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I might have saved her; now she's gone forever!
What is't thou say'st ?-Her voice was ever soft,
Off. 'Tis true, my lords, he did.
Did I not, fellow?
Lear. This is a dull sight:2 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 that; He'll strike, and quickly too.-He's dead and rotten. Kent. No, my good lord, I am the very man ;Lear. I'll see that straight.
Kent. That, from your first of difference and decay, Have followed your sad steps.
You are welcome hither.
Kent. Nor no man else; all's cheerless, dark, and
Your eldest daughters have fore-doomed themselves, And desperately are dead.
Ay, so I think.
Alb. He knows not what he sees; and vain it is That we present us to him.
1 "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 loved or hated," which confirms this sense.
2 Lear means that his eyesight was bedimmed either by excess of grief, or, as is usual, by the approach of death.
3 Thus the quartos: the folio reads foredone, which is probably right. See note 1, on page 130.
4 The quarto reads says.
Enter an Officer.
Off. Edmund is dead, my lord.
To him our absolute power.-You, to your rights,
The cup of their deservings.-O, see, see!
No, no, no life; Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? O, thou wilt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never!
'Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.-
Do you see this?-Look on her,-look,―her lips,— Look there, look there!
He faints! My lord, my lord,Kent. Break, heart; I pr'ythee, break!
Look up, my lord.
Kent. Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.
O, he is gone indeed.
Kent. The wonder is, he hath endured so long; He but usurped his life.
Alb. Bear them from hence.-Our present business
1 "This great decay" is Lear.
2 These lines are addressed to Kent as well as to Edgar. Boot is advantage, increase. By honors is meant honorable conduct.
3 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.
4 The Rev. Dr. J. Warton judiciously observes, that the swelling and heaving of the heart is described by this most expressive circumstance.
Is general woe. Friends of my soul, you twain
[TO KENT and EDGAR. Rule in this realm, and the gored 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 dramatic 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 daughters, to impress this important moral, that villany is never at a stop; that crimes lead to crimes, and at last terminate in ruin.
But though this moral be incidentally enforced, Shakspeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and, what is yet more strange. to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified by The Spectator, who blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and happiness in his alteration, and declares, that, in his opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty. Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to secure the favorable reception of Cato, the town was poisoned with much false and abominable criticism, and that endeavors had been used to discredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life; but, since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or that, if other excellences are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.
In the present case, the public has decided. Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.
There is another controversy among the critics concerning this play. It is disputed whether the predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a very judicious critic, has evinced, by induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes, with great justness, that Lear would move our compassion but little, did we not rather consider the injured father than the degraded king.
The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom Holinshed generally copied; but perhaps immediately from an old historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakspeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications; it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had seen Shakspeare.
ROMEO AND JULIET.
THE original relater of this story appears to have been Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza, who died in 1529. His novel seems not to have been printed till some years after his death; being first published at Venice, in 1535, under the title of "La Giulietta :" there is, however, a dateless copy by the same printer. In the dedication to Madonna Lucina Savorgnana, he tells her, that the story was related to him by one of his archers, named Peregrino, a native of Verona, while serving in Friuli, to beguile the solitary road that leads from Gradisca to Udine.
Girolamo della Corte, in his History of Verona, relates it circumstantially as a true event, occurring in 1303;* but Maffei does not give him the highest credit as an historian. He carries his history down to the year 1560, and probably adopted the novel to grace his book. The earlier annalists of Verona, and, above all, Torello Sarayna, who published, in 1542, "Le Historie e Fatti de Veronesi nell Tempi d'il Popolo e Signori Scaligeri," are entirely silent upon the subject, though some other domestic tragedies grace their narrations.
As to the origin of this interesting story, Mr. Douce has observed, that its material incidents are to be found in the Ephesiacs of Xenophon of Ephesus, a Greek romance of the middle ages: he admits, indeed, that this work was not published nor translated in the time of Luigi da Porto, but suggests that he might have seen a copy of the original in manuscript. Mr. Dunlop, in his History of Fiction, has traced it to the thirty-second novel of Massuccio Salernitano, whose "Novelino," a collection of tales, was first printed in 1476. The hero of Massuccio is named Mariotto di Giannozza, and his catastrophe is different; yet there are sufficient points of resemblance between the two narratives. Mr. Boswell observes, that
* Captain Breval, in his Travels, tells us that he was shown at Verona what was called the tomb of these unhappy lovers; and that, on a strict inquiry into the histories of Verona, he found that Shakspeare had varied very little from the truth, either in the names, characters, or other circumstances of this play. The fact seems to be, that the invention of the novelist has been adopted into the popular history of the city, just as Shakspeare's historical dramas furnish numbers with their notions of the events to which they relate.