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It was first published in a quarto pamphlet, in 1608, during which year, three distinct impressions were published by the same proprietors. These appear to have been all printed from the same manuscript, and that a genuine and full copy; but they are executed in the most careless and incorrect manner, as if they had scarcely received the ordinary care of the most negligent and unskilful reader of proof. The verse is in very many scenes printed as prose, and the other errors of the press are of the grossest kind.
It may afford to American readers, few of whom have access to any of the original editions, or even the later literal reprints of them, some understanding of the causes of many of the strange obscurities found in SHAKESPEARE, and of the contentions about various readings, to give a passage or two of LEAR, as they stand in the original quarto.
The passage in act i. scene 4, after the entrance of Albany, beginning “Woe that late repents,” etc., thus appears in the first impressions :
“ Lear. We that too late repent's us; O sir are you come, is it your will that we prepare any horses, ingratitude! thou marble-headed fiend, more hideous when thou shewest thee in a childe, than the sea-monster, detested kite, thou lessen my train and men of choise and rarest parts,” etc.
And again, after Lear's re-entrance, in his speech to Goneril, for the words, “That these hot tears, which break from me perforce,” we have this unintelligible passage:
“That these hot tears, that break from me perforce, should make the worst blasts and fogs upon the untender woundings of a father's curse, peruse every sense about the old fond eyes, beweep this cause again,” etc.
This may afford to the reader unacquainted with the manner in which, in the early state of English typography, the works of all but professed scholars frequently appeared, some cvidence of what (to borrow Johnson's language) “is the difficulty of revision, and what indulgence is due to those who endeavour to restore corrupted passages.”
Whenever we have the aid of another edition, either from a different copy, or printed under a different supervision, as in the passages cited we have the folio, such errors are corrected with certainty; for different editions do not commonly fall into the same error. But where there are no sach means of mutual correction, as in the passages of LEAR contained only in the quartos of 1608, there is no resource but conjec ral sagacity, aided by familiarity with the author's style and habits of thought, and the peculiarities of contemporary phrase or idiom.
In the folio of 1623, King LEAR appears in a somewhat different form. This play had not at first been tried, like HAMLET and other pieces, in a bold and rapid sketch, to be afterwards decorated and improved, but came, like MACBETH, (at least in the main,) complete and perfect from the author's hand. But at some period after its first careless publication, which, whether authorized or not by the author, could never have passed under his supervision, he seems to have revised the play, making many alterations and abridgments, chiefly for the purposes of actual representation. This is the revision contained in the folio of 1623. In this revision, the chief object of which must have been to shorten the time of representation, and possibly to condense the interest of the acted play, many passages are omitted, and among them some of the most exquisite in poetical beauty, (as the third scene of the fourth act, and the description of Lear in the storm, in the third act,) as well as others of strong passion, such as the imaginary arraignment and trial of Goneril and Regan, in act iii. scene 6. That this revision was the author's own, and not simply a manager's “cutting down," appears from the fact that there are, besides many alterations of language, some additions which could only have come from his pen. The metrical arrangement of the folio copy is also correct, and bears some evidence of the Poet's own care. Thus the text of the folio, so far as it goes, is the one entitled to authority, unless where the earlier editions afford the means of giving a clearer sense, and correcting obvious errors of the press or the manuscript. On the other hand, as the abridgment appears to have been made solely with reference to scenic representation, if we wish to read the whole drama as a poem, as it was written, we must have recourse to the quartos lo fill up large chasms; and, in the absence of other aid, we must be content with such light as critical sagacity can throw upon the obscure passages. Some of the editors have gone beyond this point, and taken great license in making up a text from the two original differing texts varied by the author himself.
The text of the present edition is as usual under great obligation to Mr. Collier's laborious and minute collection of the various readings, although in several instances the readings here adopted are different from those preferred by Mr. Collier.
SOURCE OF THE PLOT, AND MATERIALS OF THE PLAY. The story of Lear and his three daughters, forms a conspicuous part of that amusing legendary history of the seventy illustrious monarchs, who reigned in Britain before the invasion of Julius Cæsar, an event which the ancient chroniclers considered as the beginning of modern English history. This legendary history forms the introduction of the older English historians to the more authentic narrative, from the chronicles of Fabyan and Hollingshed, down to Milton's history, and even later, until the days of Hume, since whose time it has vanished from all the popular compilations. But the whole story was familiar to the English people in the good old days, when the historical student (to borrow Milton's fine simile on this very subject) was obliged to “i set out on his way by night, and travel through a region of smooth and idle dreams," before he “arrived at the con
fines where day breaks, and truth meets him with a clear dawn.” For this whole body of “magnanimous deceits," (as Ariosto would call them,) to which poetry and roinance are so largely indebted, we must mainly thank Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was a Welsh Benedictine-monk of the twelfth century, a learned man for his age, skilled buth in the ancient British tongue, and in Latin, which last he wrote with a degree of purity and elegance, quite unusual in old conventual literature. About the year 1100, he became possessed of an ancient chronicle “ Of the History of the Kings of Britain," written in the Armorican, or old British language. This he translated into good readable Latin, and decorated it with the addition of the popular legends current in Wales, such as the achievements of King Arthur, and the prophecies of Merlin. T. Warton pronounces the original chronicles to be a series of fables, thrown out by different rhapsodists, at various times, which were after collected and digested into a regular history, and probably with new decorations of fancy added by the compiler ; so that after the whole had received the superadded ornaments of good Geoffrey's chivalric taste, it became a tale of romantic inventions, though the subject is in form the story of the British princes, from the Trojan Brutus down to Cadwallader, who reigned in the seventh century.
Whether the story of Lear and his daughters is of Geoffrey's manufacture, or came from the more ancient chronicles, I am not able to determine ; but a late discovery of Mr. Douce rather indicates that it was a traditionary story from some other source, adapted by the chronicler to British history. Mr. Douce found in an unpublished manuscript of the Gesta Romanorum, the same story told of Theodosius, an emperor of Greece, which he has published in his “ Illustrations of Shakespeare.” This book, the Gesta Romanorum, was one of the delights of Europe for some hundred years, and was a collection of stories, partly from ancient writers, as Valerius Maximus and Josephus, and partly from the old German chronicles, interspersed with legends of the saints, tales and apologues of Arabian origin, and romantic embellishments of all sorts. Hollingshed, who abridges Geoffrey of Monmouth, was Shakespeare's main authority for British story, whether legendary or authentic. He thus relates the story :
“ Leir, the son of Baldud, was admitted ruler over the Britains in the year of the world 3105. At what time Joas reigned as yet in Juda. This Leir was a prince of noble demeanour, governing his land and subjects in great wealth. He made the town of Cairleir, now called Leicester, which standeth upon the river of Dore. It is writ that he had by his wife three daughters, without other issue, whose names were, Gonorilla, Regan, and Cordilla, which daughters he greatly loved, but especially the youngest, Cordilla, far above the two elder.
6 When this Leir was come 10 great years, and began to wear unwieldy through age, he thought to understand the affections of his daughters towards him, and prefer her whom he best loved to the succession of the kingdom ; therefore, he first asked Gonorilla, the eldest, how well she loved him : the which, calling her gods to record, protested that she loved hiin 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 ? which answered, (confirming her sayings with great oaths,) that she loved him better than tongue can express, and far above all other creatures in the world.
" Then called he his youngest daughter, Cordilla, before him, and asked of her what account she made of him : unto whom she made this answer as followeth :-Knowing the great love and fatherly zeal you have always borne towards me, (for the which, that I may not answer you otherwise than I think, and as my conscience leadeth me,) I protest to you that I have always loved you, and shall continually while I live, love you as my natural father; and if you would more understand of the love that I bear you, ascertain yourself, that so much as you have, so much are you worth, and so much I love you, and no more.
* The father, being nothing content with this answer, married the two eldest daughters, the one unto the duke of Cornwall, named Henninus, and the other unto the duke of Albania, called Maglanus; and betwixt them, after his death, he willed and ordained his land should be divided, and the one-half thereof should be inmediately assigned to them in hand; but for the third daughter, Cordilla, he reserved nothing.
“ Yet it fortuned that one of the princes of Gallia, (which is now called France,) whose name was Aganippus, hearing of the beauty, womanhood, and good conditions of the said Cordilla, desired to have her in marriage, and sent over to her father, requiring that he might have her to wife; to whom answer was made, that he might have his daughter, but for any dowry he could have none, for all was promised and assured to her other sisters already.
"Aganippus, notwithstanding this answer of denial to receive any thing by way of dower with Cordilla, took her to wife, only moved thereto (I say) for respect of her person and amiable virtues. This Aganippus was one of the twelve kings that ruled Gallia in those days, as in the British history is recorded. But to proceed; after that Leir was fallen into age, the two dukes that had married his two eldest daughters, thinking it long ere the government of the land did come to their hands, arose against him in armour, and rest from him the governance of the land, upon conditions to be continued for term of life : by the which he was put to his portion; that is, to live after a rate assigned to him for the maintenance of his estate, which in process of time was diminished, as well by Maglanus as by Henninus.
“ Bút the greatest grief that Leir took was to see the unkindness of his daughters, who seemed to think that all was too much which their father had, the same being never so little, in so much that, going from the one to the other, he was brought to that misery that they would allow him only one servant to wait upon him. In the end, such was the unkindness, or, as I may say, the unnaturalness, which he found in his two daughters, notwithstanding their fair and pleasant words uttered in time past, that, being constrained of necessity, he fled the land, and sailed into Gallia, there to seek some comfort of his youngest daughter, Cordilla, whom before he hated.
“ The lady Cordilla, hearing he was arrived in poor estate, she first sent to him privately a sum of money to apparel himself withall, and to retain a certain number of servants, that might attend upon him in honourable wise, as apperteyned to the estate which he had borne. And then, so accompanyed, she appointed him to come to the court, which he did, and was so joyfully, honourably, and lovingly receired, both by his son-in-law Aganippus, and also by his daughter Cordilla, that his heart was greatly comforted : for he was no less honoured than if he had been king of the whole country himself. Also, after that he had informed his son-in-law and his
daughter in what sort he had been used by his other daughters, Aganippus caused a mighty army to be put in readiness, and likewise a great navy of ships to be rigged to pass over into Britain, with Leir his father-in-las, to see him again restored to his kingdom.
“ It was accorded that Cordilla should also go with him to take possession of the land, the which he promised to leave unto her, as his rightful inheritor after his decease, notwithstanding any former grants unto her sisters, or unto their husbands, in any manner of wise; hereupon, when this army and navy of ships were ready, Leir and his daughter Cordilla, with her husband, took the sea, and arriving in Britain, fought with their enemies, and discomfited them in battle, in the which Maglanus and Henninus were slain, and then was Leir restored to his kingdom, which he ruled after this by the space of two years, and then died, forty years after he first began to reign. His body was buried at Leicester, in a vault under the channel of the river Dore, beneath the town.”
The subsequent fate of Cordelia is also narrated by Hollingshed. She became queen after her father's death; but her nephews “ levied war against her, and destroyed a great part of the land, and finally took her prisoner, and laid her fast in ward, wherewith she took such grief, being a woman of manly courage, and despairing to recover liberty, there she slew herself.”
The same story was also chosen as the subject of one of the parts or cantos of the “ Mirrour of Magistrates." This is a collection of poems, relating the sad ends of the great unfortunates of history and of legends. It was begun by Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, in Queen Mary's reign, and continued at intervals by several ditierent hands. The canto relating the woes of Cordelia was by John Higgins, and dated 1586. There can be little doubt that this book was known to Shakespeare, as the collection was exceedingly popular, and there are good reasons to suppose that ideas or images derived from other parts of it may be traced in his historical plays. Hig. gins's “Queene Cordila” contains several happy poetical expressions, and some grand imagery, which the dramatist might have employed with effect, had he chosen it, but he seems to have avoided any resemblance.
Lear's story is also comprised in Spenser's genealogy of the ante-historic British kings, in his “Faery Queen," and thence, our Poet's taste adapted the more pleasing name of Cordelia, which the elder fabulists and poets had called Cordila. That portion of the plot which relates to Gloster and his sons, might have been suggested from a digression in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, in the chapter of that romance entitled “The storie of the Paphlagonian unkind king, and his kind son.” An early ballad on King Lear was also published (see Pereț's Reliques,) but no copy with a date has come down to us. Although it employs the older names of some of the characters, it adopts that of Cordelia ; and there are several circumstances, besides a more modern style of composition, which lead the best judges of old English literature to the belief that it was written after Shakespeare's tragedy.
In addition to these legendary and poetical versions of this favourite old story, there was a tragedy of “ King Leir," but considerably anterior in date to Shakespeare's, and which Collier thinks “had experienced a run of popularity at the Globe theatre, long before its publication.” Mr. Campbell thus contrasts the older “ Leir" vill Shakespeare's, in his brilliant though unequal preface to Moxon's edition of SHAKESPEARE :
“ A play, entitled “The True Chronicle Historie of King Leare and his Three Daughters,' was entered at Stationers' Hall, in 1594: the author's name is unknown. As this senior · King Leare' had had possession of the stage for several years, it would scarcely be doubtful that Shakespeare had seen it, even if there were not coincident passages to prove that he borrowed some ideas from it.
“The elder tragedy is siinple and touching. There is one entire scene in it—the meeting of Cordelia with her father, in a lonely forest—which, with Shakespeare's Lear in my heart, I could scarcely read with dry eyes. The • Leir' antecedent to our Poet's LEAR is a pleasing tragedy; yet the former, though it precedes the latter, is not its prototype, and its mild merits only show us the wide expanse of difference between respectable talent and commanding inspiration. The two Lears have nothing in common but their aged weakness, their general goodness of heart, their royal rank, and their misfortunes. The ante-Shakespearian Lear is a patient, simple, old man; one who bears his sorrows very meekly, till Cordelia arrives with her husband, the King of France, and his victorious army, and restores her father to the throne of Britain. Shakespeare's LEAR presents the most awful picture that was ever conceived of the weakness of senility, contrasted with the strength of despair. The dawn of the madness, his fearful consciousness of its approach, its progress and completion, are studies to instruct the most philosophical inquirer into the aberrations of the human kind. The meeting of Lear, Edgar, and the Fool, and the mixture in that scene of real and pretended madness, is one of Shakespeare's most perfect strokes, which is seldom unnoticed by the commonest of his critics.
“ In the old play, Lear has a friend Perillus, who moves our interest, though not so deeply as Kent, in the later and greater drama. But, independently of Shakespeare's having created a new Lear, he has sublimated the old tragedy into a new one, by an entire originality in the spiritual portraiture of its personages. In the characters of Gloucester's two sons, the beneficent Edgar and the bastard Edmund, he has created an under-plot which is finally and naturally interwoven with the outlinear plot. In fine, wherever Shakespeare works on old materials, you will find him not wiping dusted gold, but extracting gold from dust where none but himself could have made the golden extraction.”
Mr. Skottowe has gone further, and laboured to show the materials which Shakespeare had drawn from this old play, and the ideas and expressions wnich it had less directly suggested to his mind. But it appears to me that these obligations are much overstated by both critics. There is no indication that Shakespeare, while writing his tragedy, made use of any book except his favourite chronicler, old Hollingshed. He was of course familiar with Spenser's sketch of his plot, and, in all probability, had read Higgins's “ Lament of Cordila," in the Mirrour for Magistrates, while, from his professional habits, he must unquestionably have been familiar with the old theatrical “King Leir." Yet he has carefully avoided all resemblance with the two poets, except so
far as the common origin of the story led to necessary coincidence. As to the old tragedy, had he merely undertaken to improve and correct it, as he had perhaps done in his earlier duys as to other old pieces, he would have preserved much more of the original drama, a composition of considerable merit, humble as it is in style and feeling, compared with his own original inventions. But having undertaken an entirely new work on the same plot, it seems evident that the prior play would be an impediment to his freedom of thought, rather than a help to his invention. He could not but perceive the necessity of not going over the same ground with the older dramatist, more than the story, familiar to the English people, absolutely required, and he has taken obvious pains to avoid such coincidence. There are, of course, general similarities of plot, and character, and incident, arising from the common origin of the two dramas. The idea of a single faithful follower like Kent, is obvious; but it may also have been taken from the Perillus of the older play, who is like Kent in nothing else than his personal attachment to his unfortunate king. There may be some scattered ideas or expressions, that might probably enough have been suggested by the older play, without conscious imitation on Shakespeare's part. Such adaptations often occur in the most original writings, when the author, in the glow of composition, cannot always separate the indistinct promptings of his memory from the unaided workings of his own mind.
Otherwise, Shakespeare not only gives no indications of any direct use of the work of his dramatic predecessor, but he has sought to give as different an aspect to the whole fable as was consistent with preserving the leading and familiar incidents. Thus he substitutes to the humiliated and desponding father of the old play, resigning himself to his fate, as deserved by his own capricious folly, a different and terrible Lear, retaining in age and infirmity of mind and body the gigantic energy and passion of his “ best and soundest time.” He has, among other slighter variations of character, rejected the natural incident, sufficiently susceptible of dramatic effect, of the elder daughters instigating their father against their sister, and has instead, painted Lear's conduct as originating entirely in his own impetuous temper and ill-regulated mind.
Above all, he has deliberately changed the catastrophe. In the old play, as in the modern acted drama, altered from the original by Nahum Tate, Cordelia is left victorious and happy, and Lear is restored to his throne, instead of her execution in prison, and Lear's dying broken-hearted at her loss.
For this departure from the old and familiar catastrophe, there were, I should think, two distinct reasons operating upon the Poet's mind, one naturally occurring to him as a practical man and a playwright, the other approving itself to his judgment as a great poet.
As the author of a new piece upon a plot already familiar to his audience, this unexpected variation from the old catastrophe of the stage, and the popular legends, was in itself desirable, as marking the originality of the new Lear, and by its novelty heightening the effect of this drama. At the same time, as a poet, he could not but feel that the common-place worldly success bestowed by the poetical justice of the stage as a reward to virtue, and a full compensation for all suffering, however well fitted it might be for a tale where the interest is merely that of eventful incident, had nothing in unison with the scenes of stormy desolation through which he had hurried his audience. He must have felt that the general tragic and poetic effect of his deep and sad morality, of the fierce woe, the wild emotion, the bitter agony, he had painted, could only be preserved by a closing scene of solemn and tender pathos, spreading a melancholy calm over the tumult of excited thought and ng, and send. ing “ his hearers weeping to their beds."
(“My good biting falchion.”')
COSTUME, MANNERS, SCENERY, ETC. On these points, critics and commentators are in sad distress and confusion. Our earliest American Shakespearian commentator, Mrs. Lennox, (who was a native of New York,) is indignant at the Poet's wide deviation from history. Malone is scandalized, that although old chroniclers have fixed the date of Lear's accession in the year of the world, 3105, yet Edgar is made to speak of Nero, who was not born until eight or nine hundred years after. The accurate and pains-taking Mr. Douce is still more distressed at “the plentiful crop of blunders” which the Poet has given, in substituting the manners of England under the Tudors for those of the ancient Britons. The Pictorial edition, generally so rich and instructive on ancient modes and arts, here affords no light, for the learned chief of that department of the edition, who has piloted us through many a dark period of armorial and sartorial history—he, the very Palinurus of antiquarian investigation in these matters, tells us blankly, that “ he has nothing to offer on the subject of LEAR.” All his ordinary landmarks and guiding-stars are lost in the dark night of antiquity, or covered by the black clouds driven wildly along by the storm of the Poet's fancy :
Ipse diem, noctemque negat discernere colo
But gazed in silence on the darkened wave. Mr. Knight himself is content to rebuke our unfortunate townswoman, and the still more literal Mr. Douce, with “ the other professional detectors of anachronisms,” and justly vindicates the “right of a poet describing events of a purely fabulous character, represented by the narrators of them as belonging to an age to which we cannot attach one precise notion of costume, (using the word in its largest sense,) to employ images that belong to a more recent period, even to his own time.” It is for this reason, he adds, “ that we do not object to see Lear painted with a diadem on his head, or his knights in armour."
We are generally in the habit of relying implicitly upon Mr. Knight and his able assistants, on all similar points of antique costume-using that word like him, in its largest sense, and including customs, manners, and arts, as well as dress and arms. But presumptuous as it may appear to English critics, in a transatlantic editorand one, moreover, who confesses himself to be “nor skilled nor studious" of this curious learning, I must dissent entirely from all the opinions just noticed, and do not hesitate to maintain that Shakespeare has no need of either apology or defence—that he has adhered strictly and literally to the appropriate costume of his subject, in manners and habits of life, and that there is no difficulty whatever in accurately depicting the proper external accessories.
We have already seen that Lear, and his story, though found in the traditionary and fabulous part of Hollingshed, and other chronicles, do not belong to ancient English history, in the same sense with Cassivelaunus or Caractacus. He is a prince of some indefinite period of romantic tradition, when arts and science, as well as chivalry, fourished in England. His story is one of those legends of which Milton, in his own history of Eng. land, says, “he tells over these reputed tales, be it for nothing else than in favour of our English poets,” but he will not “recount the year (or chronology) lest he should be vainly curious about the circumstances of the things, whereof the substance is so much in the dark.” Upon Geoffrey of Monmouth's authority, Spenser traces Lear's