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(WRITTEN ABOUT 1605.)
Among the tragedies of passion King Lear is the one in which passions assume the largest pro. portions, act upon the widest theatre, and attain their absolute extremes. The story of Lear and his daughters was found by Shakespeare in Holinshed, and he may have taken a few
hints from an old pay, The True Chronicle History of King Leir: In both Holinshed's version and that of the True Chronicle, the army of Lear and his French allies is victorious ; Lear is reinstated in his kings dom; bat Holinshed relates how, after Lear's death, her sister's sons warred against Cordelia and took her prisoner, when“ being a woman of a manly courage and despairing to recover liberty,” she slew herself. With the story of Lear Shakespeare connects that of Gloucester and his two sons. An episode in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia supplied characters and incidents for this portion of the play, Sidney's blind king of Paphlagonia corresponding to the Gloucester of Shakespeare. But here, too, the story had in the dramatist's original a happy ending : the Paphlagonian king is restored to his throne, and the brothers are reconciled. The date of the play is probably 1605 or 1606. It was entered on the Stationers' register, Nov. 26, 1607, and the entry states that it had been acted “ upon
St. Stephen's day at Christmas last," i.e. Déc. 26, 1606. It was printed in quarto in 1608. Shakespeare cares little to give the opening incidents of his play a look of prosaic, historical probability. The spectator or reader is asked, as it were, to grant the dramatist certain data, and then to observe what the imagination can make of them. Good and evil in this play are clearly severed from one another-(more so than in Macbeth or in Othello)--and at the last, goodness, if we judge merely by external fortune, would seem to be, if not defeated, at least not triumphant. Shakespeare has dared, while paying little regard to nere historical verisimilitude, to represent the most solemn and awful mysteries of life as they actually are, without attempting to offer a ready-made explanation of them. Cordelia dies strangled in prison; yet we know that her devotion of love was not misspent. Lear expires in an agony of grief ; but he has been delivered from his pride and passionate wilfulness : he has found that instead of being a master, at whose nod all things must bow, he is weak and helpless, a sport even of the wind and the rain; his ignorance of true love, and pleasare in false professions of love, have given place to an agonized clinging to the love which is real, deep, and tranquil because of its fulness. Lear is the greatest sufferer in Shakespeare's plays ; though so old, he has strength which makes him a subject for prolonged and vast agony; and patience is unknown to him. The elements seem to have conspired against him with his unnatural daughters; the upheaval of the moral world, and the rage of tempest in the air seem to be parts of the same gigantic convulsion. In the midst of this tempest wanders unhoused the white-haired Lear; while his fool-most pathetic of all the minor characters of Shakespeare-jests half-wildly, half-coherently, half-bitterly, half-tenderly, and always with a sad remembrance of the happier past. The poor boy's heart has been sore ever since his “ young mistress went to France." If Cordelia is pure love, tender and faithful, and Kent is unmingled loyalty, the monsters Goneril and Regan are gorgons rather than women, such as Shakespeare has nowhere else conceived. The aspect of Goneril can almost turn to stone; in Regan's tongue there is a viperous hiss. The story of Gloucester en larges the basis of the tragedy. Lear's afiction is no mere private incident; there is a breaking of the bonds of nature and society all around us. But Gloucester is suffering for a former sin of selfindulgence, Lear is " more sinned against than sinning." Yet Gloucester is granted a death which is half joyful. His affliction serves as a measure of the longer afflictior of the king. Edgar and Edmund are a contrasted pair-both are men of penetration, energy, and skill, one on the side of evil, the other on the side of good. Everywhere throughout the play Shakespeare's imaginative daring impresses us. Nothing in poetry is bolder or more wonderful than the scene on the night of the tempest in the hovel where the king, whose intellect has now given way, is in company with Edgar, assuming madness, the Fool, with his forced pathetic mirth, and Kent.
LEAR, king of Britain.
EARL OF GLOUCESTER.
Soldiers, and Attendants.
SCENE : Britain.
Unbarthen'd crawl toward death. Our son of
And you, our no less loving son of Albany, Enter KENT, GLOUCESTER, and EDMUND. We have this hour a constant will to publish Kent. I thought the king had more affected
Our daughters' several dowers, that future
strife the Duke of Albany than Cornwall. Glou. It did always seem so to us: but May be prevented now. The princes, France
and Burgundy, now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most ; for
Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, equalities are so weighed, that curiosity in
Long in our court have made their amorous neither can make choice of either's moiety.
And here are to be answer'd. Tell me, my Kent. Is not this your son, my lord ? Glou. His breeding, sir, hath been at my
daughters, charge: I have so often blushed to acknowl.
we will divest us, both of rule, 50
Interest of territory, cares of state,edge him, that now I am brazed to it. 11 Kent. I cannot conceive you.
Which of you shall we say doth love us most ?
That we our largest bounty may extend Glou. Sir, this young fellow's mother could:
Where nature doth with merit challenge. whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had,
Goneril, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
Our eldest-born, speak first. Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the
Gon. Sir, I love you more than words can
wield the matter ; issue of it being so proper. Glou. But I have, sir, a son by order of
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty; law, some year elder than this, who yet is no
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare ;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, dearer in my account: though this knave came
honor ; something saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair ; there
As much as child e'er loved, or father found ;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unwas good sport at his making, and the whore
61 son must be acknowledged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ?
Beyond all manner of so much I love you. Edm. No, my lord.
Cor. [Aside] What shall Cordelia do? Love, Glou. My lord of Kent: remember him
and be silent.
Lear. hereafter as my honorable friend.
Of all these bounds, even from this
line to this, Edm. My services to your lordship. Kent. I must love you, and sue to know
With shadowy forests and with champains
rich’d, you better.
31 Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving.
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads, Glou. He hath been out nine years, and
We make thee lady: to thine and Albany's
issue away he shall again. The king is coming.
Be this perpetual. What says our second Sennet. Enter KING LEAR, CORNWALL, AL
daughter, BANY, GONERIL, REGAN, CORDELIA, and Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall ? Speak. 'Attendants.
Reg. Sir, I am made
70 Lear. Attend the lords of France and Bur- Of the self-same metal that my sister is, gundy, Gloucester.
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart Glou. I shall, my liege.
I find she names my very deed of love ; [Exeunt Gloucester and Edmund. Only she comes too short: that I profess Lear. Meantime we shall express our darker Myself an enemy to all other joys, purpose.
Which the most precious square of sense posGive me the map there. Know that we have
sesses ; divided
And find I am alone felicitate In three our kingdom: and 'tis our fast intent In your dear highness' love. To shake all cares and business from our age; Cor.
[Aside] Then poor Cordelia ! Conferring them on younger strengths, while And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love's
More richer than my tongue