No. V.


Madness being occasioned by a close and continued attention of the mind to a single object, Shakspeare judiciously represents the resignation of his crown to daughters so cruel and unnatural, as the particular idea which has brought on the distraction of Lear, and which perpetually recurs to his imagination, and mixes itself with all his ramblings. Full of this idea, therefore, he breaks out abruptly in the Fourth Act : 'No, they cannot touch me for coining: I am the king himself.' He believes himself to be raising recruits, and censures the inability and unskilfulness of some of his soldiers : “There's your press-money. That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper: draw me a clothier's yard. Look, look, a mouse! Peace, peace : this piece of toasted cheese will do it.' The art of our poet is transcendent in thus making a passage that even borders on burlesque, strongly expressive of the madness he is painting. Lear suddenly thinks himself in the field; “there's my gauntlet—I'll prove it on a giant !—and that he has shot his arrow successfully: 'O well-flown barb! i’th clout, i’th clout: hewgh! give the word.' He then recollects the falsehood and cruelty of his daughters, and breaks out in some pathetic reflections on his old age, and on the tempest to which he was so lately exposed : “Ha! Gonerill, ha ! Regan! They flattered me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs on my beard, ere the black ones were there. To say, Ay, and No, to every thing that I said-Ay and No too, was no good divinity. When the rain came to wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter; when the thunder would not peace at my bidding; there I found 'em, there I smelt 'em out. Go to, they're not men of their words; they told me I was every thing: 'tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.' The impotence of royalty to exempt its possessor, more than the meanest subject, from suffering natural evils, is here finely hinted at.

His friend and adherent Gloster, having been lately deprived of sight, enquires if the voice he hears is not the voice of the king; Lear instantly catches the word, and replies with great quickness,

-Ay, every inch a king :
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes;
I pardon that man's life. What was thy cause?

Adultery? no, thou shalt not die; die for adultery? He then makes some very severe reflections on the hypocrisy of lewd and abandoned women, and adds, ‘Fie, fie, fie; pah, pah ; give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination ;' and as every object seems to be present to the eyes of the lunatic, he thinks he pays for the drug : 'there's money for thee !' Very strong and

lively also is the imagery in a succeeding speech, where he thinks himself viewing his subjects punished by the


officer :
Thou rascal bedel, hold thy bloody hand :
Why dost thou lash that whore ? strip thy own back;
Thou hotly lust'st to use her in that kind
For which thou whip’st her!

This circumstance leads him to reflect on the efficacy of rank and power, to conceal and palliate profligacy and injustice; and this fine satire is couched in two different metaphors, that are carried on with much propriety and elegance :

Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear ;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks ;

Arm it in rags, a pigmy straw doth pierce it. We are moved to find that Lear has some faint knowledge of his old and faithful courtier :

If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.

I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloster.
The advice he then gives him is very affecting :

Thou must be patient; we came crying hither :
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air
We wawle and cry
When we are born, we cry that we are come

To this great stage of fools ! This tender complaint of the miseries of human life bears so exact a resemblance with the following passage of Lucretius, that I cannot forbear transcribing it :

Vagituque locum lugubri complet, ut equum est,
Cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum.
Then with distressful cries he fills the room,
Too sure presages of his future doom.


It is not to be imagined that our author copied from the Roman ; on such a subject it is almost impossible but that two persons of genius and sensibility must feel and think alike. Lear drops his moralities, and meditates revenge :

It were a delicate stratagem to shoe
A troop of horse with felt. I'll put't in proof;
And when I've stol'n


these sons-in-law, Then kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. The expedient is well suited to the character of a lunatic, and the frequent repetitions of the word ‘kill’ forcibly represent his rage and desire of revenge, and must affect an intelligent audience at once with pity and terror. At this instant Cordelia sends one of her attendants to protect her father from the danger with which he is threatened by her sisters: the wretched king is so accustomed to misery, and so hopeless of succour, that when the messenger offers to lead him out, he imagines himself taken captive and mortally wounded :

No rescue? what! a prisoner ? I am e'en
The nat'ral fool of fortune : use me well,
You shall have ransom. Let me have surgeons;

I am cut to the brain. Cordelia at length arrives ; an opiate is administered to the king, to calm the agonies and agitations of his mind; and a most interesting interview ensues between this daughter, that was so unjustly suspected of disaffection, and the rash and mistaken father. Lear, during his slumber, has been arrayed in regal apparel, and is brought upon the stage in a chair, not recovered from his trance. I know not a speech more truly pathetic than that of Cordelia when she first sees him :

Had you not been their father, these white flakes
Did challenge pity of them. Was this a face
To be expos'd against the warring winds ?

The dreadfulness of that night is expressed by a circumstance of great humanity; for which kind of strokes Shakspeare is as eminent as for his poetry:

My very enemy's dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire. And wast thou fain, poor father,
To hovel thee with swine, and rogues forlorn,
In short and musty straw ?

Lear begins to awake; but his imagination is still distempered, and his pain exquisite;

You do me wrong to take me out o'th' grave:
Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead.

When Cordelia in great affliction asks him if he knows her, he replies,

You are a spirit, I know; when did you

die? Y

« ElőzőTovább »