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Most barbarous, most degenerate! have you
If that the heavens do not their visible spirits Send quickly down to tame these wild offences,3 "Twill come,
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.4
That bear'st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs;
Thine honour from thy suffering; that not know'st,5
Ere they have done their mischief. Where's thy drum?
See thyself, devil! Proper deformity7 seems not in the fiend
would lick,] This line, which had been omitted by all my predecessors, I have restored from the quartos. Steevens.
these vile offences,] In some of the impressions of quarto B, we find―this vile offences; in others, and in quarto A,-the vile. This was certainly a misprint for these.
like monsters of the deep.] Fishes are the only animals that are known to prey upon their own species. Johnson.
· that not know'st, &c.] The rest of this speech is omitted in Steevens.
6 Fools do those villains pity, &c.] She means, that none but fools would pity those villains, who are prevented from executing their inalicious designs, and punished for their evil intention. It is not clear whether this fiend means her father, or the King of France. If these words were intended to have a retrospect to Albany's speech, which the word pity might lead us to suppose, Lear must be in her contemplation; if they are considered as connected with what followsWhere's thy drum? &c. the other interpretation must be adopted. The latter appears to me the true one; and perhaps the punctuation of the quarto, in which there is only a comma after the word mischief, ought to have been preferred. Malone.
I do not perceive to what the word-fiend, in the fourth line of the foregoing note, refers. Steevens.
7 Proper deformity-] i. e. Diabolick qualities appear not so horrid in the devil, to whom they belong, as in woman, who unnaturally assumes them. Warburton.
So horrid, as in woman.
O vain fool!
Alb. Thou changed and self-cover'd thing, for shame, Be-monster not thy feature. Were it my fitness To let these hands obey my blood,1
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
Thy flesh and bones:-Howe'er thou art a fiend,
Gon. Marry, your manhood now! — .
Enter a Messenger.
Alb. What news?
Mess. O, my good lord, the duke of Cornwall's dead; Slain by his servant, going to put out
The other eye of Gloster.
8 Thou changed and self-cover'd thing,] Of these lines there is but one copy, and the editors are forced upon conjecture. They have published this line thus:
Thou chang'd, and self-converted thing,
But I cannot but think that by self-cover'd the author meant, thou that hast disguised nature by wickedness; thou that hast hid the woman under the fiend. Johnson.
This, and the next speech are wanting in the folio. Steevens.
The following words, be-monster not thy nature, seems rather to support the reading of the former editors, which was self-converted; and a thought somewhat similar occurs in Fletcher's play of The Captain, where the father says to Lelia
Oh, Good God!
"To what an impudence, thou wretched woman,
By thou self-cover'd thing, the poet, I think, means, thou who hast put a covering on thyself, which nature did not give thee. The covering which Albany means, is, the semblance and appearance of 2 fiend. Malone.
Self-cover'd, perhaps, was said in allusion to the envelope which the maggots of some insects furnish to themselves. Or the poet might have referred to the operation of the silk worm, that
66 labours till it clouds itself all o`er?" Steevens.
9 Be-monster not thy feature.] Feature, in Shakspeare's age, meant the general cast of countenance, and often beauty. Bullokar, in his Expositor, 1616, explains it by the words, "handsomeness, comeliness, beautie." Malone.
1 To let these hands obey my blood,] As this line wants a foot, perhaps our author wrote
To let these hands of mine obey my blood.
So, in King John, Vol. VII:
This hand of mine
"Is yet a maiden and an innocent hand." Steevens.
Mess. A servant that he bred, thrill'd with remorse,
Flew on him, and amongst them fell'd him dead :2
This shows you are above,
Both, both, my lord.
This letter, madam, craves a speedy answer;
Gon. [aside] One way I like this well;4 But being widow, and my Gloster with her, May all the building in my fancy pluck Upon my hateful life: Another way,
The news is not so tart.-I'll read, and answer.
[Exit. Alb. Where was his son, when they did take his eyes? Mess. Come with my lady hither.
He is not here.
Mess. No, my good lord; I met him back again.
Mess. Ay, my good lord; 'twas he inform'd against
And quit the house on purpose, that their punishment Might have the freer course.
Gloster, I live
2 ·and amongst them fell'd him dead:] i.e. they (Cornwall and his other servants) amongst them fell'd him dead. Malone.
You justicers,] Most of the old copies have justices; but it was certainly a misprint. The word justicer is used in two other places in this play; and though printed rightly in the folio, is corrupted in the quarto in the same manner as here. Some copies of quarto B read, rightly-justicers, in the line before us. Malone.
4 One way I like this well;] Goneril's plan was to poison her sister -to marry Edmund-to murder Albany-and to get possession of the whole kingdom. As the death of Cornwall facilitated the last part of her scheme, she was pleased at it; but disliked it, as it put it in the power of her sister to marry Edmund. M. Mason..
sc. i: "
all the building in my fancy-] So, in Coriolanus, Act II, the buildings in my fancy." Steevens.
And to revenge thine eyes.-Come hither, friend;
The French Camp, near Dover.
Enter KENT, and a Gentleman.7
Kent. Why the king of France is so suddenly gone backs know you the reason?
Gent. Something he left imperfect in the state, Which since his coming forth is thought of; which Imports to the kingdom so much fear and danger, That his personal return was most requir'd,
Kent. Who hath he left behind him general?
Gent. The Mareschal of France, Monsieur le Fer.9
[Scene III.] This scene, left out in all the common books, is restored from the old edition; it being manifestly of Shakspeare's writing, and necessary to continue the story of Cordelia, whose behaviour is here most beautifully painted. Pope.
The scene seems to have been left out only to shorten the play, and is necessary to continue the action. It is extant only in the quarto, being omitted in the first folio. I have therefore put it between crotchets. Johnson.
a Gentleman.] The gentleman whom he sent in the foregoing act with letters to Cordelia. Johnson.
8 Why the king of France is so suddenly gone back &c.] The king of France being no longer a necessary personage, it was fit that some pretext for getting rid of him should be formed, before the play was too near advanced towards a conclusion. Decency required that a Monarch should not be silently shuffled into the pack of insignificant characters; and therefore his dismission (which could be effected only by a sudden recall to his own dominions) was to be accounted for before the audience. For this purpose, among others, the present scene was introduced. It is difficult indeed to say what use could have been made of the King, had he appeared at the head of his own armament, and survived the murder of his queen. His conjugal concern on the occasion, might have weakened the effect of Lear's parental sorrow; and, being an object of respect, as well as pity, he would naturally have divided the spectator's attention, and thereby diminished the consequence of Albany, Edgar, and Kent, whose exemplary virtues deserved to be ultimately placed in the most conspicuous point of view. Steevens.
9 The Mareschal of France, Monsieur le Fer] Shakspeare seems to have been poor in the names of Frenchmen, or he would scarce have given us here a Monsieur le Fer as Mareschal of France, after
Kent. Did your letters pierce the queen to any stration of grief?
Gent. Ay, sir; she took them, read them in my pre
And now and then an ample tear trill'd down
Sought to be king o'er her.
O, then it mov'd her.
Gent. Not to a rage: patience and sorrow strove2 Who should express her goodliest. You have seen Sunshine and rain at once: her smiles and tears Were like a better day:3 Those happy smiles,*
he had appropriated the same appellation to a common soldier, who was fer'd, ferreted, and ferk'd, by Pistol in King Henry V. Steevens.
1 Ay, sir;] The quartos read-I say. The correction was made by Mr. Theobald.
2 - patience and sorrow strove --] The quartos for strove have streme. Mr. Pope made the correction.
Were like a better day:] It is plain, we should read-a wetter May, i. e. A spring season wetter than ordinary. Warburton.
The thought is taken from Sidney's Arcadia, p. 244. "Her tears came dropping down like rain in sunshine." Cordelia's behaviour on this occasion is apparently copied from Philoclea's. The same book, in another place, says,"that her tears followed one another like a precious rope of pearl." The same comparison also occurs in a very scarce book, entitled 4 courtlie Controversie of Cupid's Cautels: &c. Translated from the French, &c. by H. W. [Henry Wotton] 4o. 1578, p. 289, "Who hath viewed in the spring time, raine and sunne-shine in one moment, might behold the troubled countenance of the gentlewoman, after she had read and over-read the letters of her Floradin with an eye now smilyng, then bathed in teares." The quartos read, -a better way, which may be an accidental inversion of the M.
A better day, however, is the best day, and the best day is a day more favourable to the productions of the earth. Such are the days in which there is a due mixture of rain and sunshine.
It must be observed that the comparative is used by Milton and others, instead of the positive and superlative, as well as by Shakspeare himself, in the play before us:
"The safer sense will ne'er accommodate
Mr. Pope makes no scruple to say of Achilles, that—