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“ ture. And I can never accuse of indecency the man who, by the “ introduction of a little unexpected merriment, saves me from a “ disordered head, or a broken heart. If Shakspeare knew his own “ powers, he must have seen the necessity of tempering his tragic “rage by a mixture of comic ridicule. Other play-wrights must
conduct their approaches to the human heart with the utmost « circumspection; a single false step makes them lose a great deal " of ground: but Shakspeare made his way to it at once, and could “ make his audience burst their sides this moment and their hearts " the next."
Kent's blunt introduction and recommendation of himself to the king therefore, when it receives tolerable support from the performer, generally affords great delight, and pleasingly relaxes the mind and feelings for the reception of the afflicting sequel. His treatment of the gentleman-usher, though laughable, is highly characteristic, and very judiciously managed. With the art peculiar to himself, Shakspeare has made even the short dialogue between Lear and Kent in disguise, though apparently extraneous, help the mind forward in its comprehension of the main design, and by anticipation let in a gleam of light upon the dreary situation to which the latter has reduced himself; commencing even there that excitement of our feelings, which by degrees increases upon us with the progress of the play, till it rends the heart to pieces in the catastrophe.
Lear. What art thou?
Lear. If thou be as poor for a subject as he is for a king, thou art poor enough.
In reviewing the productions of Shakspeare, it is not alone the genius which astonishes and so irresistibly calls forth our passions, but the felicity, the judgment and the exactness with which he first creates, and then applies minute occurrences to the accomplishment of the main object of his plan;—it is not the grand masterly outline, superior though it always is to those of other men, but the delicate strokes of the pencil, the lines scarcely perceptible to common eyes (except in their general effect), with which he fills up and finishes his work, which raise him above all other poets in our estimation.- Incidents separately so inconsiderable as to evade particular notice, conjunctures apparent. ly trivial, expressions of the most simple kind, dubious indefinite VOL. IV.
hemistichs, mutilated exclamations, remote interjectional hints, springing one from the other in order so natural and unforced, that they look like the familiar every-day occurrences and table-talk of our lives, give such an imposing air of verisimility to the progression of the story, that the mind is thrown off its guard, and so completely, though insensibly, prepared for the poet's purpose, that the boldest fictions (fictions so bold in the extreme,as few dramatic poets have ever dared to hazard, and none but himself have attempted with success) appear not only probable, but are anticipated as consequentially necessary and naturally inevitable. In the hands of any other poet the wickedness, the cruelty, and unnatural ingratitude of Goneril and Regan would appear incredible; but Shakspeare, without unfolding an atom more than conduces to the perfection of his scheme, so skilfully contrives to prepare us, that we cannot help foreboding some evil from them before their base intentions have the means of practical effect. For scarcely has Lear left them in the very first scene, when, even on the very spot where he “ gave them all," and while yet the sound of their adulation tingles in the ear, they begin to conspire against him, and obscurely disclose their malevolent purposes. The suspicions awakened by this are artfully kept alive through the whole of the first act, and in the last of it are so heightened as to excite serious alarm for the fate of the poor old king, and to make us expect something like that which follows in the second. They who will read the fourth scene with the attention it deserves, and bring to it a disposition and a taste worthy of such a treat, will own that we are justified in our praise and admiration of the address with which it is contrived to produce the effect adverted to.
Lear, with his knights and attendants, returning from an excursion to the palace of his daughter Goneril, calls to the steward of the palace then crossing the court-yard, but who passes on without attending to him. This remote indication of his daughter's feelings is scarcely noticed by the old king till one of his knights hints to him, that a great abatement has been manifested not only in the kindness of Goneril and the duke her husband, but of ceremony and respect in all the domestics. Lear takes the hint, and owns that he had remarked something of a similar nature:
“ Thou but remember'st me of mine own conception; I have perceived a most faint neglect of late, which I have rather blamed as my own jealous “curiosity, than as a pretence and purpose of unkindness.”
We have already taken occasion to observe, that in the delineation of any of the great master passions, Shakspeare takes care never to omit any of its adjunctive qualities.-Excessive sensibility is the passion exhibited in King Lear; variability and irresoluteness of conduct are its constant associates; together with a quick susceptibility of resentment, and a delicate apprehension of doing wrong, struggling with each other.-Though he has perceived a falling off in his daughter's kindness, the good old king, exquisitely sensible of the turpitude of such conduct, but equally sensible of the moral duties, and alive to paternal tenderness, endeavours to reject the suspicion, and fathers it on his own jealousy. Thus too Shakspeare, on the same principles, makes Hamlet pause from time to time and doubt the justice of revenge, even after he has had evidence which, upon any other but a mind like his, would have produced conviction of his father's having been murdered, and consequent decisive action.
The spirit that I have seen
More relative than this. Exactly in the spirit of the same complexional feeling, Lear says, though he has seen enough to convince him, “I will look further into it.” While this minute and accurate investigation of the pas. sion of sensibility shows how deeply versed Shakspeare was in the philosophy of the human mind, the most subtle strokes by which the feelings can be assailed are intermingled throughout, and mark his boundless dominion over the heart; of this nature we consider the pathetic reference to the excellence of Cordelia, so artfully introduced as a contrast to the baseness of her sisters, and as an additional excitement to the unhappy sensations of Lear. Not only the conception of introducing it at all, but the natural manner of bringing it about, are truly Shakspeare's own. Any other poet would have niade the knight who starts it take occasion from mentioning the misconduct of Goneril, immediately to expatiate on the virtues of Cordelia. But, for Shakspeare, that would be what is commonly called “lugging in by the head and shoulders.” To be worthy of his genius, it must flow from a source much nearer to the fountain
head of nature; accordingly, the poor old monarch after having confessed his own observation of Goneril's misbehaviour, as if anxious to decline a topic that is painful to him, says he will look further into it, and then turns abruptly to another subject; one indeed which, childish though it seems, is in his present condition of some importance to him.
Lear. But where's my fool?– I have not seen him these two days.
Knight. Since my young lady's going into France, sir, the fool hath much pined away.
Lear. No more of that! I have noted it well. This is indeed, as Garrick once speaking of our poet happily expressed it, “ to dip the pen in the human heart:" this is truly to draw the materials of poetry from unsophisticated man, and its inspiration from nature herself. What are all the pomp and circumstance of tragedy-its chalices and poniards, its coffins, dirges, and processions, compared with the pathetic appeal at once to the heart and understanding contained in these few words which, though short and simple, are calculated to convey more meaning, to excite deeper interest, and to extort more tears than a volume of the smooth, measured verbiage, the canting recitative, of which other tragedies are composed.
As persons of extreme sensibility are extravagant in their friendships and affections, so they are inordinately violent in their anger,
their resentment to an outrageous excess. Lear, being received with ingratitude and insolence by his daughter, is hurried away by the torrent of his rage and impatience, and gives vent to his feelings in terrific curses. In nothing that we know of does Shakspeare show his knowledge of our nature more than in the different proportions of indignation he assigns to Lear on the different provocations he receives from his two daughters. The amount of Goneril's first trespass upon his rights, though considerably less than that which follows from Regan, excites infinitely more poignant misery and more violent expressions of rage. It is the first direct violation of his feelings, and therefore stabs him more deeply;~he has yet no other offence to compare it with,-it is unexpectedy it is incredible-and, bursting like a thunderclap upon him, rives him to the very soul, and so deprives bim of all sober reflection that, falling on his knees, he invokes the bitterest curses to fall upon her. Here the caprice of disappointed expectation, one of the foibles of sensibility, shows itself. He curses Goneril, and
leaving her, goes to Regan; informs her, that her sister had abated
Those wicked creatures yet do look well favour'd
Stands in some rank of praise,
I'll go with thee;
And thou art twice her love.
Perceiving the injurious looks with which he is regarded by his daughter Goneril, whose turn it is to entertain him for a month, he exercises his customary parental authority, and rebukes her
How now, daughter, what makes that frontlet on? To this she answers with a complaint of the conduct of his attendants, which she calls riotous, and, in words that savour of menace, ascribes it to his encouragement. Overwhelmed by insolence so unexpected, and almost breathless with astonishment, he exclaims
ve, of which
" Are you our daughter?"...