« PreviousContinue »
Well may you prosper!
Come, my fair Cordelia.
[Exeunt FRANCE and Cor. Gon. Sister, it is not a little I have to say, of what most nearly appertains to us both. I think, our father will hence to-night.
Reg. That's most certain, and with you; next month with us.
Gon. You see how full of changes his age is; the observation we have made of it hath not been little: he always loved our sister most; and with what poor judgment he hath now cast her off, appears too grossly.
Reg. 'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.
Gon. The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash; then must we look to receive from his age, not alone the imperfections of long-engrafted condition, but, therewithal, the unruly waywardness that infirm and cholerick years bring with them.
Reg. Such unconstant starts are we like to have from him, as this of Kent's banishment.
Gon. There is further compliment of leave-taking between France and him. Pray you, let us hits together: If our father carry authority with such dispositions as he bears, this last surrender of his will but offend us.
Reg. We shall further think of it.
In the third Act, Lear says:
Caitiff, shake to pieces,
“ Hast practis'd on man's life.” Reed. In this passage Cordelia is made to allude to a passage in Scripture -Prov. xxviii, 13: “ He that covereth his sins shall not prosper : but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy.” Henley.
of long-engrafted condition,] i. e. of qualities of mind, confirmed by long habit. So, in Othello: “- a woman of so gentle a condition” See also Vol. IX, p. 312, n. 6; p. 361, n. 2; and p. 374, n. 9. Malone. let us hit --) So the old quarto. The folio, let us sit.
Fohnson. let us hit -] i.e. let us agree. Steevens.
i' the heat.] i. e. We must strike while the iron's hot. So, in Chapman's version of the 12th Book of Homer's Orlyssey:
and their iron s rook
A Hall in the Earl of Gloster's Castle.
Enter EDMUND with a Letter,
7 Thou, nature, art my goddess;] Edmund speaks of nature in op. position to custom, and not (as Dr. Warburton supposes) to the exist. ence of a God. Edmund means only, as he came not into the world as custom or law had prescribed, so he had nothing to do but to follow nature and her laws, which make no difference beiween legitimacy and illegitimacy, between the eldest and the youngest.
To contradict Dr. Warburton's assertion yet more strongly, Edmund concludes this very speech by an invocation to heaven:
“ Now gods stand up for bastards !” Steevens. Edmund calls nature his goddess, for the same reason that we call a bastard a natural son: one, who according to the law of nature, is the child of his father, but according to those of civil society is nullius filius. M. Mason.
8 Stand in the plague of custom ;] The word plague is in all the old copies: I can scarcely think it right, nor can I yet reconcile myself to plage, the emendation proposed by Dr. Warburton, though I have nothing better to offer. Johnson.
The meaning is plain, though oddly expressed. Wherefore should I acquiesce, submit tamely to the plagues and injustice of custom?
Shakspeare seems to mean by the plague of custom,–Wherefore should I remain in a situation where I shall be plagued and tormented only in consequence of the contempt with which custom regards those who are not the issue of a lawful bed ? Dr. Warburton defines plage to be the place, the country, the boundary of custom; a word, I believe, to be found only in Chaucer. Steevens.
9 The curiosity of nations - ] Curiosity, in the time of Shakspeare, was a word that signified an over-nice scrupulousness in manners, dress, &c. In this sense it is used in Timon: “When thou wast (says Apemantus) in thy gilt and thy perfume, they mocked thee for too much curiosity.” Barrett, in his Alwearie, or Quadruple Dictionary, 1580, interprets it, piked diligence : something too curious, or too much affected : and again in this play of King Lear, Shakspeare seems to use it in the same sense, “which I have rather blamed as my own jealous curiosity.” Curiosity is the old reading, which Mr. Theobald changed into courtesy, though the former is used by Beaumont and Fletcher, with the meaning for which I contend.
It is true, that Orlando, in As you Like it, says: “ The courtesy of nations allows you my better;” but Orlando is not there inveighing against the law of primogeniture, but only against the unkind advantage his brother takes of it, and courtesy is a word that fully suits the
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines
my dimensions are as well compact,
occasion. Edmund, on the contrary, is turning this law into ridicule ; and for such a purpose, the curiosity of nations, (i.e. the idle, nice distinctions of the world) is a phrase of contempt much more natural in his mouth, than the softer expression of-courtesy of nations. Steevens.
Curiosity is used before in the present play, in this sense :-". For equalities are so weighed, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.” Again, in All 's Well that Ends Well:
“ Frank nature, rather curious than in haste,
“ Haih well compos’d thee." · In The ENGLISH DictioNARY, or Interpreter of hard Words, by H. Cockeram, 8vo. 1655, curiosity is defined" More diligence than needs." Malone.
By “the curiosity of nations'' Edmund means the nicety, the strictness of civil institution So, when Hamlet is about to prove that the dust of Alexander might be employed to stop a bung-hole, Horatio says, " that were to consider the matter too curiously. M Mason.
- to deprive me,] To deprive was, in our author's time, synonymous to disinherit. The old dictionary renders exhæredo by this word: and Holinshed speaks of the line of Henry before deprived. Again, in Warner's Albion's England, 1602, B. III, ch. xvi:
“ To you, if whom ye have deprim’d ye shall restore again." Again, ibid: “ The one restored, for his late depriving nothing mov'd."
Steevens. 2 Lag of a brother?] Edmund inveighs against the tyranny of custom, in two ins ances, with respect to younger brothers, and to bas. tards. In the former he must not be understood to mean himself, but the argument becomes general by implying more than is said, Wherefore should I or an; man. Hanmer.
3 Who in the lusty stealth of nature, &c ] How much the following lines are in character, may be seen by that monstrous wish of Vanini, the Italian atheist, in his aract De almirandis Naturæ, &c. printed at Paris, 1616, the very year our poet died “O utinam extra legitimum et connubialum thorum essem procreutus! Ita enim progenitores mei in venerem incaluissent ardentius ac cumulatim affatimque generosa semina contulissent, è quibus ego forme blanditiam et elegantiam, robustas corporis vires, mentenique innubilem, consequutus fuissem. At quia conjugatorum sum soboles, his orbatus sum bonis.". Had the book been published but ten or twenty years sooner, who would not kave believed that Shakspeare alluded to this passage?
More composition and fierce quality,
[Putting up the Letter. Glo. Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter? Edm. I know no news, my lord.
But the divinity of his genius foretold, as it were, what such an atheist as Vannini would say, when he wrote upon such a subject.
Warburton. subscrib’d his power?] To subscribe, is, to transfer by signing or subscribing a writing of testimony. We now use the term, He subscribed forty pounds to the new buildingJohnson.
To subscribe in Shakspeare is to yield, or surrender. So, afterwards: “ You owe me no subscription.” Again, in Troilus and Cressida:
" For Hector in his blaze of wrath subscribes
“ To tender objects.” Malone. The folio reads—prescribed. . Steevens.
exhibition.'] is allowance. The term is yet used in the universities. Johnson. So, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona:
“ What maintenance he from his friends receives,
All this done Upon the gad!] To do upon the gad, is, to act by the sudden stiinulation of caprice, as cattle run madding when they are stung by the gad fly. Fohnson.
Done upon the gad is done suddenly, or, as before, while the iron is hot. A gait is an iron bar. So, in I'll never leave thee, a Scottish song, by Allan Ramsay:
66 Bid iceshogles hammer red gads on the studdy." The statute of 2 and 3 Elz. 6, c. 27, is a “ Bill against false forging of iron gadds, instead of gadds of steel.” Ritson.
Glo. What paper were you reading?
Glo. No? What needed then that terrible despatch of it into your pocket? the quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see ; Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.
Edm. I beseech you, sir, pardon me : it is a letter from my brother, that I have not all o'er-read; for so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for your over-looking.
Glo. Give me the letter, sir.
Edm. I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.
Glo. Let's see, let's see.
Edm. I hope, for my brother's justification, he wrote this but as an essay or taste of my
virtue.? Glo. [reads] This policy, and reverence of age, makes the world bitter to the best of our times ; keeps our fortunes from us, till our oldness cannot relish them. I begin to find an idle and fondo bondage in the oppression of aged tyranny; who sways, not as it hath power, but as it is suffered, Come to me, that of this I may speak more. If our father would sleep till I waked him, you should enjoy half his reve
taste of my virtue.] Though taste may stand in this place, yet I believe we should read-assay or test of my virtue: they are both metallurgical terms, and properly joined. So, in Hamlet:
“ Bring me to the test.” Johnson. Essay and Taste, are both terms from royal tables. See note on Act V, sc. jji. Mr. Henley observes, that in the eastern parts of this kingdom the word say is still retained in the same sense. So, in Chapman's version of the nineteenth Iliad: “ Atrides with his knife took say, upon the part before ;" —.
Steevens. Both the quartos and folio have essay, which may have been merely a mis-spelling of the word assay, which in Cawdrey's Alphabetical. Table, 1604, is defined—“a proof or trial.” But as essay is likewise defined by Bullokar in his English Expositor, 1616, “ a trial,” I have made no change.
To assay not only signified to make trial of coin, but to taste before another; prælibo. In either sense the word might be used here.
Malone. 8 This policy, and reverence of age,] Butter's quarto has, this policy of age; the folio, this policy and reverence of age. Johnson.
The two quartos published by Butter, concur with the folio in reading age. Mr. Pope's duodecimo is the only copy that has ages.
Stecvens. - idle and fond -] Weak and foolish. Johnson.