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both serving where they stand condemned ;- Kent, too generous to control himself, is always quick, fiery, and impetuous; Edgar, controlling himself even because of his generosity, is always calm, collected, and deliberate. For, if Edgar be the more judicious and prudent, Kent is the more unselfish of the two: the former disguising himself for his own safety, and then turning his disguise into an opportunity of service; the latter disguising himself merely in order to serve, and then perilling his life in the same course whereby the other seeks to preserve it. Nor is Edgar so lost to himself and absorbed in others but that he can and does survive them; whereas Kent's life is so bound up with others, that their death plucks him after. Nevertheless it is hard saying whether one would rather be the subject or the author of Edgar's tale:
“Whilst I was big in clamour, came there a man
Who, having seen me in my worst estate,
Who 'twas that so endur'd, with his strong arms
But who was this ?
It is rather curious to note how the characteristic traits of these two men are preserved even when they are acting most out of character: so that, to us who are in the secret of their course they are themselves and not themselves at the same time. For example, in Kent's obstreperous railing at the Steward, and his saucy bluntness to Cornwall and Regan, we have a strong relish of the same impulsive and outspoken boldness with which he beards the old King when the latter is storming out his paroxysm against Cordelia, and meets his threats by daring him to the worst : “Do; kill thy physician, and the fee bestow upon the foul disease.” Of course, in those transports of abusive speech and of reckless retort, he is but affecting the slang-whanger as a part of his disguise : moreover he wants to raise a muss, and embroil Lear with his two daughters, and thereby draw the latter into a speedy disclosure of what he knows to be in their hearts; because his big manly soul is still on fire at the wrong Lear has done to Cordelia, and he would fain hasten that repentance which he knows must sooner or later come : still it is plain enough to us that his tumultuous conduct is but an exaggerated outcome of his native disposition; or, in other words, that he is truly himself all the while, only a good deal more so; a hiding of his character in a sort of overdone caricature. So too the imitative limberness and versatility which carry Edgar smoothly through so many abrupt shiftings of his masquerade are in perfect keeping with the cool considerateness which enables him to hold himself so firmly in hand when he goes to assume the style of a wandering Bedlamite. He acts several widely different parts, but the same conscious self-mastery and the same high-souled rectitude of purpose, which form the backbone of his character, are apparent in them
In Kent and Oswald we have one of those effective contrasts with which the Poet often deepens the harmony of his greater efforts. As the former is the soul of goodness clothed in the assembled nobilities of manhood; so the latter is the very extract and embodiment of meanness; two men than whom “no contraries hold more antipathy." To call the Steward wicked were a waste of language: he is absolutely beneath the sense of that term; one of those convenient pack-horses whereon guilt often rides to its ends. Except the task of smoothing the way for the passions of a wicked mistress, no employment were base enough for him. None but a reptile like him could ever have got hatched into notice in such an atmosphere as Goneril's society: were he any thing else, there could not be sympathy enough between them to admit the relation of superior and subaltern.
This play has many scenes and passages well worth our special noting. I must content myself with glancing at two or three.
The scene of Edgar and the eyeless Gloster, where the latter imagines himself ascending the chalky cliff at Dover, and leaping from it, is a notable instance of the Poet's power to overcome the inherent incredibility of a thing by his opulence of description. Great as is the miracle of Gloster's belief, it is in some sort authenticated to our feelings by the array of vivid and truthful imagery which induces it. Thus does the Poet, as occasion requires, enhance the beauty of his representation, so as to atone for its want of verisimilitude.
Some of Lear's speeches amid the tempest contain, I think, the grandest exhibition of creative power to be met with. They seem spun out of the very nerves and sinews of the storm. It is the instinct of strong passion to lay hold of whatever objects and occurrences lie nearest at hand, and twist itself a language out of them, incorporating itself with their substance, and reproducing them charged with its own life. To Lear, accordingly, and to us in his presence, the storm becomes all expressive of filial ingratitude; seems spitting its fire, and spouting its water, and hurling its blasts at his old white head. Thus the terrific energies and convulsions of external nature take all their meaning from his mind; and we think of them only as the glad agents or instruments of his daughters' malice, leagued in sympathy with them, and taking their part in the controversy. In this power of imagination thus seizing and crushing the embattled elements into its service, there is a sublimity almost too vast for the thoughts. Observe, too, how the thread of association between moral and material nature
conducts Lear to the strain of half-insane, half-inspired moralizing, which he closes with the pathetic exception of himself from the list of those to whom the tempest speaks as a preacher of repentance and “judgment to come.”
The surpassing power of this drama is most felt in the third and fourth Acts, especially those parts where Lear appears.* The fierce warring of the elements around the old King, as if mad with enmity against him, while he seeks shelter in their strife from the tempest within him; his preternatural illumination of mind when tottering on the verge of insanity; his gradual settling into that unnatural calmness which is more appalling than any agitation, because it marks the pause between order gone and anarchy about to begin ; the scattering-out of the mind's jewels in the mad revel of his unbound and dishevelled faculties, till he finally sinks, broken-hearted and broken-witted, into the sleep of utter prostration ; — all this joined to the incessant groanings and howlings of the storm; the wild, inspired babblings of the Fool; the desperate fidelity of Kent, outstripping the malice of the elements with his ministries of love; the bedlamitish jargon of Edgar, whose feigned madness, striking in with Lear's real madness, takes away just enough of its horror, and borrows just enough of its dignity, to keep either from becoming insupportable; †
* 0, what a world's convention of agonies is here! All external nature in a storm, all moral nature convulsed, — the real madness of Lear, the feigned madness of Edgar, the babbling of the Fool, the desperate fidelity of Kent, — surely such a scene was never conceived before or since! Take it but as a picture for the eye only, it is more terrific than any which a Michael Angelo, inspired by a Dante, could have conceived, and which wone but a Michael Angelo could have executed. Or let it have been uttered to the blind, the howlings of Nature would seem converted into the voice of conscious humanity. – COLERIDGE.
† The intellectual and excited babbling of the Fool, and the exaggerated absurdities of Edgar, are stated by Ulrici and other critics to exert a bad influence upon the King's mind. To persons unacquainted with the character of the insane, this opinion must seem, at least, to be highly probable, notwithstanding that the evidence of the drama itself is against it; for Lear is comparatively tranquil in conduct and language during the whole period of Edgar's mad companionship. It is only after the Fool has disappeared, - gone to sleep
the whole at last dying away into the soft, sweet, solemn discourse of Cordelia, as though the storm had faltered into music at her coming; and winding up with the revival of Lear, his faculties touched into order and peace by the voice of filial sympathy:- in all this we have indeed a masterpiece of art, of which every reader's feelings must confess the power, though perhaps no analysis can ever fathom the secret.
In conclusion, I must refer briefly to the improvement which this mighty drama has suffered at the hands of one Nahum Tate; an inprovement inflicted for the purpose, as would seem, of dwarfing and dementing the play down to the capacity of some theatrical showman. A part of Tate's work lay in rectifying the catastrophe, so as to have Lear and Cordelia come off triumphant, thus rewarding their virtue with worldly success. The cutting-out of the precious Fool, and the turning of Cordelia into a love-sick hypocrite, who feigns indifference to her father, in order to cheat and enrage him, and thus make him abandon her to a forbidden match with Edgar, completes this execrable
tinker at work, rather, to improve Niagara!
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
THE TRAGEDY OF ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA was never printed that we know of till in the folio of 1623. As to the time when it was written, the most that we have to proceed upon, aside from the qualities of the work itself, is an entry at the Stationers' by Edward Bļount, May 20,
at midday, as he says, -and Edgar has left, to be the guide of his blind father, that the King becomes absolutely wild and incoherent. The singular and undoubted fact was probably unknown to Ulrici, that few things tranquillize the insane more than the companionship of the insane. It is a fact not easily explicable; but it is one of which, either by the intuition of genius or by the information of experience, Shakespeare appears to have been aware. -DR. BUCKNILL.