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Among the tragedies of passion King Lear is the one in which passions assume the largest pro portions, act upon the widest theatre, and attain their absolute extremes. The story of Lear and his daughters was found by Shakespeare in Holinshed, and he may have taken a few hints from an old play, The True Chronicle History of King Leir. In both Holinshed's version and that of the True Chronicle, the army of Lear and his French allies is victorious; Lear is reinstated in his kingdom ; but Holinshed relates how, after Lear's death, her sister's sons warred against Cordelia and took her prisoner, when "being a woman of a manly courage and despairing to recover liberty," she slew herself. With the story of Lear Shakespeare connects that of Gloucester and his two sons. An episode in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia supplied characters and incidents for this portion of the play, Sidney's blind king of Paphlagonia corresponding to the Gloucester of Shakespeare. But here, too, the story had in the dramatist's original a happy ending: the Paphlagonian king is restored to his throne, and the brothers are reconciled. The date of the play is probably 1605 or 1606. It was entered on the Stationers' register, Nov. 26, 1607, and the entry states that it had been acted "upon St. Stephen's day at Christmas last," i. e. Dec. 26, 1606. It was printed in quarto in 1608. Shakespeare cares little to give the opening incidents of his play a look of prosaic, historical probability. The spectator or reader is asked, as it were, to grant the dramatist certain data, and then to observe what the imagination can make of them. Good and evil in this play are clearly severed from one another-(more so than in Macbeth or in Othello)-and at the last, goodness, if we judge merely by external fortune, would seem to be, if not defeated, at least not triumphant. Shakespeare has dared, while paying little regard to mere historical verisimilitude, to represent the most solemn and awful mysteries of life as they actually are, without attempting to offer a ready-made explanation of them. Cordelia dies strangled in prison; yet we know that her devotion of love was not misspent. Lear expires in an agony of grief; but he has been delivered from his pride and passionate wilfulness: he has found that instead of being a master, at whose nod all things must bow, he is weak and helpless, a sport even of the wind and the rain; his ignorance of true love, and pleasure in false professions of love, have given place to an agonized clinging to the love which is real, deep, and tranquil because of its fulness. Lear is the greatest sufferer in Shakespeare's plays; though so old, he has strength which makes him a subject for prolonged and vast agony; and patience is unknown to him. The elements seem to have conspired against him with his unnatural daughters; the upheaval of the moral world, and the rage of tempest in the air seem to be parts of the same gigantic convulsion. In the midst of this tempest wanders unhoused the white-haired Lear; while his fool-most pathetic of all the minor characters of Shakespeare-jests half-wildly, half-colerently, half-bitterly, half-tenderly, and always with a sad remembrance of the happier past. The poor boy's heart has been sore ever since his "young mistress went to France. If Cordelia is pure love, tender and faithful, and Kent is unmingled loyalty, the monsters Goneril and Regan are gorgons rather than women, such as Shakespeare has nowhere else conceived. The aspect of Coneril can almost turn to stone; in Regan's tongue there is a viperous hiss. The story of Gloucester enlarges the basis of the tragedy. Lear's affliction is no mere private incident; there is a breaking of the bonds of nature and society all around us. But Gloucester is suffering for a former sin of selfindulgence, Lear is "more sinned against than sinning." Yet Gloucester is granted a death which is half joyful. His affliction serves as a measure of the longer affliction of the king. Edgar and Edmund are a contrasted pair-both are men of penetration, energy, and skill, one on the side of evil, the other on the side of good. Everywhere throughout the play Shakespeare's imaginative daring impresses us. Nothing in poetry is bolder or more wonderful than the scene on the night of the tempest in the hovel where the king, whose intellect has now given way, is in company with Edgar, assuming madness, the Fool, with his forced pathetic mirth, and Kent.

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SCENE I. King Lear's palace. Enter KENT, GLOUCESTER, and EDMUND. Kent. I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.

Glou. It did always seem so to us: but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most; for equalities are so weighed, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.

Kent. Is not this your son, my lord? Glou. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to it.

Kent. I cannot conceive you.


Glou. Sir, this young fellow's mother could: whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?

Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.

Glou. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: though this knave came something saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ?

Edm. No, my lord.

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Unburthen'd crawl toward death. Our son of


And you, our no less loving son of Albany, We have this hour a constant will to publish Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife

May be prevented now. The princes, France and Burgundy,

Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,

And here are to be answer'd. Tell me, my daughters,

Since now we will divest us, both of rule, 50
Interest of territory, cares of state,-
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge.

Our eldest-born, speak first.

Gon. Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;

Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty,


As much as child e'er loved, or father found; A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable; 61 Beyond all manner of so much I love you. Cor. [Aside] What shall Cordelia do? Love, and be silent.

Lear. Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,

With shadowy forests and with champains rich'd,

With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads, We make thee lady: to thine and Albany's issue

Be this perpetual. What says our second daughter,

Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall? Speak. Reg. Sir, I am made 70

Of the self-same metal that my sister is,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short: that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys,

Which the most precious square of sense pos

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Lear. Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

Cor. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth : I love your majesty According to my bond; nor more nor less. Lear. How, how, Cordelia ! mend your speech a little,

Lest it may mar your fortunes.
Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you. 100
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight
shall carry

Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.

Lear. But goes thy heart with this?
Ay, good my lord.
Lear. So young, and so untender?
Cor. So young, my lord, and true.
Lear. Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy

For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate, and the night;
By all the operation of the orbs

From whom we do exist, and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever.

ous Scythian,

The barbar

Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom 120
Be as well neighbor'd, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.


Lear. Peace, Kent !

Good my liege,—

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When majesty stoops to folly. Reverse thy doom;

And, in thy best consideration, check This hideous rashness: answer my life my judgment,

Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;

Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound Reverbs no hollowness.

Kent, on thy life, no more.
Kent. My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thy enemies; nor fear to
lose it,

Thy safety being the motive.

Out of my sight! Kent. See better, Lear; and let me still re


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Now, by Apollo, king,

O, vassal! miscreant !

[Laying his hand on his sword.

Corn. Dear sir, forbear.

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Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
Upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy doom;
Or, whilst I can vent clamor from my throat,
I'll tell thee thou dost evil.
Hear me, recreant !
On thine allegiance, hear me !
Since thou hast sought to make us break our

Which we durst never yet, and with strain'd


To come between our sentence and our power,

Which nor our nature nor our place can bear,
Our potency made good, take thy reward.
Five days we do allot thee, for provision
To shield thee from diseases of the world;
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom: if, on the tenth day fol-

179 Thy banish'd trunk be found in our dominions, The moment is thy death. Away! by Jupiter, This shall not be revoked.

Kent. Fare thee well, king: sith thus thou wilt appear,

Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here. [To Cordelia] The gods to their dear shelter take thee, maid,

That justly think'st, and hast most rightly said!

[To Regan and Goneril] And your large speeches may your deeds approve,

That good effects may spring from words of love.

Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu; He'll shape his old course in a country new.


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The argument of your praise, balm of your age,

Most best, most dearest, should in this trice of time 219 Commit a thing so monstrous, to dismantle So many folds of favor. Sure, her offence Must be of such unnatural degree, That monsters it, or your fore-vouch'd affection

Fall'n into taint: which to believe of her, Must be a faith that reason without miracle Could never plant in me.

I yet beseech your majesty,-
If for I want that glib and oily art,
To speak and purpose not; since what I well

I'll do't before I speak,-that you make knowr
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness, 230
No unchaste action, or dishonor'd step,
That hath deprived me of your grace and

But even for want of that for which I am

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Peace be with Burgundy! 250 Since that respects of fortune are his love, I shall not be his wife.

France. Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor;

Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despised!

Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon:
Be it lawful I take up what's cast away.
Gods, gods! 'tis strange that from their cold'st

My love should kindle to inflamed respect.
Thy dowerless daughter, king, thrown to my


Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France:

Not all the dukes of waterish Burgundy 261 Can buy this unprized precious maid of me Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind: Thou losest here, a better where to find.

Lear. Thou hast her, France: let her be thine; for we

Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see That face of hers again. Therefore be gone Without our grace, our love, our benison. Come, noble Burgundy.

[Flourish. Exeunt all but France, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. France. Bid farewell to your sisters. 270 Cor. The jewels of our father, with wash'd

eyes Cordelia leaves you: I know you what you are;

And like a sister am most loath to call

Your faults as they are named. Use well our father:

To your professed bosoms I commit him
But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,

I would prefer him to a better place.

So, farewell to you both.

Reg. Prescribe not us our duties.

Let your study

Be to content your lord, who hath received

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At fortune's alms. You have obedience scanted,

And well are worth the want that you have wanted.

Cor. Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides:

Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.
Well may you prosper !

Come, my fair Cordelia. [Exeunt France and Cordelia. Gon. Sister, it is not a little I have to say of what most nearly appertains to us both. I think our father will hence to-night.

Reg. That's most certain, and with you; next month with us. 290

Gon. You see how full of changes his age is; the observation we have made of it hath not been little he always loved our sister most; and with what poor judgment he hath now cast her off appears too grossly.

Reg. 'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.

Gon. The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash; then must we look to receive from his age, not alone the imperfections of long-engraffed condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them.

Reg. Such unconstant starts are we like have from him as this of Kent's banishment.

Gon. There is further compliment of leavetaking between France and him. Pray you, let's hit together: if our father carry authority with such dispositions as he bears, this last surrender of his will but offend us.


Reg. We shall further think on't. Gon. We must do something, and i' the heat [Exeunt

SCENE II. The Earl of Gloucester's castle. Enter EDMUND, with a letter.

Edm. Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law

My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon.

Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?

When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they


With base? with baseness ? bastardy ? base, base? 10

Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got 'tween asleep and wake? Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word,-legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base 20
Shall top the legitimate. I grow ; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!


Glou. Kent banish'd thus ! and France in choler parted!

And the king gone to-night! subscribed his power!

Confined to exhibition! All this done Upon the gad! Edmund, how now! what news?

Edm. So please your lordship, none.

[Putting up the letter. Glou. Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?

Edm. I know no news, my lord.
Glou. What paper were you reading? 30
Edm. Nothing, my lord.

Glou. No? What needed, then, that terrible dispatch of it into your pocket? the quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see: come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.

Edm. I beseech you, sir, pardon me: it is a letter from my brother, that I have not all o'er-read; and for so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for your o'er-looking. 40 Glou. Give me the letter, sir.

Edm. I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.

Glou. Let's see, let's see.

Edm. I hope, for my brother's justification, he wrote this but as an essay or taste of my virtue,

Glou. [Reads] 'This policy and reverence of age makes the world bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes from us till our

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