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"Meantime we shall express our darker purpose."
Act I., Scene 1. That is, “We have already made known our desire of parting the kingdom: we will now discover, what has not been told before,--the reasons by which we shall regulate the partition."
“ That's a shealed peascod."— Act I., Scene 4. These words, addressed to Lear, signify that he is now a mere husk that contains nothing. The robing of the effigy of Richard II., in Westminster Abbey, is wrought with peascods open and the peas out: perhaps in allusion to his being once in full possession of sovereignty, but reduced to an empty title.
" Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where merit doth most challenge it.”- Act I., Scene 1. In Holinshed this incident is thus related :-"He first asked Gonorilla, the eldest, how well she loved him; who, calling her gods to record, protested that she loved him more than her own life, which by right and reason should be most dear unto her. With which answer the father being well pleased, turned to the second, and demanded of her how well she loved him; who answered (confirming her saying with great oaths) that she loved him more than tongue could express, and far above all other creatures of the world.
"Then called he his youngest daughter Cordeilla before him, and asked her what account she made of him : unto whom she made this answer as followeth :-Knowing the great love and fatherly zeal that you have always borne towards me (for the which I may not answer you otherwise than I think and as my conscience leadeth me), I protest unto you that I have loved you ever, and will continually, while I live, love you as my natural father. And if you would more understand of the love I bear you, ascertain yourself that so much as you have so much you are worth ; and so much I love you, and no more."
" So out went the candle, and we were left darkling."
Act I., Scene 4. Shakspere's fools are certainly copied from the life. The originals whom he copied were, no doubt, men of quick parts, lively and sarcastic. Though they were licensed to say anything, it was still necessary, to prevent giving offence, that everything they said should have a playful air. We may suppose, therefore, that they had a custom of taking off the edge of too sharp a speech, by covering it hastily with the end of an old song, or any glib nonsense that came into their mind.-SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
In a very old dramatic piece, called “THE LONGER THOU LIVEST THE MORE FOOL THOU ART," there is this stage direction "Entereth Moros, counterfeiting a vain gesture and a foolish countenance, singing the foot of many songs, as fools were wont."
It is but justice to the poet to state that the most offensive passages delivered by the fool in this play occur in the form of tags (as they are technically called); that is, phrases or lines spoken in conclusion or on making an exit. Those alluded to were probably interpolations in the first instance and gradually became incorporated with the text of the prompter's book.
"I am made of that sell metal as my sister,
And prize me at her worth."-Act I., Scene 1. That is, “ Estimate me at her value; my love has at least equal claim to your favour : only she comes short of me in this,-that I profess myself an enemy to all other joys which the most precious aggregation of sense can bestow." The word " square" is here used for the whole complement. as "circle" is now sometimes used.
"Some blood drawn on me would beget opinion
of my more fierce endeavour: I have seen drunkards
These drunken feats are mentioned in Marston's “Dutch COURTEZAN:"_"Have I not been drunk for your health; eat glasses, drunk wine, stabbed arms, and done all offices of protested gallantry for your sake ?"
"If I had thee in Lipsbury pinfold, I would moke thee care for me."-Act II., Scene 2.
" Lipsbury pinfold" may, perhaps, like "Lob's pond," be a coined name, but with what allusion does not appear.
"O, these eclipses do portend these divisions ! fa, sol, lu, mi.”
Act I, Scene 2. Shakspere shews by the context that he was well acquainted with the property of these syllables (fa, sol, la, mi), in solmisation, which imply a series of sounds so unnatural that ancient musicians prohibited their use. The monkish writers on music say, mi contra fa, est diabolus: the interval ja mi, including a tritonus or sharp fourth, consisting of three tones without the intervention of a semi-tone, expressed in the modern scale by the letters F, G, A, B, would form a musical phrase extremely disagreeable to the ear.-Edmund, speaking of eclipses as portents and prodigies, compares the dislocation of events, the times being out of joint, to the unnatural and offensive sounds, fa, sol, la, mi.--Dr. BURNEY.
"Goose, if I had you upon Sarum plain,
I'd drive ye cackling home to Camelot." ---Act II., Scene 2. In Somersetshire, near Camelot, are many large moors, where are bred great quantities of geese. It was the place where, according to the romances, King Arthur kept his court in the west.
“ There, take my coxcom)."- Act I, Scene 4. By “coxcomb" the fool means his cap; called so, because on the top of it was sewed a piece of red cloth, resembling the comb of a cock. The word has been since used to denote a vain, conceited, meddling fellow.
"Good king, that must approve the common sar;
Thou out of heaven's benediction com'st
To the warm sun."--Act II., Scene 2. That is, from good to worse. Kent is thinking of the King being likely to receive a worse reception from Regan than that which he had already experienced from Goneril. The “common saw" is found in Heywood's “DIALOGUES ON PROVERBS:"
"In your running from him to me, ye run
Out of God's blessing into the warm sun."
the quartos, but is wanting in the folio editions. This is the case, also, with the whole of scene 3, act iv. (in which Cordelia's demeanour, on hearing of Lear's sufferings, is so beautifully painted); it is found only in the quartos. Many other interesting passages have been restored by the com mentators from these editions. In the first folio (which was published by the players), the tragedy was probably abridged to some extent, in order to make it more available for stage purposes; but by whom it is now impossible to ascertain. The additional matter in this copy is of very small amount.
“ The country gives me proof and precedent
of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices,
Act II., Scene 3. In Decker's “BELL-MAN OF LONDON" (1640), there is an account of a character of this description, under the title of “ Abraham Man:"
“He swears he hath been in Bedlam, and will talk franticly of purpose. You see pins stuck in sundry places of his naked flesh, especially in his arms: which pain he gladly puts him to, only to make you believe he is out of his wits. He calls himself by the name of Poor Tom;' and, coming near anybody, cries out ‘Poor Tom is a-cold.' Of these Abraham-men some be exceeding merry, and do nothing but sing songs fashioned out of their own brains. Some will dance, others will do nothing but either laugh or weep: others are dogged, and so sullen both in look and speech, that, spying but a small company in a house, they boldly and bluntly enter, compelling the servants through fear to give them what they demand."
The cant term, to "sham Abraham," is probably derived from this source.
"Poor Tom, thy horn is dry." — Act III., Scene 6. The allusion here is to the horn which a "Tom of Bedlam" was in the habit of carrying, to contain such drink as was given him in charity. See "A PLEASANT DISPUTE BETWEEN A Coach AND A SEDAN" (1636):-“I have observed when a coach is appendant to but two or three hundred pounds a year, mark it, the dogs are as lean as rakes; you may tell all their ribs lying by the fire; and Tom of Bedlam may sooner eat his horn than get it filled with small drink."
“ Poor Turlygood! poor Tom."-Act II., Scene 3.
“ Turlygood" is supposed to be a corruption of " TurJupin." The Turlu pins were a fantastical sect, who appeared on the continent in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, calling themselves Beghards or Beghins. Their menaces and appearance exhibited the strongest indications of lunacy and distraction, and their popular name, Turlupins, was probably derived from the wolfish howlings they made in their fits of religious raving.
" Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill,” &c.
Act II., Scene 4. One cannot too much commend the caution which our moral poet uses on all occasions to prevent his sentiment from being perversely taken. So here, having given an ironical commendation of perfidy and base desertion of the unfortunate,-for fear it should be understood seriously, though delivered by his buffoon or jester, he has the precaution to add this beautiful corrective, full of fine sense :"I would have none but knaves follow it, since a fool gives it." -WARBURTON,
“Who gives anything to poor Tom ? whom the foul fiend hath led through fire and through flame, through ford and whirlpool, over bog and quagmire: that hath laid knives under his pillow, and halters in his pew."-Act III., Scene 4.
It is a frequent charge against the fiend that he tempts to self-destruction. In "Dr. FAUSTUs" (1604), we find :
“Swords, poisons, halters, and en venomed steel,
Are laid before me, to despatch myself." 'In Harsenet's “ Declaration" (a curious work which is more particularly mentioned in a note on act iv., scene 1), there is a passage which it is probable the poet had especially in view when writing the quoted passage :-" This examinant further saith, that one Alexander, an apothecary, having brought with him from London to Denham, on a time, a new halter and two blades of knives, did leave the same upon the gallery floor, in her master's house. A great search was made in the house to know how the said halter and knife-blades came thither, till Ma. Mainy, in his next tit, said, it was reported that the devil laid them in the gallery, that some of those that were possessed might either hang themselves with the halter, or kill themselves with the blades."
" See it shall thou never.--Fellous, hold the chair.-
Act III., Scene 7. In the original copies of "LEAR," there are no indications as to the manner in which Gloster's eyes are supposed to be extruded; and those stage directions which have been affixed by the commentators give an air of shocking reality to the deed which was probably avoided in representation : we have therefore simply adhered to the text, and left the mode of operation in that obscurity which best befits the appalling incident.-Tieck, an eminent German critic, thus comments on the subject, in reference to the construction of the old theatres :
“The chair (or seat) in which Gloster is bound is the same which stood somewhere elevated in the middle of the scene, and from which Lear delivered his first speech. This little theatre, in the midst, was, when not in use, concealed by a curtain, which was again withdrawn when necessary. Shakspere has, therefore, like all the dramatists of his age. frequently two scenes at one and the same time. In “HENRY VIII.," the nobles stand in the ante-chamber; the curtain is withdrawn, and we are in the chamber of the King. Thus, also, when Cranmer waits in the ante-chamber, the curtain then opens to the council-chamber. We have here this advantage, that, by the pillars which divided this little central theatre from the proscenium or proper stage, not only could a double group be presented, but it could be partially concealed; and thus two scenes might be played, which would be wholly comprehended, although not everything in the smaller frame was expressly and evidently seen. Thus Gloster sat probably concealed, and Cornwall, nea! him, is visible. Regan stands below, on the fore-stage, but close to Cornwall: and on this fore-stage also stand the servants. Cornwall, horribly enough, tears Gloster's eye out with his hand; but we do not directly see it, for some of the servants who hold the chair stand around, and the curtain is only half-withdrawn (for it divided on each side). The expression which Cornwall uses is only figurative, and it is certainly not meant that the act of treading on the eye is actually done.
“During the scornful speeches of Cornwall and Regan, one of the servants runs up to the upper stage, and wounds Cornwall. Regan, who is below, seizes a sword from another of the vassals, and stabs him from behind while he is yet fighting. The groups are all in motion, and become more concealed; and while the attention is strongly attracted to the bloody scene, Gloster loses his second eye. We hear Gloster's complainings, but we see him no more. Thus he goes off; for this minor stage had also its place of exit. Cornwall and Regan come again upon the proscenium, and go off on the side. The servants conclude the scene with some reflections.
« The foul fend bites my back."- Act III, Scene 6.
All the fine matter commencing with this line, and ending “False justicer, why hast thou let her 'scape?" appears in
"This I imagine to be the course of the action, and through this the horrors of the scene become somewhat softened. The poet, to be sure, trusted much to the strong minds of his friends, who would be too much affected by the fearfulness of the entire representation of this tragedy to be interrupted by single events, bloody as they were; or, through them, to be frightened back from their conception of the whole."
turning it and feeling it, in the attitude of one of the preachers of those times (whom I have seen represented in ancient prints) till the idea of felt, which the good hat or block was made of, raises the stratagem in his brain of shoeing a troop of horse with the same substance.
Dr. Johnson (with greater probability, as we think) proposes to read “a good flock," instead of “a good block."“Flocks," he adds, "are wool moulded together. It is very common for madmen to catch an accidental hint, and strain it to the purpose predominant in their minds. Lear picks up a flock, and immediately thinks to surprise his enemies by a troop of horse shod with flocks or felt."
The "delicate stratagem" of so equipping horses, had, it appears from Lord Herbert's " LIFE OF HENRY VIII.," been rosorted to, in a tournament held at Lisle in 1513, in order to prevent the animals from slipping on a marble floor.
“Nay, come not near th' old man: keep out, che vor' ye."
Act IV., Scene 6. “ Che vor' ye" means "I warn you." When our ancient writers have occasion to introduce a rustic, they commonly allot him the Somersetshire dialect. Golding, in his translation of the second book of Ovid's “METAMORPHOSES," makes Mercury, assuming the appearance of a clown, speak with the provinciality of Edgar.
"Flibberligibel, of mopping and mowing; who since possesses chamber maids and wailing women."-Act IV., Scene 1.
Shakspere has made Edgar, in his feigned distraction, frequently allude to a vile imposture of some English Jesuits, at that time much the subject of conversation; the history of it having just then been composed with great art and vigour of style and composition by Dr. Harsenet, afterwards Archbishop of York, by order of the Privy Council, in a work entitled " A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, to withdraw the Hearts of her Majesty's Subjects from their Allegiance, &c.: practised by Edmunds, alias Weston, a Jesuit, and divers Romish Priests, his wicked Associates:"printed 1603.
The imposture was in substance this:-While the Spaniards were preparing their Armada against England, the Jesuits here were busy at work to promote it, by making converts : one method they employed was to dispossess pretended demoniacs; by which artifice they made several hundred converts amongst the common people. The principal scene of this farce was laid in the family of Mr. Edward Peckham, a Roman Catholic, where Marwood, a servant of Anthony Babington (who was afterwards executed for treason), Trayford, an attendant upon Mr. Peckham, and Sarah and Friswood Williams, and Anne Smith (three chambermaids in that family), came into the priests' hands for cure. But the discipline of the patients was so long and severe, and the priests so elate and careless with their success, that the plot was discovered on the confession of the parties concerned, and the contrivers of it deservedly punished.
The five devils mentioned in the text are the names of five of those who were made to act in this farce, upon the chambermaids and waiting women; and they were generally so ridiculously nicknamed, that Harsenet has one chapter "on the strange names of their devils; lest (says he) meeting them otherwise by chance, you mistake them for the names of tapsters or jugglers."—WARBURTON.
" And take upon us the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies." --Act V., Scene 3. That is, “as if we were angels, endowed with the power of prying into the original motives of action and the mysteries of conduct."-JOHNSON.
“ Trust to thy single virtue."—Act V., Scene 3. “ Virtue" here signifies valour: a Roman sense of the word. Raleigh says, " The conquest of Palestine with singular virtue they achieved."
"Ask him his purposes : why he appears
Upon this call o' the trumpet."-Act V., Scene 3. This is according to the ceremonials of the trial by combat: "The appellant and his procurator first come to the gate. The constable and marshal demand, by voice of herald, what he is and why he comes so arrayed."-Selden's "DUELLO."
"She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap, perforce must wither,
And come to deadly use."-Act IV., Scene 2. Alluding to the use that witches and enchanters are said to make of withered branches in their charms. A fine insinuation in Albany that Goneril was ready for the most unnatural mischief; and a preparative of the poet to her plotting with the bastard against her husband's life.-WARBURTON. So in " MACBETH :"
"Slips of yew, Slivered in the moon's eclipse."
" Kent. Is this the promised end ?
EDG. Or image of that horror ?"-Act V., Scene 3. Kent, in contemplating the unexampled scene of exquisite affection which was then before him, and the unnatural attempt of Goneril and Regan against their father's life, recollects those passages of St. Mark's Gospel in which Christ foretels to his disciples the end of the world : and hence his question, “ Is this the promised end of all things, which has been foretold to us ?" to which Edgar adds, " or only a representation or resemblance of that horror ?" So Macbeth, when he calls upon Banquo, Malcolm, &c., to view Duncan murdered, says, –
“Up, up, and see
The great doom's image." There is an allusion to the same passage of Scripture in a speech of Gloster's, in the second scene of the first act.Mason.
" See thyself, devil!
So horrid as in woman."— Act IV., Scene 2. That is, “ Diabolical qualities appear not so horrid in the devil, to whom they belong, as in woman, who unnaturally assumes them."
" This a good block!
A troop of horse with felt!"-Act IV., Scene 6. Upon the King's saying, “I will preach to thee," the poet seems to have meant him to pull off his hat, and keep
" The weight of this sad time we must obey."
Act V., Scene 3. This speech, from the authority of the old quarto, is rightly placed to Albany. In the edition by the players it is given to Edgar, by whom, I doubt not, it was of custom spoken; and the case was this : he who played Edgar, being a more favourite actor than he who performed Albany, in spite of decorum it was thought proper he should have the last word.-THEOBALD.
Of this noble tragedy, one of the first productions of the noblest of poets, it is scarcely possible to express our admiration in adequate terms. Whether considered as an effort of art or as a picture of the passions, it is entitled to the highest praise. The two portions of which the fable consists, involving the fate of Lear and his daughters and of Gloster and his sons, influence each other in so many points and are blended with such consummate skill, that whilst the imagination is delighted by diversity of circumstances, the judgment is equally gratified in viewing their mutual cooperation towards the final result; the coalescence being so intimate as not only to preserve the necessary unity of action, but to constitute one of the greatest beauties of the piece.
Such, indeed, is the interest excited by the structure and concatenation of the story, that the attention is not once suffered to flag. By a rapid succession of incidents, by sudden and overwhelming vicissitudes, by the most awful instances of misery and destitution, by the boldest contrariety of characters, are curiosity and anxiety kept progressively increasing, and with an impetus so strong as nearly to absorb every faculty of the mind and every feeling of the heart.
Victims of frailty, of calamity, or of vice, in an age remote and barbarous--the actors in this drama are brought forward with a strength of colouring which, had the scene been placed in a more civilised era, might have been justly deemed too dark and ferocious, but is not discordant with the earliest heathen age of Britain. The effect of this style of characterisation is felt occasionally throughout the entire play, but is particularly visible in the delineation of the vicious personages of the drama; the parts of Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and Cornwall, being loaded not only with ingratitude of the deepest dye, but with cruelty of the most savage and diabolical nature. They are the criminals, in fact, of an age when vice may be supposed to reign with lawless and gigantic power, and in which the extrusion of Gloster's eyes might be such an event as not unfrequently occurred.
Had this mode of casting his characters in the extreme applied to the remainder of the dramatis persone, we should have lost some of the finest lessons of humanity and wisdom that ever issued from the pen of an uninspired writer: but, with the exception of a few coarsenesses, which remind us of the barbarous period to which the story is referred, and of a few instances rather revolting to probability, but which could not be detached from the original narrative, the virtuous agents of the play exhibit the manners and the feelings of civilisation, and are of that mixed fabric which can alone display a just portraiture of the nature and composition of our species.
The characters of Cordelia and Edgar, it is true, approach nearly to perfection; but the filial virtues of the former are combined with such exquisite tenderness of heart, and those of the latter with such bitter humiliation and suffering, that grief, indignation, and pity are instantly excited. Very
striking representations are also given of the rough fidelity of Kent and of the hasty credulity of Gloster; but it is in delineating the passions, feelings, and afflictions of Lear that our poet has wrought up a picture of human misery which has never been surpassed and which agitates the soul with the most overpowering emotions of sympathy and compassion.
The conduct of the unhappy monarch having been founded merely on the impulses of sensibility, and not on any fixed principle or rule of action, no sooner has he discovered the baseness of those on whom he had relied, and the fatal mistake into which he had been hurried by the delusions of inordinate fondness and extravagant expectation, than he feels himself bereft of all consolation and resource. Those to whom he had given all, for whom he had stripped himself of dignity and honour, and on whom he had centred every hope of comfort and repose in his old age-his inhuman daughters-having not only treated him with utter coldness and contempt, but sought to deprive him of all the respectability and even of the very means of existence what, in a mind so constituted as Lear's, the sport of intense and ill-regulated feeling, and tortured by the reflection of having deserted the only child who loved him--what but madness could be expected as the result ! It was, in fact, the necessary consequence of the reciprocal action of complicated distress and morbid sensibility: and, in describing the approach of this dreadful infliction, in tracing its progress, its height, and subsidence, our poet has displayed such an intimate knowledge of the workings of the human intellect, under all its aberrations, as would afford an admirable study for the inquirer into mental physiology,
He has also in this play, as in that of "HAMLET," finely discriminated between real and assumed insanity,-Edgar, amidst all the wild imagery which his imagination has accumulated never once touching on the true source of his misery; whilst Lear, on the contrary, finds it associated with every object and every thought, however distant or dissimilar. Not even the Orestes of Euripides, or the Clementina of Richardson, can, as pictures of disordered reason, be placed in competition with this of Lear. It may be pronounced, indeed, from its truth and completeness, beyond the reach of rivalry.-DRAKE'S “SHAKSPEARE AND HIS TIMES."
THE tragedy of "LEAR" is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakspere. 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.-Jouxsox.