Page images

criticism,' and that endeavors had been used to dis. credit 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, bas 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.'




Fatigued with the cares of royalty, Lear, king of Britain,

determines to withdraw from public life, and to commit the government of his kingdom to bis three daughters. The frank sincerity of Cordelia, his youngest child, so displeases the infatuated monarch, that he resolves to disinherit her, and divide her patrimony between Goneril and Regan, ber more specious sisters, who are entrusted with the protection of their deposed father. The two daughters no sooner find themselves emancipated from parental control, than they subject the old king to a diminution of his retinue, and by their cruelty and ingratitude at length drive him, amidst the inclemencies of a midnight storm, to an adjoining heath, where he is met by Edgar in the disguise of a lunatic, assumed in order to elude the indignation of his father, the earl of Gloster, whose credulity has been imposed on by the villanous suggestions of Edmund, his natural son. The mental powers of Lear are overwhelmed by his accumulated sufferings, which are secretly relieved by Gloster, in defiance of the injunctions of the sisters; and his humanity is punished with the loss of his eyes, through the information communicated by the treacherous Edmund. In the mean time Cordelia bestows her hand on the French king, who despatches a large army under the conduct of his wife fos the relief of Lear, whose intellects become partially restored by the tender assiduities of his affectionate daughter. A goneral engagement soon after ensues, in which Lear and Cordelia sustain a total defeat, and are committed to prison, where orders are received to bang Cordelia, and her unhappy father dies of a broken heart: Regan is poisoned by her sister Goneril, who stabs herself in despair at the discovery of her designs on the life of her husband; while Edmund falls by the hand of his injured brother.



LEAR, king of Britain.
EDGAR, son to Gloster.
EDMOND, bastard son to Gloster.
CURAN, a courtier.
Old Man, tenant to Gloster.
OSWALD, steward to Goneril.
OFFICER, employed by Edmund.
GENTLEMAN, attendant on Cordelia.
SERVANTS to Cornwall.

[blocks in formation]

Knights attending on the king, Officers, Messengers, Sou

diers, and Attendants.

SCEXE, Britain.

[blocks in formation]

A room of state in King Lear's palace.

Enter KENT, GLOSTER, and EDMUND. Kent. I thought the king had more affected the duke of Albany than Cornwall. Glos. It did always seem so to us; but now,

in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most; for equalities are 'so weighed, that curiosity 1 in neither can make choice of either's moiety.

Kent. Is not this your son, my lord ?

Glos. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge : I have so often blushed to acknowlege him, that now I am brazed to it.

Kent. I cannot conceive you.

Glos. Sir, this young fellow's mother could : whereupon she grew round-wombea; and had,

1 Exactest scrutiny.

indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?

Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.1

Glos. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: though this knave came somewhat saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair ; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowleged.

you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ? Edm. No, my lord.

Glos. My lord of Kent: remember him hereafter as my honorable friend.

Edm. My services to your lordship.

Kent. I must love you, and sue to know you better.

Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving.

Glos. He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again. The king is coming.

[trumpets sound within.



CORDELIA, and Attendants.

Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster. Glos. I shall, my liege.

[Exeunt Gloster and Edınund.

1 Handsome.

« PreviousContinue »