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The story, however, had been dramatised before Shakspeare's tragedy was composed; for in 1594 an entry was made, at Stationers' Hall, of a play entitled “The most famous Chronicle History of Leire King of England and his Three Daughters ; ? and in 1605 was published anonymously “The True Chronicle History of King Leir, and his Three Daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella, as it hath been divers and sundry times lately acted :' a publication which was very soon followed by that of Shakspeare's tragedy, probably lest the former should be regarded as our author's performance.

The chief source of the plot of Shakspeare's drama was, no doubt, Holinshed's Chronicle. To the old anonymous play, which is a very feeble performance, and which ends with the re-establishment of Lear on the throne, our poet was very little indebted. The episode of Gloster and his sons was founded on the story of The Paphlagonian unkind king and his kind son' in Sidney's Arcadia. The lunacy of Lear is Shakspeare's invention ; and, of course, all the wondrous development of character and fidelity to nature, which are remarkable in this noble play, are entirely Shaksperean.

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Of all Shakspeare's plays, Macbeth is the most rapid, Hamlet the slowest in movement. Lear combines length with rapidity—like the hurricane and the whirlpool, absorbing while it advances. It begins as a stormy day in summer, with brightness; but that brightness is lurid, and anticipates the tempest. It was not without forethought, nor is it without its due significance, that the division of Lear's kingdom is in the first six lines of the play stated as a thing already determined in all its particulars, previously to the trial of professions, as the relative rewards of which the daughters were to be made to consider their several portions. The strange, yet by no means unnatural, mixture of selfishness, sensibility, and habit of feeling derived from, and fostered by, the particular rank and usages of the individual ;—the intense desire of being intensely beloved-selfish, and yet characteristic of the selfishness of a loving and kindly nature alone ;—the self-supportless leaning for all pleasure on another's breast ;—the craving after sympathy with a prodigal disinterestedness, frustrated by its own ostentation and the mode and nature of its claims ;-the anxiety, the distrust, the jealousy, which more or less accompany all selfish affections, and are amongst the surest contradistinctions of mere fondness from pure love, and which originate Lear's eager wish to enjoy his daughter's violent professions, whilst the inveterate habits of sovereignty convert

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the wish into claim and positive right, and an incompliance with it into crime and treason ;—these facts, these passions, these moral verities, on which the whole tragedy is founded, are all prepared for, and will to the retrospect be found implied in, these first four or five lines of the play. They let us know that the trial is but a trick; and that the grossness of the old king's rage is in part the natural result of a silly trick suddenly and most unexpectedly baffled and disappointed.

From Lear, the persona patiens of his drama, Shakspeare passes without delay to the second in importance, the chief agent and prime mover, and introduces Edmund to our acquaintance, preparing us, with the same felicity of judgment, and in the same easy and natural way, for his character, in the seemingly casual communication of its origin and occasion. From the first drawing up of the curtain Edmund has stood before us in the united strength and beauty of earliest manhood. Our eyes have been questioning him. Gifted as he is with high advantages of person, and further endowed by nature with a powerful intellect and a strong energetic will, even without any concurrence of circumstances and accident, pride will necessarily be the sin that most easily besets him. But Edmund is also the known and acknowledged son of the princely Gloster; he, therefore, has both the germ of pride, and the conditions best fitted to evolve and ripen it into a predominate feeling. Yet, hitherto, no reason appears why it should be other than the not unusual pride of person, talent, and birth—a pride auxiliary if not akin to many virtues, and the natural ally of honourable impulses. But, alas ! in his own presence, his own father takes shame to himself for the frank avowal that he is his father; he has blushed so often to acknowledge him,' that he is ‘now brazed to it.' Edmund hears the circumstances of his birth spoken of with a most degrading and licentious levity. . . . This and the consciousness of its notoriety, the gnawing conviction that every show of respect is an effort of courtesy, which recalls, while it represses, a contrary feeling; this is the ever trickling flow of wormwood and gall into the wounds of pride, the corrosive virus which inoculates pride with a venom not its own, with


envy, hatred, and a lust for that power which, in its blaze of radiance, would hide the dark spots on his disc with pangs of shame personally undeserved, and therefore felt as wrongs, and with a blind ferment of vindictive working towards the occasions and causes, especially towards a brother, whose stainless birth and lawful honours were the constant remembrancers of his own debasement, and were ever in the way to prevent all chance of its being unknown, or overlooked and forgotten.

Kent is, perhaps, the nearest to perfect goodness in all Shakspeare's characters, and yet the most individualised. There is an extraordinary charm in his bluntness, which is that only of a nobleman arising from a contempt of overstrained courtesy, and combined with easy placability where goodness of heart is apparent. His passionate affection for and fidelity to Lear, act on our feelings in Lear's own favour : virtue itself seems to be in company with him.

The Steward should be placed in exact antithesis to Kent, as the only character of utter irredeemable baseness in Shakspeare. Even in this the judgment and invention of the poet are very observable; for what else could the willing tool of a Goneril be? Not a vice but this of baseness was left open to him.

The Fool is no comic buffoon to make the groundlings laugh, no forced condescension of Shakspeare's genius to the taste of his audience. Accordingly, the poet prepares for his introduction, which he never does with any of his common clowns and fools, by bringing him into living connection with the pathos of the play. He is as wonderful a creation as Caliban ;-his wild babblings and inspired idiocy articulate and gauge the horrors of the scene.

The monster Goneril prepares what is necessary, while the character of Albany renders a still more maddening grievance possible, namely, Regan and Cornwall in perfect sympathy of monstrosity. Not a sentiment, not an image, which can give pleasure on its own account, is admitted; whenever these creatures are introduced, and they are brought forward as little as possible, pure horror reigns throughout.

Edgar's assumed madness serves the great purpose of taking off part of the shock which would otherwise be caused by the true madness of Lear, and further displays the profound difference between the two. In every attempt at representing madness throughout the whole range of dramatic literature, with the single exception of Lear, it is mere light-headedness, as especially in Otway. In Edgar's ravings, Shakspeare all the while lets you see a fixed purpose, a practical end in view; in Lear's there is only the brooding of the one anguish, an eddy without progression.—COLERIDGE.

As in Macbeth terror reaches its utmost height, in King Lear the science of compassion is exhausted. The principal characters here are not those who act, but those who suffer. We have not in this, as in most tragedies, the picture of a calamity in which the sudden blows of fate seem still to honour the head which they strike, and where the loss is always accompanied by some flattering consolation in the memory of the former possession ; but a fall from the highest elevation into the deepest abyss of misery, where humanity is stripped of all external and internal advantages, and given up a prey to naked helplessness. The threefold dignity of a king, an old man, and a father, is dishonoured by the cruel ingratitude of his unnatural daughters; the old Lear, who out of a foolish tenderness has given away everything, is driven out to the world a wandering beggar; the childish imbecility to which he was fast advancing changes into the wildest insanity, and when he is rescued from the disgraceful destitution to which he was abandoned, it is too late : the kind consolations of filial care and attention and of true friendship are now lost on him; his bodily and mental powers are destroyed beyond all hope of recovery, and all that now remains to him of life is the capability of loving and suffering beyond measure. What a picture we have in the meeting of Lear and Edgar in a tempestuous night and in a wretched hovel! The youthful Edgar has, by the wicked arts of his brother, and through his father's blindness, fallen, as the old Lear, from the rank to which his birth entitled him; and, as the only means of escaping further persecution, is reduced to assume the disguise of a beggar


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