« ForrigeFortsett »
Never, never, never, never, never !-
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 particular 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 thunderstorm, “ 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 consequence to the Fool, in making Lear bestow a thought 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, have life, and thou no breath at all?".
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 ought to be known what became of him.-However, it must be acknowledged, 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, should apply 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 Snakspeare himself, in another place speaking of a dying animal, calls it poor dappleil fool : but it never is, 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 Joshua 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 criticism 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
Do you see this?? Look on her,-look,- her lips, Look there, look there !
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 continues 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 mentionedthat 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 terms 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 esteem 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 :
“ Alas, poor fool, how have they baffled thee!” Again, in Much Ado About Nothing : “ Lady, you have a merry heart. “ Beat. Yes, my lord, I thank it, poor fool, it keeps on the
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,
He faints !-My lord, my lord, KENT. Break, heart; I pr’ythee, break ? ! EDG.
Look up, my lord. Kent. Vex not his ghost: 0, let him pass 3! he
hates him, That would upon the rack of this tough world 4 Stretch him out longer.
peculiar to Shakspeare. · It was long before his time incorporated in our language ; as appears from the following passage in the old poem entitled The History of Romeus and Juliet, 1562 :
“ Yea, he forgets himself, he 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.
9 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 !
“ It beats so it has broke my buttons.” Again, in King Richard III. :
—Ah, cut my lace asunder,
6* 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 ;
STEEVENS. 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 0, five times repeated. Malone.
2 Break, heart; &c.] This line is in the quartos given to the dying Lear. Malone.
3 — 0, let him pass!) See p. 221, n. 1. Malone.
4 -- 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.
O, he is gone, indeed. Kent. The wonder is, he hath endur'd so long : He but usurp'd his life. ALB. Bear them from hence. Our present bu
siness Is general woe. Friends of my soul, you twain
To Kent and EDGAR. Rule in this realm, and the gor'd state 5 sustain.
Kent. I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls, and I must not say, no 0. Alb. The weight of this sad time we must
obey ?; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
5 The Gor'd state,] So in Hamlet, vol. vii. p. 507:
“ To keep my name ungor'd.” BosWELL. 6- I must not say, no.] The modern 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 forborne 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. 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.
It was not adopted either by Hanner or Capell. BOSWELL.
7 The weight of this sad time, &c.] This speech from the authority of the old quarto 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.
The oldest hath borne most: we, that are young, Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
[Exeunt, with a dead March 8.
8 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