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(WRITTEN ABOUT 1605.)
Among the tragedies of passion King Lear is the one in which passions assume the largest pro portions, act upon the widest theatre, and attain their absolute extremes. The story of Lear and his daughters was found by Shakespeare in Holinshed, and he may have taken a few hints from an old play, The True Chronicle History of King Leir. In both Holinshed's version aud that of the True Chronicle, the army of Lear and his French allies is victorious; Lear is reinstated in his kingdom; but Holinshed relates how, after Lear's death, her sister's sons warred against Cordelia and took her prisoner, when "being a woman of a manly courage and despairing to recover liberty," she slew herself. With the story of Lear Shakespeare connects that of Gloucester and his two sons. An episode in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia supplied characters and incidents for this portion of the play, Sidney's blind king of Paphlagonia corresponding to the Gloucester of Shakespeare. But here, too, the story had in the dramatist's original a happy ending: the Paphlagonian king is restored to his throne, and the brothers are reconciled. The date of the play is probably 1605 or 1606. It was entered on the Stationers' register, Nov. 26, 1607, and the entry states that it had been acted "upon St. Stephen's day at Christmas last," i. e. Dec. 26, 1606. It was printed in quarto in 1608. Shakespeare cares little to give the opening incidents of his play a look of prosaic, historical probability. The spectator or reader is asked, as it were, to grant the dramatist certain data, and then to observe what the imagination can make of them. Good and evil in this play are clearly severed from one another (more so than in Macbeth or in Othello)-and at the last, goodness, if we judge merely by external fortune, would seem to be, if not defeated, at least not triumphant. Shakespeare has dared, while paying little regard to mere historical verisimilitude, to represent the most solemn and awful mysteries of life as they actually are, without attempting to offer a ready-made explanation of them. Cordelia dies strangled in prison; yet we know that her devotion of love was not misspent. Lear expires in an agony of grief; but he has been delivered from his pride and passionate wilfulness: he has found that instead of being a master, at whose nod all things must bow, he is weak and helpless, a sport even of the wind and the rain; his ignorance of true love, and pleasure in false professions of love, have given place to an agonized clinging to the love which is real, deep, and tranquil because of its fulness. Lear is the greatest sufferer in Shakespeare's plays; though so old, he has strength which makes him a subject for prolonged and vast agony; and patience is unknown to him. The elements seem to have conspired against him with his unnatural daughters; the upheaval of the moral world, and the rage of tempest in the air seem to be parts of the same gigantic convulsion. In the midst of this tempest wanders unhoused the white-haired Lear; while his fool-most pathetic of all the minor characters of Shakespeare-jests half-wildly, half-colerently, half-bitterly, half-tenderly, and always with a sad remembrance of the happier past. The poor boy's heart has been sore ever since his "young mistress went to France." If Cordelia is pure love, tender and faithful, and Kent is unmingled loyalty, the monsters Goneril and Regan are gorgons rather than women, such as Shakespeare has nowhere else conceived. The aspect of Coneril can almost turn to stone; in Regan's tongue there is a viperous hiss. The story of Gloucester enlarges the basis of the tragedy. Lear's affliction is no mere private incident; there is a breaking of the bonds of nature and society all around us. But Gloucester is suffering for a former sin of selfindulgence, Lear is "more sinned against than sinning." Yet Gloucester is granted a death which is half joyful. His affliction serves as a measure of the longer affliction of the king. Edgar and Edmund are a contrasted pair-both are men of penetration, energy, and skill, one on the side of evil, the other on the side of good. Everywhere throughout the play Shakespeare's imaginative daring impresses us. Nothing in poetry is bolder or more wonderful than the scene on the night of the tempest in the hovel where the king, whose intellect has now given way, is in company with Edgar, assuming madness, the Fool, with his forced pathetic mirth, and Kent.
LEAR, king of Britain.
EARL OF GLOUCESTER.
CURAN, a courtier.
Old man, tenant to Gloucester.
OSWALD, steward to Goneril
Servants to Cornwall.
SCENE L. King Lear's palace. Enter KENT, GLOUCESTER, and EDMUND. Kent. I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.
Glou. It did always seem so to us: but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most; for equalities are so weighed, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.
Kent. Is not this your son, my lord?
Glou. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to it.
Kent. I cannot conceive you.
Glou. Sir, this young fellow's mother could: whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.
Glou. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: though this knave came something saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ?
Edm. No, my lord.
Glou. My lord of Kent: remember him hereafter as my honorable friend.
Edm. My services to your lordship.
Kent. I must love you, and sue to know you better.
Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving. Glou. He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again. The king is coming. Sennet. Enter KING LEAR, CORNWALL, ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN, CORDELIA, and Attendants.
Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester. Glou. I shall, my liege.
[Exeunt Gloucester and Edmund. Lear. Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: and 'tis our fast intent To shake all cares and business from our age; Conferring them on younger strengths, while
Lear. To thee and thine hereditary ever Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom; No less in space, validity, and pleasure, Than that conferr'd on Goneril.
joy, Although the last, not least; to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy Strive to be interess'd; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak. Cor. Nothing, my lord.
Lear. Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
Cor. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
Lear. But goes thy heart with this ?
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun, The mysteries of Hecate, and the night; By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be;
Or he that makes his generation messes
Good my liege,—
Lear. Peace, Kent! Come not between the dragon and his wrath. I loved her most, and thought to set my rest On her kind nursery. Hence, and avoid my sight!
So be my grave my peace, as here I give Her father's heart from her! Call France; who stirs ?
Call Burgundy. Cornwall and Albany, With my two daughters' dowers digest this third: 130 Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.
Gon. You see how full of changes his age is; the observation we have made of it hath not been little he always loved our sister most; and with what poor judgment he hath now cast her off appears too grossly.
Reg. 'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.
Gon. The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash; then must we look to receive from his age, not alone the imperfections of long-engraffed condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them.
Reg. Such unconstant starts are we like to have from him as this of Kent's banishment.
Gon. There is further compliment of leavetaking between France and him. Pray you, let's hit together: if our father carry authority with such dispositions as he bears, this last surrender of his will but offend us. 310
Reg. We shall further think on't. Gon. We must do something, and i' the [Exeunt,
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
Glou. Kent banish'd thus ! and France in choler parted!
And the king gone to-night! subscribed his power!
Confined to exhibition! All this done Upon the gad! Edmund, how now! what news?
Edm. So please your lordship, none. [Putting up the letter. Glou. Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?
Edm. I know no news, my lord.
Glou. What paper were you reading? 30 Edm. Nothing, my lord.
Glou. No? What needed, then, that terrible dispatch of it into your pocket? the quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see: come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.
Edm. I beseech you, sir, pardon me it is a letter from my brother, that I have not all o'er-read; and for so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for your o'er-looking. 40
Glou. Give me the letter, sir.
Edm. I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.
Glou. Let's see, let's see.
Edm. I hope, for my brother's justification, he wrote this but as an essay or taste of my virtue,
Glou. [Reads] 'This policy and reverence of age makes the world bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes from us till our