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BUILDING wisely on legendary tale and
giant beauties Criticism stands rebuked, in
The story of the aged monarch, self-willed and impetuous, yet still “more sinned against than sinping," is told, with various modifications, by many ancient writers ; but the narrative of Holinshed was probably the immediate source of the poet's inspiration. There is, moreover, an older play than Shakspere's on the subject, called "The true Chronicle History of King Leir and his three Daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cor
della.” Of this very inferior, although not meritless effort, he has undoubtedly availed himself, but not to such extent as to impugn the essential originality of his own great work.
It is remarkable that both Holinshed and the older dramatist have given a prosperous termination to the legend, so far at least as Lear himself is implicated. In so doing, they have doubtless fallen in with the general yearning for poetic justice: but whether it were wise to wish that Shakspere had in this respect adhered to his supposed authorities, may well admit of question. The force and splendour of his execution naturally induce the thought that he has chosen for the best in working out his plot: let us, then, be content to inherit the invaluable legacy on such conditions as the donor has imposed, nor seek to tamper with the genuine document. The profane attempts at emendation, by Tate's berouged and smirking muse, are so amusingly vile, that indignation soon relieves itself in Jaughter. Lear, as a suitable climax to much previous fustian, is made, in the last Act, to call upon the winds to catch certain joyous sounds, "and bear them on their rosy wings to heaven." The love passages, too, between the daring laureate's facetiously “wretched Edgar," and no less comical “Cordelia, royal fair," betray a master in the school of unconscious burlesque: they are sacrifices dear to Momus, although Melpomene affects them not.
In Percy's “ RELIQUES," there is a reprint of “A lamentable Song of the Death of King Leir and his three Daughters," in which the o'er-afflicted father expires with grief for the loss of Cordelia, who is slain in the battle fought to recover his kingdom. This production was originally published without a date, but is, with great probability, thought to have appeared before the play of Shakspere : and from this popular ballad he may have derived the tragic catastrophe he has deemed it expedient to adopt. The episode of Edmund and Edgar, so skilfully interwoven with the main plot of “LEAR," is founded on the story of the blind King of Paphlagonia, in Sidney's “ARCADIA.” The Leonatus of the tale is Edgar in the play.
Shakspere's “ LEAR” was first published in 1608, with this “full and particular" title-page:-“ Mr. William Shake-speare, his true Chronicle History of the Life and Death of King Lear and his three Daughters. With the unfortunate Life of Edgar, Sonne and Heire to the Earle of Glocester, and his sullen and assumed humour of Tom of Bedlam. As it was plaid before the King's Majesty at White-hall, upon S. Stephens Night, in Christmas Holidaies. By his Majesties Servants playing usually on the Banck-side. Printed for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold at his shop in Paul's Churchyard, at the signe of the Pied Bull, neere St. Austin's Gate, 1608." There were two other editions of the play published by the same bookseller, in the same year; but, notwithstanding these indubitable evidences of popularity, the play, for some inexplicable reason, was not again reprinted till its appearance in the original folio of 1623.
indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
honour : Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue As much as child e'er loved, or father found. of it being so proper.
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable; Glo. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some Beyond all manner of so much I love you. year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my Cor. What shall Cordelia do? Love, and be account. Though this knave came somewhat
[Aside. saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet Lear. Of all these bounds, even from this line was his mother fair : there was good sport at his
to this, making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged. With shadowy forests and with champains riched, -Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ? With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads, Edm. No, my lord.
We make thee lady. To thine and Albany's issue Glo. My lord of Kent: remember him here- Be this perpetual.—What says our second daughafter as my honourable friend. Edm. My services to your lordship.
Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall? Speak. Kent. I must love you, and sue to know you Reg. I am made of that self metal as my sister, better.
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving.
I find she names my very deed of love: Glo. He hath been out nine years, and away Only she comes too short,—that I profess he shall again.—The King is coming.
Myself an enemy to all other joys [Trumpets sound within. Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness' love.
Cor. Then poor Cordelia! [Aside. Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, And yet not so, since I am sure my love 's Gloster.
More richer than my tongue. Glo. I shall, my liege.
Lear. To thee and thine, hereditary ever, [Exeunt Gloster and EDMUND. Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom; Lear. Meantime we shall express our darker No less in space, validity, and pleasure, purpose.
Than that confirmed on Goneril.-Now, our joy, Give me the map there.-Know that we have Although the last, not least; to whose young love divided
The vines of France, and milk of Burgundy, In three, our kingdom; and 't is our fast intent Strive to be interessed; what can you say, to draw To shake all cares and business from our age; A third more opulent than your sisters ? Speak. Conferring them on younger strengths, while we Cor. Nothing, my lord. . Unburdened crawl toward death.–Our son of | Lear. Nothing ? Cornwall,
Cor. Nothing. And you, our no less loving son of Albany, Lear. Nothing can come of nothing: speak We have this hour a constant will to publish
again. Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife Cor. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave May be prevented now. The princes, France My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty and Burgundy,
According to my bond: nor more, nor less. Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, Lear. How, how, Cordelia? mend your speech Long in our court have made their amorous
a little, sojourn,
Lest it may mar your fortunes. And here are to be answered.—Tell me, my Cor. Good my lord, daughters
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I (Since now we will divest us, both of rule, Return those duties back as are right fit; Interest of territory, cares of state),
Obey you, love you, and most honour you. Which of you shall we say doth love us most? Why have my sisters husbands, if they say That we our largest bounty may extend
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed, Where merit doth most challenge it.—Goneril, That lord whose hand must take my plight, shall Our eldest-born, speak first.
carry Gon. Sir, I
Half my love with him, half my care and duty: Do love you more than words can wield the matter: 1 Sure I shall never marry, like my sisters, Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty;
To love my father all. Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
Lear. But goes this with thy heart?
Come not between the dragon and his wrath : | With reservation of an hundred knights,
[To CORDELIA. The name and all the additions to a king; So be my grave my peace, as here I give
The sway, Her father's heart from her !—Call France :- ) Revénue, execution of the rest, who stirs ?
Belovéd sons, be yours: which to confirm, Call Burgundy.—Cornwall and Albany,
This coronet part between you. [Giving the crown. With my two daughters' dowers digest this third : Kent. Royal Lear, Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her. | Whom I have ever honoured as my king, I do invest you jointly with my power,
Loved as my father, as my master followed, Pre-eminence, and all the large effects
As my great patron thought on in my prayers, That troop with majesty.–Ourself, by monthly Lear. The bow is bent and drawn : make from course,