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We wish that we could pass this play oyer, and say nothing about it. All that we can say must fall far short of the subject, or even of what we ourselves conceive of it. To attempt to give a description of the play itself, or of its effects upon the mind, is mere impertinence : yet we must say something. It is then the best of all Shakspeare's plays, for it is the one in which he was the most in earnest. He was here fairly caught in the web of his own imagination. The passion which he has taken as his subject is that which strikes its root deepest into the human heart; of which the bond is the hardest to be uploosed ; and the cancelling and tearing to pieces of which gives the greatest revulsion to the frame. This depth of nature, this force of passion, this tug and war of the elements of our being, this firm faith in filial piety, and the giddy anarchy and whirling tumult of the thoughts at finding this prop failing it, the contrast between the fised, immovable basis of natural affection, and the rapid, irregular starts of imagination, suddenly wrenched from all its accustomed holds and resting places in the soul, this is what Shakspeare has given, and what nobody else but he could give. So we believe. --The mind of Lear, staggering between the weight of attachment and the hurried movements of passion, is like a tall ship driven about by the winds, buffeted by the furious waves, but ihat still rides above the storm, having its anchor fixed in the bottom of the sea; or it is like the sharp rock circled by the eddy. ing whirlpool that foams and beats against it, or like the solid promontory pushed from its basis by the foroe of an earthquake.
The character of Lear itself is very finely conceived for the purpose. It is the only ground on which such a story could be would be too painful, the shock too great, but for the interven. tion of the Pool, whose well-timed levity comes in to break the continuity of feeling when it can no longer be borne, and to bring into play again the fibres of the heart just as they are rigid from over-strained excitement. The imagination is glad to take refuge in the half.comio, half-serious comments of the Fool, just as the mind under the extreme anguish of a surgical operation vents itself in sallies of wit. The character was also a gro tesque ornament of the barbarous times, in which alone the tragic ground-work of the story could be laid. In another point of view it is indispensable, inasmuch as while it is a diversion to the too great intensity of our disgust, it carries the pathos to the highest pitch of which it is capable, by showing the pitiable weakness of the old king's conduct and its irretrievable consequences in the most familiar point of view. Lear may well “ beat at the gate which let his folly in," after, as the Pool says, he has made his daughters his mothers. The character is dropped in the third act to make room for the entrance of Edgar as mad Tom, which well aceords with the increasing bustle and wild. ness of the incidents; and nothing can be more complete than the distinction between Lear's real and Edgar's assumed mad. ness, while the resemblance in the cause of their distresses, from the severing of the nearest ties of natural affection, keeps up = unity of interest. Shakspeare's mastery over his subject, if it was not art, was owing to a knowledge of the connecting links of the passions, and their effect upon the mind, still more wonderful than any systematic adherence to rules, and anticipated and outdid all the efforts of the most refined art, not inspired and rendered instinctive by genius.
One of the most perfect displays of dramatic power is the fine interview between Lear and his daughter, after the designed affronts upon him, which, till one of his knights reminds him of them, his sanguine temperament had led him to overlook. He returns with his train from hunting, and his usual impatience breaks out in his first words, " Let me not stay a jot for dinner ; go, get it ready." Ile then encounters the faithful Kent in dis guise, and retains him in his service; and the first trial of his honest duty is to trip up the heels of the officious Stewand, whic
makes so prominent and despicable a figure through the piece. On the entrance of Gonerill the following dialogue takes place
“ LEAR. How now, daughter? what makes that frontlet on? Methinks, you are too much of late i the frown Fool. Thou wast a pretty fellow, when thou had’st no need to care for her frowning ; now thou art an O without a figure ; I am better than thou art now; I am a fool, thou art nothing. -Yes, forsooth, I will hold my tongue ; (To Gonerill.) So your face bids me, though you say nothing. Mum, mum.
He that keeps nor crust nor crum,
Weary of all, shall want some-
[Pointing to Lear.
The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
That it had its head bit off by its young.
GONERILL. Come, sir,
--Whoop, Jug, I love thee.
Who is it that can tell me who I am ?-Lear's shadow!
GONERILI. Come, sir :
LEAR. Darkness and devils -
ILL. You strike my people ; and your disorder'd rabble Make servants of their better.
ALSANY. Pray, sir, be patient.
LEAR. Detested kite! thou liest. [7. Gonerill.
The worship of their name - most small fault,
Bad Beat at the gate, that let thy folly in, . [Striking his head.
And thy dear judgment out! Go, go, my people :
ALBANY. My lord, I am guiltless, as I am ignorant
LEAR. It may be so, my lord-
1. Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend .: To make this creature fruitful!
Into her womb convey sterility; วเอง
Dry up in her the organs of increase ;
ALBANY. Now, gods, that we adore, whereof comes this?
GONERILL. Never afflict yourself to know the cause ;
ALBANY. What's the matter, sir?
LEAR. I'll tell thee; life and death! I am asham'd
[Exeunt LEAR, KENT, and Attendante." ..