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Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
“ Alas, poor fool! why do I pity him?" I may add, that the Fool of Lear was long ago forgotten. Having filled the space allotted him in the arrangement of the play, he ap: pears to have been silently withdrawn in the 6th scene of the third Act.- That the thoughts of a father, in the bitterest of all moments, while his favourite child lay dead in his arms, should recur to the antick who had formerly diverted him, has somewhat in it that I cannot reconcile to the idea of genuine sorrow and despair.
Besides this, Cordelia was recently hanged; but we know not that the Fool had suffered in the same manner, nor can imagine why he should. The party adverse to Lear was little interested in the fate of his jester. The only use of him was to contrast and alleviate the sorrows of his master; and, that purpose being fully answered, the poet's solicitude about him was at an end.
The term--poor fool might indeed have misbecome the mouth of a vassal commiserating the untimely end of a princess, but has no impropriety when used by a weak, old, distracted king, in whose mind the distinctions of nature only survive, while he is uttering his last frantick exclamations over a murdered daughter.
Should the foregoing remark, however, be thought erroneous, the reader will forgive it, as it serves to introduce some contradictory observations from a critick, in whose taste and judgment too much confidence cannot easily be placed. Steevens.
I confess, I am one of those who have thought that Lear means his Fool, and not Cordelia. If he means Cordelia, then what I have al. ways considered as a beauty, is of the same kind as the accidental stroke of the pencil that produced the foam.-Lear’s affectionate reinembrance of the Fool in this place, I used to think, was one of those strokes of genius, or of nature, which are so often found in Shakspeare, and in him only.
Lear appears to have a par:icular affection for this Fool, whose fidelity in attending him, and endeavouring to divert him in his distress, seems to deserve all his kindness.
Poor fool and knave, says he, in the midst of the thunder stcrm, I have one part in my heart that's sorry yet for thee.
It does not, therefore, appear to me, to be allowing too much con. sequence to the Fool, in making Lear bestow a thcught on him, even when in still greater distress. Lear is represented as a good-natured, passionate, and rather weak old man; it is the old age of a cockered spoilt boy. There is no impropriety in giving to such a character those tender domestick affections, which would ill become a more heroick character, such as Othello, Macbeth, or Richard III.
The words--No, no, no life; I suppose to be spoken, not tenderly, but with passion: Let nothing now live ; let there be universal destruction ;-Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, hare life, and thou no breath at ill?
It may be observed, that as there was a necessity, the necessity of propriety at least, that this Fool the favourite of the author, of Lear, and consequently of the audience, should not be lost or forgot, it
And thou no breath at all? O, thou wilt come no more,
ought to be known what became of him.-However, it must be ac-knowledged, that we cannot infer much from thence; Shakspeare is not always attentive to finish the figures of his groups.
I have only to add, that if an actor, by adopting the interpretation mentioned above, of applying the words poor fool to Cordelia, the audience would, I should imagine, think it a strange mode of expressing the grief and affection of a father for his dead daughter, and that daughter a queen.-The words poor fool, are undoubtedly expressive of endearment; and Shakspeare himself, in another place speaking of a dying animal, calls it poor dappled fool: but it neveris, nor never can be, used with any degree of propriety, but to commiserate some very inferior object, which may be loved, without much esteem or respect. Sir J. Reynolds.
It is not without some reluctance that I express my dissent from the friend whose name is subscribed to the preceding note; whose observations on all subjects of criticisin and taste are so ingenious and just, that posterity may be at a loss to determine, whether his consummate skill and execution in his own art, or his judgment on that and other kindred arts, were superior. But magis amica veritas should be the motto of every editor of Shakspeare; in conformity to which I must add, that I have not the smallest doubt that Mr. Steevens's interpretation of these words is the true one. The passage indeed before us appears to me so clear, and so inapplicable to any person but Cordelia, that I fear the reader may think any further comment on it altogether superfluous.
It is observable that Lear from the time of his entrance in this scene to his uttering these words, and from thence to his death, is wholly occupied by the loss of his daughter. He is diverted indeed from it for a moment by the intrusion of Kent, who forces himself on his notice; but he instantly returns to his beloved Cordelia, over whose dead body he coritinues to hang. He is now himself in the agony of death; and surely, at such a time, when his heart is just breaking, it would be highly unnatural that he should think of his Fool. But the great and decisive objection to such a supposition is that which Mr. Steevens has mentioned--that Lear has just seen his daughter hanged, having unfortunately been admitted too late to preserve her life, though time enough to punish the perpetrator of the act: but we have no authority whatsoever for supposing his Fool hanged also.
Whether the expression-poor fool-can be applied with propriety only to inferior objects, for whom we have not much respect or esteem, is not, I conceive, the question. Shakspeare does not always use his ierms with strict propriety, but he is always the best commentator on himself, and he certainly has applied this term in another place to the
young, the beautiful, and innocent, Adonis, the object of somewhat more than the esteein of a goddess:
“ For pity now she can no more detain him;
“ The poor fool prays her that he may depart.” Again, though less appositely, in Twelfth Night:
Never, nerer, never, never, never!
“ Alas, poor fool, how have they baffled thee!" Again, in Much Ado about Nothing :
“ Lady, you have a merry heart.
windy side of care.” Again, in The Winter's Tale:
Do not weep, good fools, " There is no cause. In Romeo and Juliet a similar term of endearment is employed. Mercutio, speaking of Romeo, whom certainly he both esteemed and loved, says
“ The ape is dead, and I must conjure him.”. Nor was the phraseology, which has occasioned this long note, peculiar to Shakspeare. It was long before his time incorporated in our language; as appears from the following passage in the old poein entitled The II, story of Romeus and Juliet, 1562:
“ Yea, he forgets himself, ne is the wretch so bolde
-- But only seeketh by her sight to feed his hungry eyes." In old English a fool and an innocent were synonymous terms. Hence probably the peculiar use of the expression---poor fool. In the passage before us, Lear, I conceive, means by it, dear, tender, helpless innocence! Malone.
5 Pray you undo this button:] The Rev. Dr. J. Warton judiciously observes, that the swelling and heaving of the heart is described by this most expressive circumstance. So, in The Honest Lawyer, 1616:
oh my heart !
Ah, cut my lace asunder,
• Or else i swoon with this dead-killing news!" Again, in The Winter's Tale:
“ O, cut my lace; lest my heart, cracking it,
" Break too!” and, as Mr. Malone adds, from N. Field's A Woman's a Weathercock, 1612:
swell heart! buttons fly open! “ Thanks gentle doublet, else my heart had broke.” Steevens. 6 Do you see this.? &c.] This line and the following hemistich, are not in the quartos. After thank you, sir, they have only the interjection O, five times repeated. Malone.
He faints !---My lord, my lord,
Look up, my lord. Kent. Vex not his ghost: 0, let him pass !3 he hates
That would upon the rack of this tough world
O, he is gone, indeed.
Alb. Bear them from hence. Our present business Is general woe. Friends of my soul, you
[To Kent and EDG. Rule in this realm, and the gor'd state sustain.
Kent. I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls, and I must not say, no.1
Alb. The weight of this sad time we must obey;? Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
7 Break, heart; &c.] This line is in the quartos given to the dying Lear. Malone.
O, let him pass!] See p. 301, n.7. Malone.
this tough world —] Thus all the copies. Mr. Pope changed it to rough, but, perhaps, without necessity. This tough world is this obdurate rigid world. Steevens.
I must not say, no.] The inodern editors have supposed that Kent expires after he has repeated these two last lines; but the speech rather appears to be meant for a despairing than a dying man ; and as the old editions give no marginal direction for his death, I have forborn to insert any.
I take this opportunity of retracting a declaration which I had formerly made on the faith of another person, viz. that the quartos, 1608, were exactly alike. I have since discovered they vary one from another in many instances. Steevens.
The second folio, at the end of this speech, has the word-Djes, in the margin. Ritson. Kent in his entrance in this scene says
" I am come
“ To bid my king and master aye good night;"'. but this, like the speech before us, only marks the despondency of the speaker. The word shortly [i.e. some time hence, at no very distant period,] decisively proves, that the poet did not mean to make him die on the scene. He merely says that he shall not live long, and therefore cannot undertake the office assigned to him.
The marginal direction, he dies, was first introduced by the ignorant editor of the second folio. Malone.
2 The weight of this sad time &c.] This speech from the authority
The oldest hath borne most: we, that are young,
[Exeunt with a dead March.3
of the old quartos is rightly placed to Albany: in the edition by the players, it is given to Edgar, by whom, I doubt not, it was of custom spoken. And the cause was this: he who played Edgar, being a more favourite actor than he who performed Albany, in spite of decorum it was thought proper he should have the last word.
Theobald. 3 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 dramatick exhibition, and such as must always compel the mind to relieve its distresses 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 co-operate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and con