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I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
Is this the promis'd end?
9 Kent. Is this the promis'd end?
Edg. Or image of that horror ?] It appears to me that by the promised end Kent does not mean that conclusion which the state of their affairs seemed to promise, but the end of the world. In St. Mark's Gospel, when Christ foretels to his disciples the end of the world, and is describing to them the signs that were to precede, and mark the approach of, our final dissolution, he says, “For in those days shall be affliction such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created, unto this time, neither shall be:” and afterwards he says, “Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son ; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.” Kent in contemplating the unexam. pled scene of exquisite affliction which was then before him, and the umnatural attempt of Goneril and Regan against their father's life, recollects these passages, and asks, whether that was the end of the world that had been foretold to us. To which Edgar adds, or only a representation or resemblance of that horror ?
So Macbeth, when he calls upon Banquo, Malcolm, &c. to view Duncan murdered, says—,
up, up, and see " The great doom's image!”. There is evidently an allusion to the same passages in scripture, in a speech of Gloster's, which he makes in the second scene of the first Act:
“ These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us; --love cools; friendship falls off; brothers divide; in cities, mutinies; in countries, discord ; in palaces, treason ; and the bond cracked 'twixt son and father. This villain of mine comes under the predica tion;
there's son against father; the king falls from the bias of nature; there's father against child: We have seen the best of our time.”
If any critick should urge it as an objection to this explanation, that the persons of the drama are pagans, and of consequence unacquainted with the scriptures, they give Shakspeare credit for more accuracy than I fear he possessed. M. Mason.
This note deserves the highest praise, and is inserted in the present work with the utmost degree of gratitude to its author. Steevens.
I entirely agree with Mr. Mason in his happy explanation of this passage. In a speech which our poet has put into the mouth of young Clifford in The Second Part of King Henry VI, a similar imagery is found. On seeing the dead body of his father, who was slain in battle by the duke of York, he exclaims
“ – 0, let the vile world end,
Fall, and cease !1 Lear. This feather stirs ;2 she lives! if it be so,
“ Now let the general trumpet blow his blast,
“ To cease!” There is no trace of these lines in the old play on which The Second Part of King Henry VI was formed.
Image is again used for delineation or representation, in King Henry IV, P. I: “ No counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life in.
Again, in Hamlet : “The play is the image of a murder done in Vienna."
Mr. M. Mason has not done justice to his ingenious explanation of these words, by not quoting the whole of the passage in Macbeth !
- up, up, and see
“ To countenance this horror." Here we find disjecti membra poetæ ; the second and fourth line, taken together, furnishing us with the very expression of the text.
Malone. 1 Fall, and cease!!] Albany, is looking with attention on the pains employed by Lear to recover his child, and knows to what miseries he must survive, when he finds them to be ineffectual. Having these images present to his eyes and imagination, he cries out, Rather fall, and cease to be, at once, than continue in existence only to be wretched. So, in All's Well, &c. to cease is used for to die: and in Hamlet, the death of majesty is called “ the cease of majesty. Again, in All's Well that Ends Weil:
“ Or, ere they meet, in me, O nature, cease !
“ And both shall cease, without your remedy." Steevens. The word is used nearly in the same sense in a former scene in this play:
" Bids the wind blow the earth into the sea,
“ That things might change or cease.” I doubt, however, whether Albany's speech is addressed to Lear.
Malone. To whom then is it addressed ? Steevens.
There is a passage in The Double Marriage of Fletcher, which supports Steevens's conjecture : Juliana says to Virolet
*“ Be what you please, this happiness yet stays with me,
Nay break, and die.
“ And then -” M. Mason. 2 This feather stirs;] So, in The White Devii, or Vittoria Gorom
It is a chance that does redeem all sorrows
[Kneeling Lear. Prythee, away. Edg.
'Tis noble Kent, your friend. Lear. A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all !3 I might have sav'd her; now she's gone
--Her voice was ever soft,
Off. 'Tis true, my lords, he did.
Lear. Did I not, fellow? I have seen the day, with my good biting faulchion I would have made them skip:4 I am old now, And these same crosses spoil me.- Who are you? Mine eyes are none o'the best :I'll tell you straight.
Kent. If fortune brag of two she lov’d and hated, One of them we behold.5
bona, 1612: “ Fetch a looking glass, see if his breath will not stain it; or pull some feathers from my pillow, and lay them to his lips.”
Steevens. A common experiment of applying a light feather to the lips of a person supposed to be dead, to see whether he breathes. There is the same thought in King Henry IV, P. II, Act IV,
By his gaies of breath “ There lies a dowly feather, which stirs not." And to express a total stillness in the air, in Donne's poem called The Calm, there is the like sentiment; which Johnson, in his conversation with Drummond of Hawthornden, highly commended:
in one place lay
murderers, traitors all!] Thus the folio. The quartos read -murderous traitors all. Malone. 4 I have seen the day, with my good biting faulchion
I would have made them skip:] It is difficult for an author who never peruses his first works, to avoid repeating some of the same thoughts in his latter productions. What Lear has just said, had been anticipated by Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor : “I have seen the time with my long sword I would have made your four tall fellows skip like rats.” It is again repeated in Othelio:
" I have seen the day
“ I have made my way,” &c. Steevens. 5 If fortune brag of two she lov’d and hated,
One of them we behold.] I suppose by the two whom fortune once.
Lear. This is a dull sight:6 Are you not Kent?
The same; Your servant Kent: Where is your servant Caius?
Lear. He's a good fellow, I can tell you that;
Kent. No, my good lord ; I am the very man ;
Kent. That, from your first of difference and decay,
You are welcome hither. Kent. Nor no man else ;8 all 's cheerless, dark,
and deadlyYour eldest daughters have fore-doom'd themselves, And desperately are dead. Lear.
Ay, so I think. .11b. He knows not what he says;l and vain it is
loved, and then hated, Kent means, Lear and himself; and that each of them, looking on the other, saw a rare instance of her caprice. He may, however, be only thinking of Lear, the object of her hate.
This is the reading of the folio. The quartos read-lov'd or hated ; and they may be right, if the interpretation last given be the true one.
Malone. The meaning of this passage appears to me to be this: 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 lov'd or hated, which seems to confirm this explanation ; but either reading will express the same sense. M. Mason.
6 This is a dull sight:] This passage is wanting in the quartos. So, in Macbeth:
“ This is a sorry sight.” Steevens.
of difference and decay,] Decay for misfortunes. Warburton. The quartos read:
That from your life of difference and decay. Steevens. & Nor no man else;] Kent means, I welcome! No, nor no man else. Malone.
fore-doom'd themselves, ] Thus the quartos. The folio reads ---fordone.
Have fore-doom'd themselves is-have anticipated their own doom. To fordo is to destroy. So, in Taylor, the water-poet's character of a strumpet:
“So desperately had ne'er fordone themselves.” Again, in A Warning for faire Women, &c. 1599: “Speak who has done this deed ? thou hast not fordone thyself, hast thou?'
Steevens. See Vol. II, p. 375, n. 6. Malone.
That we present us to him.
Enter an Officer.
That's but a trifle here.
[To Edg. and KENT. With boot, and such addition as your honours Have more than merited.-All friends shall taste The
wages of their virtue, and all foes The
cup of their deservings.--0, see, see ! Lear. And my poor fool is hang'd!4 No, no, no life:
- he says;] The quartos read-he sees, which may be right.
Steevens. 2 What comfort to this great decay may come,] This great decay is Lear, whom Shakspeare poetically calls so, and means the same as if he had said, this piece of clecay'd royalty, this ruir'd majesty. Steevens.
A preceding passage in which Gloster laments Lear’s frenzy, fully supports Mr. Steevens's interpretation:
“ O ruin'd piece of nature! This great world
“ Shall so wear out to nought.” Again, in Julius Cæsar :
“ Thou art the ruins of the noblest man," &c. Malone.
You, to your rights ;
Have more than merited.] These lines are addressed to Kent as well as to Edgar, else the word honours would not have been in the plural number. By honours is meant honourable conduct. M. Masoil.
With boot,] With advantage, with increase. Johnson. 4 And my poor fool is hang’d!] 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 away while he is searching there for indications of life.
Pour fool, in the age of Shakspeare, was an expression of endearment. So, in his Antony and Cleopatra :
poor venomous fool, “ Be angry and despatch.” Again, in King Henry VI, P. III:
“ So many weeks ere the poor fools will Again, in Romeo and Juliet :
“ And, preity fool, it stinted and said—ay." Again, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where Julia is speaking of her lover Proteus :