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What place this is; and all the skill I have
To be my child Cordelia.
Cordelia. And so I am, I am !"
Almost equal to this in awful beauty is their consolation of each other, when, after the triumph of their enemies, they are led to prison.
We are not the first,
Who, with best meaning, have incurr'd the worst.
Lear. No, no, no, no! Come, let's away to prison :
As if we were God's spies and we'll wear out,
Edmund. Take them away.
Lear. Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
The concluding events are sad, painfully sad; but their pathos is extreme. The oppression of the feelings is relieved by the very interest we take in the misfortunes of others, and by the reflections to which they give birth. Cordelia is hanged in prison by the orders of the bastard Edmund, which are
known too late to be countermanded, and Lear dies broken-hearted, lamenting over her.
"Lear. And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life : Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? O, thou wilt come no more,
He dies, and indeed we feel the truth of what Kent says on the occasion
"Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates him,
Yet a happy ending has been contrived for this play, which is approved of by Dr. Johnson and condemned by Schlegel. A better authority than either on any subject in which poetry and feeling are concerned, has given it in favour of Shakspeare, in some remarks on the acting of Lear, with which we shall conclude this account.
"The LEAR of Shakspeare cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery with which they mimick the storm which he goes out in, is not more inadequate to represent the horrours of the real elements, than any actor can be to represent Lear. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual; the explosions of his passions are terrible as a volcano: they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that rich sea, his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. This case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on; even as he himself neglects it. On the stage we see no
thing but corporal infirmities and weakness, the impotence of rage; while we read it, we see not Lear, but we are Lear; we are in his mind, we are sustained by a grandeur, which baffles the malice of daughters and storms; in the aberrations of his reason, we discover a mighty irregular power of reasoning, immethodized from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers, as the wind blows where it listeth, at will, on the corruptions and abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones to do with that sublime identification of his age with that of the heavens themselves, when, in his reproaches to them for conniving at the injustice of his children, he reminds them that "they themselves are old!" What gesture shall we appropriate to this? What has the voice or the eye to do with such things? But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it shew: it is too hard and stony: it must have love scenes, and a happy ending. It is not enough that Cordelia is a daughter, she must shine as a lover too. Tate has put his hook in the nostrils of this Leviathan, for Garrick and his followers, the shewmen of the scene, to draw it about more easily. A happy ending!-as if the living martyrdom that Lear had gone through,-the flaying of his feelings alive, did not make a fair dismissal from the stage of life the only decorous thing for him. If he is to live and be happy after, if he could sustain this world's burden after, why all this pudder and preparation-why torment us with all this unnecessary sympathy? As if the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and sceptre again could tempt him to act over again his misused sta
tion, as if at his years and with his experience, any thing was left but to die."*
Four things have struck us in reading LEAR: 1. That poetry is an interesting study, for this reason, that it relates to whatever is most interesting in human life. Whoever therefore has a contempt for poetry, has a contempt for himself and humanity.
2. That the language of poetry is superiour to the language of painting; because the strongest of our recollections relate to feelings, not to faces.
3. That the greatest strength of genius is shewn in describing the strongest passions: for the power of the imagination, in works of invention, must be in proportion to the force of the natural impressions which are the subject of them.
4. That the circumstance which balances the pleasure against the pain in tragedy is, that in proportion to the greatness of the evil, is our sense and desire of the opposite good excited; and that our sympathy with actual suffering is lost in the strong impulse given to our natural affections, and carried away with the swelling tide of passion, that gushes from and relieves the heart.
*See an article, called Theatralia, in the second volume of the Reflector, by Charles Lamb.
RICHARD II. is a play little known compared with Richard III., which las a play that every unfledged candidate for theatrical fame chooses to strut and fret his hour upon the stage in; yet we confess that we prefer the nature and feeling of the one to the noise and bustle of the other; at least, as we are so often forced to see it acted. In RICHARD II. the weakness of the king leaves us leisure to take a greater interest in the misfortunes of the man. After the first act, in which the arbitrariness of his behaviour only proves his want of resolution, we see him staggering under the unlooked-for blows of fortune, bewailing his loss of kingly power, not preventing it, sinking under the aspiring genius of Bolingbroke, his authority trampled on, his hopes failing him, and his pride crushed and broken down under insults and injuries, which his own misconduct had provoked, but which he has not courage or manliness to resent. The change of tone and behaviour in the two competitors for the throne according to their change of fortune, from the capri