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mis fallen fortunes. The true character of the two eldest daughters, Regan and Gonerill, (they are so thoroughly hateful that we do not even like to repeat their names) breaks out iu their answer to Cordelia, who desires them to treat their father well" Prescribe not us our duties"—their hatred of advice being in proportion to their determination to do wrong, and to their hypocritical pretensions to do right. Their deliberate hypocrisy adds the last finishing to the odiousness of their characters. It is the absence of this detestable quality that is the only relief in the character of Edmund the Bastard, and that at times reconciles us to him. We are not tempted to exaggerate the guilt of his conduct, when he himself gives it up as a bad business, and writes himsell down “ plain villain.” Nothing
can be said about it. His religious honesty in this respect is admirable.
One speech of his is worth a million. His father, Gloster, whom he has just deluded with a forged story of his brother Edgar's designs against his life, accounts for his unnatural behaviour and the strange depravity of the times from the late eclipses in the sun and moon. Edmund, who is in the secret, says when he is gone. This is the excellent føppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeits of our own behaviour) we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars: as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treacherous by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine
thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon's tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major: so that it follows, I am rough and lecherous. I should have been what I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing."-The whole character, its careless, light-hearted villany, contrasted with the sullen, rancorous malignity of Regan and Gonerill, its connexion with the conduct of the under-plot, in which Gloster's persecution of one of his sons and the ingratitude of another, form a counterpart to the mistakes and misfortunes of Lear,-his double amour with the two sisters, and the share which he has in bringing about the fatal catastrophe, are all managed with
an uncommon degree of skill and It has been said, and we think justly, that the third act of Othello and the three first acis of LEAR,mul are Shakspeare's great masterpieces in the logick of 1.*, passion: Ibat they contain the highest examples not only of the force of individual passion, but of its dramatick vicissitudes and striking effects arising from the different circumstances and characters of the persons speaking. We see the ebb and flaw of the feeling, its pauses and feverish starts, its impatience of opposition, its accumulating force when it has time to recollect itself, the manner in which it avails itself of every passing word or gesture, its haste to repel insinuation, the alternate contraction ,and dilatation of the soul, and all “ the dazzling fence of controversy” in this mortal combat with poisoned weapons, aimed at the heart, where each
wound is fatal. We have seen in Othello, how the dosuspecting frankness and impetuous passions of the Moor are played upon and exasperated by the artful dexterity of lago. Iu the present play, that which aggravates the sense of sympathy in the readJer, and of uncontrolable anguish in the swolo heart of Lear, is the petrifying indifference, the cold, calculating, obdurate selfishness of his daughters. His keen passions seem whetted on their stony hearts. The contrast would be too painful, the shock too great, but for the intervention of the Fool, 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 growing rigid from overstrained excitement. The imagination is glad to take refuge in the half-comick, 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 grotesque ornament of the barbarous times, in which alone the tragick groundwork of the story could be laid. In another point of view it is indispensable, in as much 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 shewing 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 Fool 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 accords with the
increasing bustle and wildness of the incidents; and nothing can be more complete than the distinction between Lear's real and Edgar's assumed madness, wbile the resemblance in the cause of their distresses, from the severing of the nearest ties of natural affection, keeps up a unity of interest. Shakspeare's mastery over bis 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 systematick adherence to rules, and that anticipated and outdid all the efforts of the most refined art, not inspired and rendered instinclive by genius.
One of the most perfect displays of dramatick power is the first interview between Lear and his daughter, after the designed affronts upon him, which till one of his knights reminds bim 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." He then encounters the faithful Kent in disguise, and retains him in his service ; and the first trial of his honest duty is to trip up the heels of the officious Steward who makes so prominent and despicable a figure through the piece. On the entrance of Gonerill the following dialogue takes place :
“ Lear. How pow, daughter? what makes that frontlet on? Metbinks, you are too much of late i’ the frown. Fool. Thou wast a pretty fellow, when thou hadst no need to care for her frowning ; now thou art an without a figure: I am bet
1 ter 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 nur crust nor cruin,
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.
Lear. Are you our daughter?
Gonerill. Come, sir,
Whoop, Jug, I love thee.
Gonerill. Come, sir :