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it. He is, at first, astonished at the complicated impudence and ingratitude of this design ; but quickly kindles into rage, and resolves to depart instantly :
-Darkness and devils !
This is followed by a severe reflection upon his own folly for resigning his crown; and a solemn invocation to Nature, to heap the most horrible curses on the head of Gonerill, that her own offspring may prove equally cruel and unnatural;
that she may feel,
When Albany demands the cause of this passion, Lear answers, ' I'll tell thee! but immediately cries out to Gonerill,
Life and death! I am asham'd,
-Blasts and fogs upon thee!
He stops a little, and reflects :
Ha! is it come to this?
He was, however, mistaken; for the first object he encounters in the castle of the Earl of Glou. cester, whither he fled to meet his other daughter, was his servant in the stocks; from whence he may easily conjecture what reception he is to meet with:
-Death on my state! Wherefore
He adds immediately afterwards,
O me, my heart! my rising heart!-but down.
By which single line, the inexpressible anguish of his mind, and the dreadful conflict of opposite passions with which it is agitated, are more forcibly expressed, than by the long and laboured speech, enumerating the causes of his anguish, that Rowe and other modern tragic writers would certainly have put into his mouth. But Nature, Sophocles, and Shakspeare, represent the feelings of the heart in a different manner; by a broken hint, a short exclamation, a word, or a look:
They mingle not,'mid deep-felt sighs and groans,
When Jocasta, in Sophocles, has discovered that (Edipus was the murderer of her husband, she immediately leaves the stage: but in Corneille and Dryden she continues on it during a whole scene, to bewail her destiny in set speeches. I should be guilty of insensibility and injustice, if I did not take this occasion to acknowledge, that I have been more moved and delighted, by hearing this single line spoken by the only actor of the age who understands and relishes these little touches of nature, and therefore the only one qualified to personate this most difficult character of Lear, than by
the most pompous declaimer of the most pompous speeches in Cato or Tamerlane. In the next scene, the old king appears in
very distressful situation. He informs Regan, whom he believes to be still actuated by filial tenderness, of the cruelties he had suffered from her sister Gonerill in very pathetic terms:
With how deprav'd a quality-0 Regan ! It is a stroke of wonderful art in the poet to represent him incapable of specifying the particular ill usage he has received, and breaking off thus abruptly, as if his voice was choked by tenderness and resentment.
When Regan counsels him to ask her sister forgiveness, he falls on his knees with a very striking kind of irony, and asks her how such supplicating language as this becometh him :
Dear daughter, I confess that I am old;
That you'll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food. But being again exhorted to sue for reconciliation, the advice wounds him to the quick, and forces him into execrations against Gonerill
, which, though they chill the soul with horror, are yet well suited to the impetuosity of his temper :
She bath abated me of half my train;
The wretched king, little imagining that he is to be outcast from Regan also, adds very movingly;
'Tis not in thee
- Thou better know'st
That the hopes he had conceived of tender usage from Regan should be deceived, heightens his distress to a great degree. Yet it is still aggravated and increased, by the sudden appearance of Gonerill; upon the unexpected sight of whom he exclaims,
-Who comes here? O heavens !
Make it your cause, send down and take my part! This address is surely pathetic beyond expression : it is scarce enough to speak of it in the cold terms of criticism. There follows a question to Gonerill, that I have never read without tears :
Ar't not asham'd to look upon this beard? This scene abounds with many noble turns of passion;
or rather conflicts of very different passions. The inhuman daughters urge him in vain, by all the sophistical and unfilial arguments they were mistresses of, to diminish the number of his train. He answers them by only four poignant words:
I gave you all! When Regan at last consents to receive him, but without any attendants, for that he might be served by her own domestics, he can no longer contain
his disappointment and rage. First he appeals to the heavens, and points out to them a spectacle that is indeed inimitably affecting :
You see me here, ye Gods ! a poor old man,
To bear it tainely! Then suddenly he addresses Gonerill and Regan in the severest terms and with the bitterest threats :
-No, you unnatural hags!
What they are yet, I know not. Nothing occurs to his mind severe enough for them to suffer, or him to inflict. His passion rises to a height that deprives him of articulation. He tells them that he will subdue his sorrow, though almost irresistible; and that they shall not triumph over his weakness :
-You think I'll weep!
Or e'er l'll weep!
O fool -I shall go mad! which is an artful anticipation, that judiciously prepares us for the dreadful event that is to follow in the succeeding acts.