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Fall, and cease 42! Lear. This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so, It is a chance that does redeem all sorrows That ever I have felt. Kent.
O my good master! [Kneeling. Lear. 'Pr’ythee, away: Edg.
'Tis noble Kent, your friend.
Off: 'Tis true, my lords, he did.
Did I not, fellow?
Kent. If fortune brag of two she lov’d and hated, One of them we behold 44.
42 To cease is to die. Albany is looking with attention on the pains employed by Lear to recover his child, and knows to what miseries he must survive, when he finds them to be ineffectual. Having these images present to his eyes and imagination, he cries out. Rather fall, and cease to be at once, than continue in existence only to be wretched.'
43 It is difficult for an author who never peruses his first works to avoid repeating some of the same thoughts in his later productions. What Lear has just said has been anticipated by Justice Shallow, in The Merry Wives of Windsor :-'I have seen the time with my long sword I would have made you four tall fellows skip like rats.' It is again repeated in Othello :
I have seen the day
I have made my way,' &c. 44 · If Fortune, to display the plenitude of her power, should brag of two persons, one of whom she had highly elevated, and the other she had wofully depressed, we now behold the latter.' The quarto reads. She lov'd or hated,' which confirms this sense.
Lear. This is a dull sight 45: Are you not Kent? Kent.
The same; Your servant Kent: Where is your servant Caius ? Lear. He's a good fellow, I can tell
you He'll strike, and quickly too :-He's dead and rotten. Kent. No, my good lord, I am
very man; Lear. I'll see that straight.
Kent. That from your first of difference and decay, Have follow'd your
sad steps. Lear.
You are welcome hither. Kent. Nor no man else; all's cheerless, dark, and
deadly.Your eldest daughters have fore-doom'd 46 them
selves, And desperately are dead. Lear.
Ay, so I think. Alb. He knows not what he sees; and vain it is That we present us to him. Edg.
Enter an Officer.
That's but a trifle here. You lords, and noble friends, know our intent. What comfort to this great decay 47 may come, Shall be applied : for us, we will resign,
45 I think, with Mr. Blakeway, that Lear means his eyesight was bedimmed either by excess of grief, or, as is usual, by the approach of death. So in Baret, ' Dull eyes, inertes oculi:* To dull the eyesight, hebetare oculos.' Albany says of Lear below, “He knows not what he sees,' where the folio erroneously reads · he says.
46 Thus the quartos : the folio reads foredone, which is probably right. See note 39, p. 540, ante.
47 • This great decay' is Lear, whom Shakspeare poetically calls so; and means the same as if he had said, ' this piece of decayed royalty,'' this ruined majesty. Gloster calls bim in a preceding scene ‘ruin'd piece of nature.'
During the life of this old majesty,
[To EDGAR and KENT.
Lear. And my poor fool is hang’d 49! No, no, no
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
48 These lines are addressed to Kent as well as to Edgar, else the word honours would not have been in the plural number. Boot is advantage, increase. By honours is meant, honourable conduct.
49 This is an expression of tenderness for his dead Cordelia (not his fool, as some have thought), on whose lips he is still intent, and dies while he is searching there for indications of life. • Poor fool,' in the age of Shakspeare, was an expression of endearment. So in Twelfth Night:- Alas, poor fool, how have they baffled thee.' Again, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona :
Alas, poor fool, why do I pity him? With other instances which will present themselves to the reader's memory. The fool of Lear was long ago forgotten; having filled the space allotted to him in the arrangement of the play, he appears to have been silently withdrawn in the sixth scene of the third act. 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.—That the thoughts of a father, in the bitterest of all moments, when his favourite child lay dead in his arms, should recur to the antick, who had formerly diverted him, has somewhat in it that cannot be reconciled to the idea of genuine despair and sorrow.-Steevens.
There is an ingenious note by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the variorum Shakspeare, for which I regret I cannot find space, sustaining a contrary opinion ; but, as Malone observes, · 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 now in the agony of death, and surely at such a time, when his heart was just breaking, it would be highly unnatural that he should think of his fool. He 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.'
Look up, my
And thou no breath at all? 0, thou wilt come no
more, Never, never, never, never, never !'Pray you, undo this button : Thank
sir. Do you see this ?—Look on her,-look,-her lips, Look there, look there!
[He dies. Edg. He faints !-My lord, my lord,Kent. Break, heart; I pr’ythee, break! Edg.
lord. Kent. Vex not his ghost: 0, let him pass! he
0, he is
indeed. Kent. The wonder is, he hath endur'd so long : He but usurp'd his life. Alb. Bear them from hence.—Our present bu
siness Is general woe. Friends of my soul, you twain
[To Kent and EDGAR. Rule in this realm, and the gor'd state sustain.
Kent. I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls, and I must not say, no.
Alb. The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we, that are young, Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
[Exeunt, with a dead March.
The tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakspeare. There is perhaps 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, perhaps, 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. Shakspeare, 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 he 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 criticised 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 historical fact, 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 dramatick exhibition, and such as must always compel the mind to relieve its distress 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 cooperate 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
* Dr. Joseph Warton.