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KING LEAR,-AND Mr. COOKE IN THAT CHARACTER.
[Continued from page 64.]
THE second act is still more full of excellent and interesting matter than the first. In the commencement of it the villanous projects of Edmund, Gloster's natural son, against the life of his legitimate brother Edgar; the hypocrisy with which he conducts his machinations, the credulity of Gloster, and the voluntary banishment and flight of Edgar, afford a new subject of sympathy and alarm. Edgar's soliloquy is extremely affecting and interesting, and prepares us happily for the disguise of madness and misery which he afterwards assumes to save himself from discovery. Of the incidental speeches there are some which deserve particular mention, on account of their good sense and the felicity of the language in which they are couched: Such is Kent's respecting the steward, who first runs away from him, and afterwards, when under protection, abuses him, and gasconades at his expense.
That such a slave as this should wear a sword,
Who wears no honesty! Such smiling rogues as these
That in the nature of their lords rebels;
Bring oil to fire, snow to their colder moods;
Renege, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks
And such too we take to be the observations of Cornwall upon the bluntness of Kent's manners and language.
This is some fellow
Who, having been prais'd for bluntness, doth affect
A saucy roughness; and constrains the garb
Quite from his nature. He cannot flatter, he!
An honest mind and plain,-he must speak truth:
An' they will take it so; if not, he's plain.
These kind of knaves I know, which in this plainness,
Than twenty silly ducking observants
That stretch their duties nicely.
The placing of Kent in the stocks has been sneered at by hypercritics as farcical: but, though it may excite ludicrous emotions in some of those precious critics who in England sit in the shilling gallery, and with us in the pit, we will never agree that an incident is censurable or farcical which serves, as this does, to heighten the interest of the scene by acting as a natural cause of inflammation upon the choleric temper of the old king, who, already extremely irritated, takes fire at the unworthy treatment sustained by his faithful and favourite servant and messenger. Kent's blunt and sarcastic responses to the inquiries of Lear, how he came into that disgraceful situation, are highly entertaining and characteristic, while the expressions of Lear at the indignity are very affecting
Lear. They durst not do 't.
They could not, would not do 't: 'tis worse than murder
O, how this mother swells my heart!
Unwelcome passion down! down, thou climbing sorrow;
What an admirable passage too is the following.-Gloster having informed the old king, in answer to his desire to speak with Cornwall and Regan, that they are not to be seen, the latter takes fire. Lear. Deny to speak with me? They are sick? They are weary? They have travelled hard to night?-Mere fetches;
The images of revolt and flying off.
Fetch me a better answer.
Gloster. My dear lord!
You know the fiery quality of the duke,
How unremovable and fixt he is
In his own course.
Lear, enraged at the thoughts that his late subject minion, his son in law, and his debtor for every thing he now possesses, should dare to be so presumptuous, breaks out in terms of unlimited fury:
Lear. Vengeance! plague! death! confusion!
Gloster. Well, my good lord, I have inform'd them so.
Lear. THE KING would speak with Cornwall,
The dear father would with his daughter speak; commands her service:
Are they inform'd of this?-My breath and blood!
Fiery? The fiery duke?-Tell the hot duke, that-
No, but not yet: may be he is not well.
How exquisite, how charming, how natural, for such a man as Lear, is this transition. In temper a mere man, and a choleric one too, he at first gives way to jealousy and anger; but, in soul an angel, he checks himself, considers, corrects his hastiness, and, flattering himself that Cornwall's reason for not seeing him is in reality sickness and fatigue, he apologizes
May be he is not well;
Infirmity doth still neglect all office
Whilst our health is bound; we are not ourselves
When nature, being oppressed, commands the mind
To suffer with the body.
If it were not that the noblest productions of Shakspeare are brought forth with the least effort, we should be induced to imagine, from the superior excellence of the scene which follows, that he had purposely called forth the whole collective powers of his astonishing genius in the composition of it. The unforced, beautiful transitions of the poor old monarch from indignation to tenderness, from proud defiance to condescension and intreaty, and the inimitable, natural, and quick alternations of anger, expostulation, grief, fury, reproach, tears and despair, form altogether such an assemblage of beauties as we should in vain search for in any other human production of equal compass. What other words can pierce with such subtile force and celerity to the heart as these
Thy sister's naught. Oh, Regan, she hath tied
[Pointing to his heart.
I can scarce speak to thee;-thou'lt not believe
The breaks in this passage mark the interruption of his speech by his poignant feelings so exquisitely and appropriately, that if the part, unmarked with pause or stop, were presented for perusal to a person of refined feeling, we are persuaded he could not recite the words aloud without pausing and struggling for utterance at the very same critical points that are fixed by Shakspeare. For our parts, we candidly aver that we cannot even silently peruse one of these wonderful breaks and piercing hemistichs, which abound in this character of Lear, without feeling the same painful physical effect in the organs of speech as if we had gone through the struggles and convulsive efforts of delivering them aloud. Admiring, justly admiring them as we do, and thinking that our readers will feel as we feel them, we cannot resist the impulse to be thus. circumstantial.
Quis talia fando,
Who can hear-who can contemplate, without feeling horror strike to his heart, such a being as Lear, "a poor old man, as full of grief as age," uttering-upon his knees too uttering-such words as these
Dear daughter, I confess that I am old:
That you'll vouchsafe me raiment, bed and food.
When Goneril enters upon them as he is expostulating with Regan, his horror at the sight of her is expressed in a manner the most extraordinarily impressive and indeed terrible! He neither addresses himself to her for she is loathsome to his sight and hateful to his heart-nor to those about him-for his sensations at the moment are too great and awful to be submitted to mortal ears, but he throws himself upon Him who alone can read his heart, and appealing to heaven, in the most solemn and pathetic terms imaginable, calls out for justice.
Lear. Who comes here?-Oh, heavens,
If you do love old men, if your sweet sway
Allow obedience, if yourselves are old,
Make it your cause; send down, and take my part.
When Goneril again insults him, the fluctuation of his temper is finely marked in the lines
Now I pr'ythee, daughter, do not make me mad;
I will not trouble thee, my child: farewel:
I do not bid the thunderbearer strike,
Nor tell tale of thee to highjudging Jove;
Mend when thou canst; be patient at thy leisure;
I can be patient.
When they have, in violation of the terms on which he " gave them all," brought down his train to five and twenty, and proceeding further, Goneril says
What need you twenty, or ten, or five?→
and Regan adds,
What need one?
his answer is admirable, and fraught with moral and practical truth:
O reason not the need; our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous;
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is cheap as beast's: thou art a lady;
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st
Which scarcely keeps thee warm.-But for true need,
By degrees the spirit of Lear becomes depressed and infeebled. Yielding to that depression, his mind sinks to a wish for pity. That pity he expects to find from Regan, and he becomes reconciled to accept as a favour from her what he might have demanded as a right; for on his transferring his kingdom, he reserved entertainment from his daughters, month about, for himself and an hundred knights. In this mood he expects comfort from Regan; and when it is refused, will not for some time be satisfied with the evidence of his senses, that she too is recreant. He remonstrates with hercondescends almost to beg-when she insults him, instead of cursing her, he mildly says
"Is this well spoken now?"
And when she inhumanly perseveres, he stoops to remind her of his gifts and goodness in the most pathetic terms of simplicity that ever fell from human lips:
"I gave you all!"