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thing but corporal infirmities and weakness, 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 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 conniving 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 shew : it is too hard and stony: it must have love scenes, and a happy ending. It is not enough that Cordelia is a daughter, she must shine as a lover too. Tate has put his hook in the nostrils of this Leviathan, for Garrick and his followers, the shewmen 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 be happy after, if he could sustain this world's burden 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 again his misused sta
tion, as if at his years and with his experience, any thing was left but to die."*
Four things have struck us in reading LEAR:
1. That poetry is an interesting study, for this reason, that it relates to whatever is most interesting in human life. Whoever therefore has a contempt for poetry, has a contempt for himself and humanity.
2. That the language of poetry is superiour to the language of painting; because the strongest of our recollections relate to feelings, not to faces.
3. That the greatest strength of genius is shewn in describing the strongest passions : for the power of the imagination, in works of invention, must be in proportion to the force of the natural impressions which are the subject of them.
4. That the circumstance which balances the pleasure against the pain in tragedy is, that in proportion to the greatness of the evil, is our sense and desire of the opposite good excited; and that our sympathy with actual suffering is lost in the strong impulse given to our natural affections, and carried away with the swelling tide of passion, that gushes from and relieves the heart.
* See an article, called Theatralia, in the second volume of the Reflector, by Charles Lamb.
Richard II. is a play little known compared with Richard III., which last is a play that every unfledged candidate for theatrical fame chooses to strut and fret his hour upon the stage in; yet we confess that we prefer the nature and feeling of the one to the noise and bustle of the other; at least, as we are so often forced to see it acted. In Richard II. the weakness of the king leaves us leisure to take a greater interest in the misfortunes of the man. After the first act, in which the arbitrariness of his behaviour only proves his want of resolution, we see him staggering under the unlooked-for blows of fortune, bewailing his loss of kingly power, not preventing it, sinking under the aspiring genius of Bolingbroke, bis authority trampled on, his hopes failing him, and his pride crushed and broken down under insults and injuries, which his own misconduct had provoked, but which he has not courage or mapliness to resent. The change of tone and behaviour in the two competitors for the throne according to their change of fortune, from the capri
cious sentence of banishment passed by Richard upon Bolingbroke, the suppliant offers and modest pretensions of the latter on his return, to the high and haughty tone with which he accepts Richard's resignation of the crown after the loss of all his power, the use which he makes of the deposed king to grace his triumphal progress through the streets of London, and the final intimation of his wish for bis death, which immediately finds a servile executioner, is marked throughout with complete effect, and without the slightest appearance of effort. The steps by which Bolingbroke mounts the throne are those by which Richard sinks into the grave. We feel neither respect nor love for the deposed monarch; for he is as wanting in energy as in principle : but we pity him, for he pities himself. His heart is by no means hardened against himself, but bleeds afresh at every new stroke of mischance, and his sensibility, absorbed in his own person, and unused to misfortune, is not only tenderly alive to its own sufferings, but without the fortitude to bear them. He is, however, human in his distresses; for to feel pain and sorrow, weakness, disappointment, remorse and anguish, is the lot of humanity, and we sympathize with him accordingly. The sufferings of the man make us forget that he ever was a king.
The right assumed by sovereign power to trifle at its will with the happiness of others as a matter of course, or to remit its exercise as a matter of favour, is strikingly shewn in the sentence of banishment so unjustly pronounced on Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and in what Bolingbroke says when four years of his banishment are taken off, with as little reason.
“ How long a time lies in one little word ! Four lagging winters and four wanton springs End in a word : such is the breath of kings."
A more affecting image of the loneliness of a state of exile can hardly be given, than by what Bolingbroke afterwards observes of his having “sighed his English breath in foreign clouds ;" or than that conveyed in Mowbray’s complaint at being banished for life.
“ The language I have learned these forty years,
How very beautiful is all this, and at the same time how very English too !
Richard II. may be considered as the first of that series of English historical plays, in which“ is bung armour of the invincible knights of old,” in which their hearts seem to strike against their coats of mail, where their blood tingles for the fight, and words are but the harbingers of blows. Of tbis state of accomplished barbarism the appeal of Bolingbroke and Mowbray is an admirable specimen. Another of these “keen encounters of their wits," which serve to whet the talkers' swords, is where Aumerle answers in the presence of Bolingbroke to the charge, which Bagot brings against him, of being an accessary in Gloster's death.