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though her presence were necessary to his health : so that he sickens upon the loss of her, yet suspects not wherefore, and knows but that she was by and his spirits were nimble, she is gone and his spirits are drooping. .
Such is the proper influence of a right-minded and rightmannered woman on those about her: she knows it not, they know it not; her influence is all the better and stronger that neither of them knows it: she begins to lose it directly she goes about to use it and make them sensible of it: with noiseless step it glides into them unnoticed and unsuspected, but disturbs and repels them as soon as it seeks to make itself heard. For indeed her power lies not in what she values herself upon, and voluntarily brings forward, and makes use of, but in something far deeper and diviner than all this, which she knows not of and cannot help.
Finally, I know of nothing with which to compare Cordelia, nothing to illustrate her character by. An impersonation of the holiness of womanhood, herself alone is her own parallel ; and all the objects that lend beauty when used to illustrate other things seem dumb or ineloquent of meaning beside her. Superior, perhaps, to all the rest of Shakespeare's women in beauty of character, she is nevertheless second to none of them as a living and breathing reality. We see her only in the relation of daughter, and hardly see her even there; yet we know what she is or would be in every relation of life, just as well as if we had seen her in them all. “Formed for all sympathies, moved by all tenderness, prompt for all duty, prepared for all suffering,” we seem almost to hear her sighs and feel her breath as she hangs, like a ministering spirit, over her reviving father: the vision sinks sweetly and quietly into the heart, and, in its reality to our feelings, abides with us more as a remembrance than an imagination, instructing and inspiring us as that of a friend whom we had known and loved in our youth. After all, I am not sure but it were better to have emphasized her character with the single remark of Schlegel : “Of Cordelia’s heavenly beauty of sonl I do not dare to speak.”
It is an interesting feature of this representation, that Lear’s faith in filial piety is justified, by the event, though not his judgment as to the persons in whom it was to be found. Wiser in heart than in understanding, he mistook the object, but was right in the feeling. In his pride of sovereignty he thought to command the affection of his children, and to purchase the dues of gratitude by his bounty to them; but he is at last indebted to the unbought grace of Nature for that comfort which he would fain owe to himself; what he seeks, and even more than he seeks, coming as the free return of a love that thrives in spite of him, and which no harshness or injustice of his could extinguish. Thus the confirmation of his faith grows by the ruin of his pride. Such is the frequent lesson of human life. For the Fall has not more defaced the beauty of human character than it has marred our perception of what remains; and not the least punishment of our own vices is, that they take from us the power to discern the virtue of others. In passing from this part of the subject, need I add how, with what healing discipline, and what accessions of moral strength, we are here brought to converse with
“Sorrow, that is not sorrow, but delight;
Therefrom to human kind, and what we are" ? All this is indeed putting the great forces of tragic representation to their rightful service.
There is a strange assemblage of qualities in the Fool, and a strange effect arising from their union and position, which I am not a little at a loss how to describe. It seems hardly possible that Lear's character should be properly developed without him: indeed he serves as a common gauge and exponent of all the characters about him, — the mirror in which their finest and deepest lineaments are
reflected. Though a privileged person, with the largest opportunity of seeing and the largest liberty of speaking, he everywhere turns his privileges into charities, making the immunities of the clown subservient to the noblest sympathies of the man. He is therefore by no means a mere harlequinian appendage of the scene, but moves in vital intercourse with the character and passion of the drama. He makes his folly the vehicle of truths which the King will bear in no other shape, while his affectionate tenderness sanctifies all his nonsense. His being heralded by the announcement of his pining away at the banishment of Cordelia sends a consecration before him: that his spirit feeds on her presence hallows every thing about him. Lear manifestly loves him, partly for his own sake, and partly for hers; for we feel a delicate, scarce-discernible play of sympathy between them on Cordelia's account; the more so perhaps, that neither of them makes any explicit allusion to her; their very reserve concerning her indicating that their hearts are too full to speak.
I know not, therefore, how I can better describe the Fool than as the soul of pathos in a sort of comic masquerade; one in whom fun and frolic are sublimed and idealized into tragic beauty; with the garments of mourning showing through and softened by the lawn of playfulness. His “labouring to outjest Lear's heart-struck injuries" tells us that his wits are set a-dancing by grief; that his jests bubble up from the depths of a heart struggling with pity and sorrow, as foam enwreaths the face of deeply-troubled waters. So have I seen the lip quiver and the cheek dimple into a smile, to relieve the eye of a burden it was reeling under, yet ashamed to let fall. There is all along a shrinking, velvet-footed delicacy of step in the Fool's antics, as if awed by the holiness of the ground; and he seems bringing diversion to the thoughts, that he may the better steal a sense of woe into the heart. And I am not clear whether the inspired antics that sparkle from the surface of his mind are in more impressive contrast with the dark
tragic scenes into which they are thrown, like rockets into a midnight tempest, or with the undercurrent of deep tragic thoughtfulness out of which they falteringly issue and play.
Our estimate of this drama as a whole depends very much on the view we take of the Fool; that is, on how we interpret his part, or in what sense we understand it. Superficially considered, his presence and action can hardly seem other than a blemish in the work, and a hindrance to its proper interest. Accordingly he has been greatly misunderstood, indeed totally misconstrued by many of the Poet's critics. And it must be confessed that the true meaning of his part is somewhat difficult to seize; in fact, is not to be seized at all, unless one get just the right point of view. He has no sufferings of his own to move us, yet, rightly seen, he does move us, and deeply too. But the process of his interest is very peculiar and recondite. The most noteworthy point in him, and the real key to his character, lies in that while his heart is slowly breaking he never speaks, nor even appears so much as to think of his own suffering. He seems indeed quite unconscious of it. His anguish is purely the anguish of sympathy; a sympathy so deep and intense as to induce absolute forgetfulness of self; all his capacities of feeling being perfectly engrossed with the sufferings of those whom he loves. He withdraws from the scene with the words, “And I'll go to bed at noon”; which means simply that the dear fellow is dying, and this too, purely of others' sorrows, which he feels more keenly than they do themselves. She who was the light of his eyes is gone, dowered with her father's curse and strangered with his oath; Kent and Edgar have vanished from his recognition, he knows not whither, the victims of wrong and crime; the wicked seem to be having all things their own way; the elements have joined their persecutions to the cruelties of men; there is no pity in the Heavens, no help from the Earth; he sees nothing but a “world's convention of agonies” before him; and his straining of mind
to play assuagement upon others' woes has fairly breached the citadel of his life. But the deepest grief of all has now overtaken him; his old master's wits are all shattered in pieces: to prevent this, he has all along been toiling his forces to the utmost; and, now that it has come in spite of him, he no longer has any thing to live for: yet he must still mask his passion in a characteristic disguise, and breathe out his life in a play of thought. I know not whether it may be rightly said of this hero in motley, that he
“hopes till Hope creates From its own wreck the thing it contemplates." Need it be said that such ideas of human character could grow only where the light of Christianity shines ? The Poet's conceptions of virtue and goodness, as worked out in this drama, are thoroughly of the Christian type, — steeped indeed in the efficacy of the Christian Ideal. The old Roman conception of human goodness, as is well known, placed it in courage, patriotism, honesty, and justice, — very high and noble indeed; whereas the proper constituents of the Christian Ideal are, besides these, and higher than these, mercy, philanthropy, self-sacrifice, forgiveness of injuries, and loving of enemies. It is in this sense that Shakespeare gives us the best expressions of the Christian Ideal that are to be met with in Poetry and Art. I am really unable to say what divines may have interpreted more truly or more inspiringly the moral sense, the ethos of our religion.
If the best grace and happiness of life consist, as this play makes us feel that they do, in a forgetting of self and a living for others, Kent and Edgar are those of Shakespeare's men whom one should most wish to resemble. Strikingly similar in virtues and situation, these two persons are notwithstanding widely different in character. Brothers in magnanimity and in misfortune; equally invincible in fidelity, the one to his King, the other to his father; both driven to disguise themselves, and in their disguise