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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 mentai 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 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." *
An anonymous writer, who has instituted a comparison between the Lear of Shakspeare and the Edipus of Sophocles, and justly given the palm to the former, closes his essay with the following sentence, to which every reader of taste and feeling will subscribe :—“There is no detached character in Shakspeare's writings which displays so vividly as this the hand and mind of a master; which exhibits so great a variety of excellence, and such amazing powers of delineation; so intimate a knowledge of the human heart, with such exact skill in tracing the progress and the effects of its more violent and more delicate passions. It is in the management of this character, more especially, that he fills up that grand idea of a perfect poet, which we delight to image to ourselves, but despair of seeing realized." +
In the same work from whence this is extracted, will be found an article, entitled “ Theatralia,” attributed to the pen of Mr. Charles Lamb, in which are the following striking animadversions on the liberty taken in changing the catastrophe of this tragedy in representation :-" The Lear of Shakspeare cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery with which th mimic the storm he goes out in, is not more inadequate to represent the horrors of the real elements, than any actor can be to represent Lear. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual: the explosions of his passions are terrible as a volcano; they are storms turning up, and disclosing to the bottom, that rich sea, his
* Drake's Shakspeare and his Times, vol. ii. p. 460. | The Reflector, vol. ii. p. 139, on Greek and English Tragedy.
mind, with all its vast riches: it is his mind which is laid bare. This case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on; even as he himself neglects it. On the stage, we see nothing but corporal infirinities and weakness, the impotence of age; while we read it, we see not Lear, but we are Lear,—we are in his mind; we are sustained by a grandeur which baffles the malice of his daughters and storms; in the aberrations of his reason, we discover a mighty, irregular power of reasoning, unmethodized from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers, as the wind blows where it listeth, at will on the corruptions and abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones to do with that sublime identification of his age with that of the heavens themselves, when, in his reproaches to them for conniving at the injustice of his children, he reminds them that they themselves are old!' What gesture shall we appropriate to this ? What has voice or the eye to do with such things? But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it show; it is too hard and stony ; it must have love-scenes, and a happy ending. It is not enough that Cordelia is a daughter, she must shine as a lover too. Fate has put his hook in the nostrils of this leviathan, for Garrick and his followers, the showmen of the scene, to draw it about more easily. A happy ending !—as if the living martyrdom that Lear had gone through, the flaying of his feelings alive, did not make a fair dismissal from the stage of life the only decorous thing for him. If he is to live and be happy after, if he could sustain this world's burden after, why all this pudder and preparation ? why torment us with all this unnecessary sympathy ?-as if the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and sceptre again could tempt him to act over again his misused station,as if, at his years, and with his experience, any thing was left but to die »
SCENE I. 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.
Glo. 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? in neither can make choice of either's moiety:
Kent. Is not this your son, my lord ?
Glo. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge. I have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to it.
Kent. I cannot conceive you.
Glo. Sir, this young fellow's mother could: whereupon she grew round-wombed; and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle, ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
1 There is something of obscurity or inaccuracy in this preparatory scene. The king has already divided his kingdom, and yet, when he enters, he examines his daughters to discover in what proportions he should divide it. Perhaps Kent and Gloster only were privy to his design, which he still kept in his own hands, to be changed or performed as subsequent reasons should determine him.
2 Curiosity is scrupulous exactness.
Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.
Glo. 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 acknowledged.--Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ?
Edm. No, my lord.
Glo. My lord of Kent. Remember him hereafter as my honorable friend.
Edm. My services to your lordship.
[Trumpets sound within.
Enter LEAR, CORNWALL, ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN,
Cordelia, and Attendants. Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster. Glo. I shall, my liege.
[Exeunt GLOSTER and EDMUND Lear. Mean time we shall express our darker’ pur
pose. Give me the map there.—Know that we have divided In three our kingdom; and 'tis our fast intent 3 To shake all cares and business from our age; Conferring them on younger strengths, while we, Unburdened, crawl toward death. Our son of Corn
wall, And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
1 Proper is comely, handsome. 2 i. e, more secret.
:-The sense is, “ We have already made known our desire of parting the kingdom. We will now discover the reasons by which we shall regulate the partition.”.
3 i. e. our determined resolution. The quartos read “first intent.” 4 The quartos read confirming.