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. Enter an Officer.
Off. Edmund is dead, my lord.
Alb. That’s but a trifle here.— You lords, and noble friends, know our intent. What comfort to this great decay may come, Shall be applied. For us, we will resign, During the life of this old majesty, To him our absolute power.—You, to your rights;
[To EDGAR and KENT.
With boot, and such addition as your honors
Lear. And my poor fool is hanged!” No, no, no life;
Edg. He faints —My lord, my lord,
Kent. Break, heart; I pr’ythee, break!
Edg. Look up, my lord.
Kent. Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Edg. 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
! “This great decay” is Lear. * 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
The tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shak e. 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 .4dventurer, 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 b repeating that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical fact, to o 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 coöperate 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 *. 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 anything 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. Johnson
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 circumstan. tially 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.
“we may, perhaps, carry the fiction back to a much greater antiquity, and doubts whether, after all, it is not the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, enlarged and varied by the luxuriant imagination of the novelist.”
The story is also to be found in the second volume of the Novels of Bandello (Novel ix.); and it is remarkable that he says it was related to him, when at the baths of Caldera, by the Captain Alexander Peregrino, a native of Verona; we may presume, the same person from whom Da Porto received it, unless this appropriation is to be considered supposititious. The story also exists in Italian verse; and I had once a glance of a copy of it in that form, but neglected to note the title or date, and had not time for a more particular examination. It was translated from the Italian of Bandello into French, by Pierre Boisteau, who varies from his original in many particulars; and, from the French, Painter gave a translation in the second volume of his Palace of Pleasure, 1567, which he entitled Rhomeo and Julietta. From Boisteau's novel, the same story was, in 1562, formed into an English poem, with considerable alterations and large additions, by Arthur Brooke: this poem the curious reader will find reprinted entire in the variorum editions of Shakspeare. It was originally printed by Richard Tottel, with the following title:– “The Tragicall Hystorye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian, by Bandell; and nowe in English, by Ar. Br.” Upon this piece Malone has shown, by unequivocal testimony, that the play was formed. Numerous circumstances are introduced from the poem, which the novelist would not have supplied; and even the identity of expression, which not unfrequently occurs, is sufficient to settle the question. Steevens, without expressly controverting the fact, endeavored to throw a doubt upon it by his repeated quotations from the Palace of Pleasure. In two passages, it is true, he has quoted Painter, where Brooke is silent; but very little weight belongs to either of them. In one, there is very little resemblance; and in the other, the circumstance might be inferred from the poem, though not exactly specified. The poem of Arthur Brooke was republished in 1587 with the title thus amplified:—“Containing a rare Example of true Constancie: with the subtill Counsells and Practices of an old Fryer, and their ill Event.”
In the preface to Arthur Brooke's poem there is a very curious passage, in which he says, “I saw the same argument lately set foorth on stage with more commendation then I can looke for, (being there unuch better set forth then I have or can dooe.)” He has not, however, stated in what country this play was represented: the rude state of our drama, prior to 1562, renders it improbable that it was in England. “Yet (says Mr. Boswell) I cannot but be of opinion that Romeo and Juliet may be added to the list, already numerous, of plays in which our great Poet has had a dramatic precursor, and that some slight remains of the old play are still to be traced in the earliest quarto.”