,
The winds be hush'd, the seas and fountains rest,
All nature pause, and listen to the change
Where is my Kent, my Caius :
* Dr. Johnson should rather have said that the managers have decided, and the public 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 Di is placuit, sed victa Catoni.”—STEvens.
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 ;
Quite of a piece with this is the conclusion, written in the most approved style of theatrical common-place:–
Re-enter Edgar with Glost ER, L. H. Glost. Where's my liege : Conduct me to his knees, to hail His second birth of empire: My dear Edgar Has, with himself, reveal’d the king's blest restoration. Lear. My poor dark Gloster . Glost. Olet me kiss that once more scepter'd hand! Lear. Hold, thou mistak'st the majesty; kneel here; Cordelia has our pow'r, Cordelia's queen. Speak, is not that the noble, suff’ ring Edgar : Glost. My pious son, more dear than my lost eyes. Lear. I wrong'd him too; but here's the fair amends. - - - + + Edg. Divine Cordelia, all the gods can witness How much thy love to empire I prefer Thy bright example shall convince the world, Whatever storms of fortune are decreed, That truth and virtue shall at last succeed. [Flourish of drums and trumpets.
Colman the Elder, a scholar, and no contemptible author, was shocked with the absurdities and improbabilities of Tate's version, and tried his hand at another alteration, omitting the loves of Edgar and Cordelia, but returning to the ancient “happy ending.". This play, so far as it is original, though it has no particular merit, is yet better than Tate's; yet Colman did not succeed in dislodging his predecessor from the prompter's-book, where Nahum Tate still remains seated on the dramatic throne, by Shakespeare's side. The capricious or tender-hearted decision of Johnson has been appealed from and refuted by several eloquent writers, as thus by Mrs. Jameson:— “When Lear enters with Cordelia dead in his arms, compassion and awe so seize on all our faculties, that we are left only to silence and to tears. But if I might judge from my own sensations, the catastrophe of LEAR is not so overwhelming as the catastrophe of OTHEL.Lo. We do not turn away with the same feeling of absolute and unmitigated despair. Cordelia is a saint ready prepared for heaven; our earth is not good enough for her: and Lear!—O who, after sufferings and tortures such as his, would wish to see his life prolonged What! replace a sceptre in that shaking hand 1–a crown upon that old gray head, upon which the tempest had poured in its wrath?—on which the deep dread-bolted thunders and the winged lightnings had spent their fury 1–0 never, never! Let him pass! he hates him That would upon the rack of this rough world Stretch him out longer. “In the story of King Leyr' and his three daughters, as it is related in the 'delectable and mellifluous' romance of Perceforest, and in the chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the conclusion is fortunate. Cordelia defeats her sisters, and replaces her father on his throne. Spenser, in his version of the story, has followed these authorities. Shakespeare has preferred the catastrophe of the old ballad, founded apparently on some lost tradition. I suppose it is by way of amending his errors, and bringing back this daring innovator to sober history, that it has been thought fit to alter the play of LEAR for the stage, as they have altered Row Eo AND JULIET:— they have converted the seraph-like Cordelia into a puling love-heroine, and sent her off victorious at the end of the play—exit with drums and colours flying— to be married to Edgar. Now any thing more absurd, more discordant with all our previous impressions, and with the characters as oil. to us, can hardly be imagined. ‘I cannot conceive,’ says Schlegel, “what ideas of art and dramatic connection those persons have, who suppose we can at pleasure tack a double conclusion to a tragedy—a melancholy one for hard-hearted
spectators, and a merry one for those of softer mould.’” MRs. JAM Eson. Yet, perhaps Charles Lamb has given a more penetrating glance into the philosophy of the question than any of the professed critics. If he is right, then the real secret of the prolonged popularity of Tate's distortion of King LEAR is to be found in the fact, that the grand and terrible passion of the original is too purely spiritual for mere dramatic exhibition, because it belongs to that highest region of intellectual poetry which can be reached only by the imagination, warmed and raised by its own workings; while, on the contrary, it becomes chilled and crippled by attention to material and external imitation. He says– “The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery with which they mimic the storm is not more inadequate to represent the horrors of the real elements than any actor can be to represent Lear. The greatness of Lear is not in corporeal demeanour but in intellectual; the explosions of his passions are terrible as a volcano; they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that rich sea, his mind; with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. This case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on ; even as he himself neglects it. On the stage, we see nothing but corporeal infirmities
| and weaknesses, the impotence of rage; while we read
it we see—not Lear, but we are Lear;--we are in his mind, we are sustained by a grandeur which baffles all the malice of daughters and storms; in the aberrations of his reason we discover a mighty irregular power of reasoning, immethodized from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers.--as the wind blows where it listeth, at will on the corruptions and abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones to do with that sublime identification of his age with that of ‘the heavens themselves,' when, in his reproaches to them for con miving at the injustice of his children, he reminds them that they themselves are old.” What gesture shall we appropriate to this? What has the voice or the eye to do with such things? But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it show. It is too hard and stony: it must have love scenes and a happy ending. It is not enough that Cordelia is a daughter; Tate has put his hook in the nostrils of this Leviathan, for Garrick and his followers, the showmen of the scene, to draw it about more easily. A happy ending !—as if the living martyrdom that Lear had gone, through—the flaying of his feelings alive, did not make a fair dismissal from the stage of life the only decorous thing for him. If he is to live, and to be happy after, why all this ‘pudder' and preparation—why torment us with all this unnecessary sympathy as if the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and sceptre again could tempt him to act over his mis-used station,--as if, at his years and with his experience, any thing was left him but to die?”— CHARLEs LAM B's “Theatralia.” The grand characteristics of the drama, and of Lear himself, are thus admirably analyzed and discriminated by Mr. Hallam :— “If originality of invention did not so much stamp every play of Shakespeare that to name one as the most original seems a disparagement to others, we might say that this great prerogative of genius was exercised above all in LEAR. It diverges more from the model of regular tragedy than MAcbeth, or OTHELLO, and even much more than HAMLET; but the fable is better constructed than in the last of these, and it displays full as much of the almost superhuman inspiration of the Poet as the other two. Lear himself is perhaps the most wonderful of dramatic conceptions: ideal enough to satisfy the most romantic imagination, yet idealized from the reality of nature. In preparing us for the most intense sympathy with this old man, he first abases him to the ground; it is not (Edipus, against whose respected age the gods themselves have conspired; it is not Orestes, ... and affectionate, whose crime has been virtue; it is a headstrong, feeble, and selfish being
whom, in the first act of the tragedy, nothing seems cable of redeeming in our eyes—nothing but what folows—intense woe, unnatural wrong. Then comes on that... madness, not absurdly sudden, as in some tragedies, but in which the strings that keep his reasoning wers together, give way one after the other, in the renzy of rage and grief. Then it is that we find, what in life may sometimes be seen, the intellectual energies grow stronger in calamity, and especially under wrong. An awful eloquence belongs to unmerited suffering. Thoughts burst out more profound than Lear, in his prosperous hour, could ever have conceived: inconsequent, for such is the condition of madness; but in themselves fragments of truth, the reason of an unreasonable inind.”—HALLAM’s “Literature of Europe.” All spectators, all readers, have felt and acknowledged the touching nature of Cordelia's character; but critics have been so much absorbed with the grander features of the injured father, or so little versed in discriminating the more delicate shades of female character, that their notice of Cordelia consists of little more than vague generalities, such as describe her no more than they do any other of the gentle and pure minds which Shakespeare delighted to paint—than Imogen, or Ophelia, or Miranda, or Desdemona. Mrs. Jameson has supplied this deficiency, and traced with exquisite discrimination of taste and feeling, the peculiarities of moral delineation in this character which give to it such a truth of individuality, and an effect so quiet yet so deep. The character, as she remarks, has no salient points upon which the fancy can seize, little of external development of intellect, less of passion, and still less of imagination; yet it is completely made out in a few scenes, and we are surprised to find that in those few scenes there is matter for a life of reflection, and materials enough for twenty heroines. After pointing out the excellences of the female character exemplified in Cordelia, as sensibility, gentleness, magnanimity, fortitude, generous affection, Mrs. Jameson proceeds to inquire, “What is it, then, which lends
to Cordelia that peculiar and individual truth of character which distinguishes her from every other human being?
“It is a natural reserve, a tardiness of conception ‘which often leaves the history unspoke which it intends to do,”—a subdued quietness of deportment and expression—a veiled shyness thrown over all her emotions,—her language and her manner, making the outward demonstration invariably fall short of what we know to be the feeling within. Not only is the portrait singularly beautiful and interesting in itself, but the conduct of Cordelia, and the part which she bears in the beginning of the story, is rendered consistent and natural by the wonderful truth and delicacy with which this peculiar disposition is sustained throughout the P.
#. generous, delicate, but shy disposition of Cordelia, concealing itself at first under external coolness, Mrs. J. then adds, “is beautifully represented as a certain modification of character, the necessary result of feelings habitually repressed; and through the whole play we trace the same peculiar and individual disposition—the same absence of all display—the same sobriety of speech veiling the most profound affections—the same quiet steadiness of purpose—the shrinking from all exhibition of emotion.
“‘Tous les sentimens naturels ont leur pudeur,’ was a viva-voce observation of Madame de Staël, when disgusted by the sentimental affectation of her imitators. This ‘pudeur,” carried to an excess, appears to me the peculiar characteristic of Cordelia. Thus, in the description of her deportment when she receives the letter of the Earl of Kent, informing her of the cruelty of her sisters and the wretched condition of Lear, we seem to have her before us:—
Then away she started, to deal with grief alone.
“Here, the last line—the image brought before us of Cordelia starting away from observation to deal with grief alone,' is equally as beautiful as it is characteristic."