« AnteriorContinuar »
selves, we have known it to be tried by others, whose organs were infinitely superior to ours; but in vain. What the ear, and organs of delivery of Hodgkinson were, is well known; over and over again he and this writer worked, not only at the parenthesis, but at the multiplied emphasis of Cooke: still the result was forced and artificial; and in spite of every effort, the line of demarkation between the parenthesized part and the sentence that included it, was coarse, studied, and unnatural, compared to those of this great master, and yet not so obvious as his to the understanding or perceptible to the ear.
In the scene where Kent desires to be admitted into the king's service, Cooke's looks made every word tell; the expression of approbation that accompanied Kent's blunt tale was excellent; and the abrupt manner in which, under that feeling, he said, “ Follow me; thou shalt serve me;" was strongly characteristic. Indeed the whole of the fourth scene was of the first rank of acting, particularly the curse, in the utterance of which, though we have heard him equalled, we have never heard him surpassed.
In the second act he was as near to his excellence in the first, as the words and incidents would allow. There is one point, however, which he did not mark as impressively as he might have done; and in which all the living actors vary from their predecessors as entirely, as if the words were understood to have a meaning now, different from that which was once ascribed to them. When Regan bids him return to Goneril, and own to her, that he had wronged her, Lear exclaims,
Ask her forgiveness?
“ That you'll vouchsafe me raiment, bed and food." Actors of the present time, and no mean ones either, speak this to Regan directly, as if it was a serious petition to her; but the fact evidently is, that it is a splenetic effusion, uttered in a paroxysm of that mixed kind of feeling which baseness, when so extreme as to create ludicrous emotions, generates in feeble constitutions. That kind of dubious sensation, which it is easier to conceive than describe; and which Johnson himself, perhaps, could not so well express as the vulgar do when they say, “ I did not know whether to laugh or cry.” The bare proposition is at once so insulting and so ludicrous, so replete with turpitude and folly, that the old king is filled with a compound of real anger and affected levity, in which he has recourse to the practical trope of falling on his knees, in order to mark to all around the abject degradation to which Regan's advice would incite him. Thus Barry, thus Mossop and Sheridan, thus Henderson, and, of course, thus Garrick read it. Nor do we know one passage in the whole play, the curse itself not excepted, which had so piercing an effect upon the audience.
Ask her forgiveness?-[to Regan. Then turning round to all the attendants, Henderson, soliciting their attention, said, in a tone of solemnity,
Do you but mark how this becomes the house. - Be you the judges how such language as this (which Regan,
my own daughter, recommends) would comport with the regal “ dignity of the house of Lear.” Then taking off his hat, and, when he kneeled, dropping it and his cane on the ground, in a tone of biting irony directed to Regan, he affectedly said,
Dear daughter, I confess that I am old:
Age is unnecessary, &c. And having said it rose hastily, filled with resolution as well as rage.
Though we are persuaded that this is the obvious meaning of the author, we are equally persuaded that there are many, who, loving to hug their own errors (as they do their children) to their hearts, will be ready to refuse their assent to it. We will not contest the point with them, but with all due deference say, that, without resting on our own judgment, we cannot help preferring the opinions of the great men we have mentioned, to any now existing. Of this however we are clear, that whatever the intention of Shakspeare was, the effect of the reading of this passage by Henderson, &c. would be cheaply purchased by a transgression of it; and we doubt very much whether any of the great men whose authority we quote, had greater powers to give the desired effect to that passage, than Mr. Cooke possesses, if he chose to adopt it.
We should do wrong to omit the praise that is due to the present Lear, for the very masterly delivery of the last speech of the second act. On Mr. Cooke's power in the management of broken
sentences and abrupt transitions we have heretofore said enough to render it almost superfluous to discuss particularly his excellence in the following passage:
No, you unnatural hags,
- What they are I yet know not but they shall be
The terrors of the earth. Though in conformity to dramatic rule, this tragedy is divided into five acts, the character of Lear, which is our chief object, will be more properly resolved into three divisions. The first antecedent to his insanity, and contained in the two first acts, which have already been considered; the second, his madness and wandering abroad; the third, his return to reason, and his death.
As bodily pain becomes extinct in its own excess, and when it reaches the summit of endurance is lost in insensibility, so the natural result of excessive mental pain, (and indeed too often) its deplorable refuge, is madness. The frequency of this has rendered it so familiar to expectation, that nothing is more common than to hear persons confounded with grief exclaim, “ I shall run mad,—I shall lose my senses.” That it is natural, experience shows. To Shakspeare, therefore, who was sufficiently versed in the most occult parts of man's nature, no great praise can be due for knowing that which the many knew; but his is the praise of taking into account that madness impairs dignity; that when the cause which promotes it is slight, the malady appears ridiculous and generates contempt; that to reconcile it to the majesty of the tragic muse, to render it consistent with decorum in exalted personages, and to relieve it from the incongruity which excites levity and ludicrous emotions, it must be grounded in some awful circumstance, and, in its operations, be conducted with pathos, and affecting solemnity. Having fixed upon the story of King Lear, (which in the original conception is as wretched a piece of lore as can be found in the lumber room of tradition) he exerted his genius upon it to the effect we now witness: to this end he has formed a mass of provocation sufficient, in any judgment, to drive a feeble man mad, and has made the subject of it a person who, from complexional temperature and accidental circumstances, must be supposed highly susceptible of such melancholy impressions. The former we find manifested in the incidents, the latter is to be collected by induction. We have already
remarked, that, from being accustomed to regal authority and unbounded possessions, he is driven almost to the necessity of asking, as alms, a bare subsistence out of an empire he had bestowed; while highminded, impetuous, fond and resentful by nature, and ungovernable in his passions from habit, he is made just a fit person for such evils to work upon. As each separate part of Shakspeare's scheme serves in some way or other, and seldom very remotely, to aid and elucidate all the others, we may perceive that Lear's quick resentment to Cordelia not only answers the purpose of disposing of her, but contributes to render the effect of his other daughters' misconduct to him more likely and natural. For only let us consider, what would have been the fate of Goneril and Regan, had he the means of punishment still in his hands, when he could treat his best beloved Cordelia, upon so very slight a provocation, with such cruelty and rigor. In a fair and exact proportion of the punishment of crimes, there is no torture ingenious cruelty could invent, or savage barbarity inflict which, administered on the same scale by which he punished Cordelia, could reach the enormity of their offences. Such, therefore, would have been the scope of his rage, such too the extent of his latent desire for revenge. Disappointed in those, what could be reasonably expected, but that in the whirlwind of his passions his reason should be torn up by the roots. Thus has our bard made the madness of Lear(totally different from all other fictions of the kind) the natural and almost necessary result of his character and circumstances. Nor is it related in long de. clamatory speeches,-it is not told by a third person “like the tale of an idiot, signifying nothing," as having arisen from this or that cause, which we cannot feel because we witness no part of it, nor look upon as adequate to such an effect, because we do not feel it, -but it is developed to us in its natural progress, as it step by step assails and affects the mind of the unhappy old king.
Having brought Lear within the confines of madness by means thus natural, let us now examine how our poet exhibits him in this extraordinary state.
The third act presents the persecuted old king wandering over a heath in a tremendous storm, and attended only by his fool, and by Kent still in disguise. Before he appears, we are prepared for him by a speech in which one of his gentlemen draws a charming poetical picture of his situation.
Kent. Where's the king?
Gent. Contending with the frightful elements:
When Lear first comes forward we find him sublimely apostrophizing the storm, and, in terms of defiance, calling upon the thunder to destroy the earth and every thing that makes ungrateful man:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
That make ingrateful man! As is natural in madness, the thoughts and feelings of his heart that were formerly predominant are now uppermost. He has lost a kingdom; but the poet, intent upon recommending Lear in the strongest manner to our affections, makes his paternal feelings and moral principles rise paramount to his ambitious,—his first thoughts, therefore, continually recur to the cruelty of his daughters:- Next in order, moral images prevail in his fancy, and adorn the effusions of his distracted mind;—when the recollection of his past regal dignity flits across his disordered imagination, it is only to render his agonies more horrible, and to deepen his regret, not so much for the loss of his kingdom, as for the abuse of his power and for his negligence in office.
Rumble thy belly full! spit fire! spout rain!