« PreviousContinue »
Gent. Your lady, sir, your lady; and her sister
By her is poisoned; she hath confessed it."
Edm. I was contracted to them both ; all three Now marry in an instant.
Alb. Produce their bodies, be they alive or dead!— This judgment of the Heavens, that makes us tremble, Touches us not with pity. [Evit Gentleman.
Edg. Here comes Kent, sir. Alb. O ! it is he. The time will not allow the compliment, Which very manners urges. Kent. I am come To bid my king and master aye good night; Is he not here * Alb. Great thing of us forgot — Speak, Edmund, where's the king P and where’s Cordelia 2– Seest thou this object, Kent? [The bodies of GoNERIL and REGAN are brought in. Kent. Alack, why thus f Edm. Yet Edmund was beloved. The one the other poisoned for my sake, And after slew herself. Alb. Even so.-Cover their faces. Edm. I pant for life:–Some good I mean to do, Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send— Be brief in it—to the castle, for my writ Is on the life of Lear, and on Cordelia.Nay, send in time. Alb. Run, run, O, run— Edg. To whom, my lord?—Who has the office? send Thy token of reprieve. Edm. Well thought on ; take my sword, Give it the captain.
1 Thus the quarto. The folio reads “she confesses it.” WOL., VII, 17
Alb. Haste thee, for thy life. [Exit EDGAR.
Edm. He hath commission from thy wife and me To hang Cordelia in the prison, and To lay the blame upon her own despair, That she fordid' herself.
Alb. The gods defend her Bear him hence awhile.
[EDMUND is borne off.
Enter LEAR, with CoRDELIA dead in his arms;* EDGAR, Officer, and others.
Lear. Howl, howl, howl, howl —O, you are men of stones ; Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so That heaven’s vault should crack.-O, she is gone fore; ever !—
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
Kent. Is this the promised end ?”
Lear. This feather stirs; she lives if it be so,
Kent. O my good master | [Kneeling.
Lear. A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all !
1 To fordo signifies to destroy. It is used again in Hamlet. 2 The old historians say that Cordelia retired with victory from the battle, which she conducted in her father's cause, and thereby replaced him on the throne; but in a subsequent one fought against her (after the death of the old king), by the sons of Regan and Goneril, she was taken, and died miserably in prison. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the original relater of the story, says that she killed herself. - 3 Kent, in contemplating the scene before him, recollects those passages of St. Mark's Gospel, in which Christ foretells to his disciples the end of the world; and hence his question. To which Edgar adds, Or only a representation or resemblance of that horror. 4 To cease is to die. “Rather fall, and cease to be at once, than con tinue in existence only to be wretched.”
I might have saved her; now she's gone forever!
1 “If Fortune, to display the plenitude of her power, should brag of two persons, one of whom she had highly elevated, and the other she had wofully depressed, we now behold the latter.” The quarto reads, “She loved or hated,” which confirms this sense.
2 Lear means that his eyesight was bedimmed either by excess of grief, or, as is usual, by the approach of death.
3 Thus the quartos: the folio reads foredone, which is probably right, See note I, on page 130.
4 The quarto reads says.
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 Have more than merited.”—All friends shall taste The wages of their virtue, and all foes The cup of their deservings.-O, see, see Lear. And my poor fool is hanged!” No, no, no life; Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all P O, thou wilt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never !— 'Pray you, undo this button : " thank you, sir.-Do you see this f—Look on her,--look,--her lips,... Look there, look there !—— [He dies. Edg. He faints —My lord, my lord, Kent. Break, heart; I pr’ythee, break | Edg. Look up, my lord. Kent. Wex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates . him, That would upon the rack of this tough world Stretch him out longer. Edg. O, he is gone indeed. Rent. The wonder is, he hath endured so long ; He but usurped his life. Alb. Bear them from hence.—Our present business
1 “This great decay” is Lear. 2 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 Shakspeare. 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 Adventurer, 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 by repeating that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical fact, to which 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,