I.i.4 (311,2) in the division of the kingdom] There is something of obscurity or inaccuracy in this preparatory scene. The king has already divided his kingdom, and yet when he enters he examines his daughters, to discover in what proportions he should divide it. Perhaps Kent and Gloucester only were privy to his design, which he still kept in his own hands, to be changed or performed as subsequent reasons should determine him.
I.i.37 (313,7) express our darker purpose] [Darker, for more secret; not for indirect, oblique. WARBURTON.] This word may admit a further explication. We shall express our darker purpose: that is, we have already made known in some measure our design of parting the kingdom; we will now discover what has not been told before, the reasons by which we shall regulate the partition. This interpretation will justify or palliate the exordial dialogue.
I.i.39 (313,8) and 'tis our fast intent] [This is an interpolation of Mr. Lewis Theobald, for want of knowing the meaning of the old reading in the quarto of 1608, and first folio of 1623; where we find it,
--and 'tis our first intent.
Fast is the reading of the first folio, and, I think, the true reading.
I.i.44 (314,9) We have this hour a constant will] constant will seems a confirmation of fast intent.
I.i.62 (314,2) Beyond all manner of so much I love you] Beyond all assignable quantity. I love you beyond limits, and cannot say it is so much, for how much soever I should name, it would yet be more.
I find, she names my very deed of love, Only she comes too short; that I profess]
That seems to stand without relation, but is referred to find, the first conjunction being inaccurately suppressed. I find that she names my deed, I find that I profess, &c.
I.i.76 (315,5) Which the most precious square of sense possesses] [Warburton explained "square" as the "four nobler senses"] This is acute; but perhaps square means only compass, comprehension.
I.i.80 (315,6) More pond'rous than my tongue] [W: their tongue] I think the present reading right.
I.i.84 (316,8) Now our joy] Here the true reading is picked out of two copies. Butter's quarto reads,
--But now our joy, Although the last, not least in our dear love, What can you say to win a third, &c.
--Now our joy, Although our last, and least; to whose young love The vines of France, and milk of Burgundy, Strive to be int'ress'd. What can you say?
I.i.138 (318,5) The sway, revenue, execution of the rest] [W: of th' hest] I do not see any great difficulty in the words, execution of the rest, which are in both the old copies. The execution of the rest is, I suppose, all the other business. Dr. Warburton's own explanation of his amendment confutes it; if hest be a regal comnand, they were, by the grant of Lear, to have rather the hest than the execution.
Think'st thou, that duty shall have dread to speak, When power to flattery bows? To plainness honour's bound, When majesty stoops to folly. Reverse thy doom, And in thy best consideration check This hideous rashness: answer my life my judgment, Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least]
I have given this passage according to the old folio, from which the modern editions have silently departed, for the sake of better numbers, with a degree of insincerity, which, if not sometimes detected and censured, must impair the credit of ancient books. One of the editors, and perhaps only one, knew how much mischief may be done by such clandestine alterations. The quarto agrees with the folio, except that for reserve thy state, it gives, reverse thy doom, and has stoops instead of falls to folly. The meaning of answer my life my judgment, is, Let my life be answerable for my judgment, or, I will stake my life on my opinion.--The reading which, without any right, has possessed all the modern copies is this;
--to plainness honour Is bound, when majesty to folly falls. Reserve thy state; with better judgment check This hideous rashness; with my life I answer, Thy youngest daughter, &c.
I am inclined to think that reverse thy doom was Shakespeare's first reading, as more apposite to the present occasion, and that he changed it afterwards to reserve thy state, which conduces more to the progress of the action.
I.i.161 (320,9) The true blank of thine eye] The blank is the white or exact mark at which the arrow is shot. See better, says Kent, and keep me always in your view.
I.i.172 (320,1) strain'd pride] The oldest copy reads strayed pride; that is, pride exorbitant; pride passing due bounds.
I.i.174 (320,3) Which nor our nature, nor our place, can bear;/ Our potency made good] [T: (Which ... bear) ... made good] [Warburton defended "make"] Theobald only inserted the parenthesis; he found made good in the best copy of 1623. Dr. Warburton has very acutely explained and defended the reading that he has chosen, but I am not certain that he has chosen right. If we take the reading of the folio, our potency made good, the sense will be less profound indeed, but less intricate, and equally commodious. As thou hast come with unreasonable pride between the sentence which I had passed, and the power by which I shall execute it, take thy reward in another sentence which shall make good, shall establish, shall maintain, that power. If Dr. Warburton's explanation be chosen, and every reader will wish to choose it, we may better read,
Which nor our nature, nor our state can bear, Or potency make good.--
Mr. Davies thinks, that our potency made good relates only to our place.--Which our nature cannot bear, nor our place, without departure from the potency of that place. This is easy and clear.--Lear, who is characterized as hot, heady, and violent, is, with very just observation of life, made to entangle himself with vows, upon any sudden provocation to vow revenge, and then to plead the obligation of a vow in defence of implacability.
I.i.181 (322,4) By Jupiter] Shakespeare makes his Lear too much a mythologist: he had Hecate and Apollo before.
I.i.190 (322,6) He'll shape his old course] He will follow his old maxims; he will continue to act upon the same principles.
I.i.201 (323,7) If aught within that little, seeming, substance] Seeming is beautiful.
I.i.209 (323,9) Election makes not up on such conditions] To make up signifies to complete, to conclude; as, they made up the bargain; but in this sense it has, I think, always the subject noun after it. To make up, in familiar language, is, neutrally, to come forward, to make advances, which, I think, is meant here.
Sure her offence Must be of such unnatural degree, That monsters it: or your fore-vouch'd affection Fall into taint]
The common books read,
--or your fore-vouch'd affection Fall'n into taint:--
This line has no clear or strong sense, nor is this reading authorized by any copy, though it has crept into all the late editions. The early quarto reads,
--or you for vouch'd affections Fall'n into taint.--
--or your fore-vouch'd affection Fall into taint.--
Taint is used for corruption and for disgrace. If therefore we take the oldest reading it may be reformed thus:
--sure her offence Must be of such unnatural degree, That monsters it; or you for vouch'd affection Fall into taint.
Her offence must be prodigious, or you must fall into reproach for having vouched affection which you did not feel. If the reading of the folio be preferred, we may with a very slight change produce the same sense:
--sure her offence Must be of such unnatural degree, That monsters it, or your fore-vouch'd affection Falls into taint.--
That is, falls into reproach or censure. But there is another possible sense. Or signifies before, and or ever is before ever; the meaning in the folio may therefore be, Sure her crime must be monstrous before your affection can be affected with hatred. Let the reader determine.--As I am not much a friend to conjectural emendation, I should prefer the latter sense, which requires no change of reading.
I.i.243 (325,3) from the intire point] Intire, for right, true. WARB.] Rather, single, unmixed with other considerations.
I.i.264 (326,5) Thou losest here, better where to find] Here and where have the power of nouns. Thou losest this residence to find a better residence in another place.
I.i.282 (326,6) And well are worth the want that you have wanted] [This I take to be the poet's meaning, stript of the jingle which makes it dark: "You well deserve to meet with that want of love from your husband, which you have professed to want for our father." THEOBALD.] [W: have vaunted] I think the common reading very suitable to the manner of our author, and well enough explained by Theobald.
I.i.283 (327,7) plaited cunning] i.e. complicated, involved cunning. (1773)
I.ii.3 (328,2) Stand in the plague of custom] The word plague is in all the copies; I can scarcely think it right, nor can I yet reconcile myself to the emendation proposed, though I have nothing better to offer [Warburton had proposed plage].
I.ii.21 (330,7) Shall be the legitimate] [Hanmer: toe th'] Hanmer's emendation will appear very plausible to him that shall consult the original reading. Butter's quarto reads,
--Edmund the base Shall tooth' legitimate.--
--Edmund the base Shall to th' legitimate.--
Hanmer, therefore, could hardly be charged with coining a word, though his explanation may be doubted. To toe him, is perhaps to kick him out, a phrase yet in vulgar use; or, to toe, may be literally to supplant. The word be has no authority.
I.ii.24 (331,1) subscrib'd his power!] To subscribe, is, to transfer by signing or subscribing a writing of testimony. We now use the term, He subscribed forty pounds to the new building.
I.ii.25 (331,2) Confin'd to exhibition!] Is allowance. The term is yet used in the universities.
I.ii.25 (331,3) All this done/Upon the gad!] So the old copies; the later editions read,
--All is gone Upon the gad!--
which, besides that it is unauthorized, is less proper. To do upon the gad, is, to act by the sudden stimulation of caprice, as cattle run madding when they are stung by the gad fly.
I.ii.47 (332,4) taste of my virtue] Though taste may stand in this place, yet I believe we should read, assay or test of my virtue: they are both metallurgical terms, and properly joined. So in Hamlet,
Bring me to the test.
I.ii.51 (323,6) idle and fond] Weak and foolish.
I.ii.95 (333,7) pretence] Pretence is design, purpose. So afterwards in this play,
Pretence and purpose of unkindness.
I.ii.106 (333,8) wind me into him] I once thought it should be read, you into him; but, perhaps, it is a familiar phrase, like do me this.
I.ii.107 (333,9) I would unstate myself to be in a due resolution] [i.e. I will throw aside all consideration of my relation to him, that I may act as justice requires. WARBURTON.] Such is this learned man's explanation. I take the meaning to be rather this, Do you frame the business, who can act with less emotion; I would unstate myself; it would in me be a departure from the paternal character, to be in a due resolution, to be settled and composed on such an occasion. The words would and should are in old language often confounded.
I.ii.l09 (334,1) convey the business] [Convey, for introduce. WARB.] To convey is rather to carry through than to introduce; in this place it is to manage artfully: we say of a juggler, that he has a clean conveyance.
I.ii.112 (334,2) These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us: tho' the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourg'd by the frequent effects] That is, though natural philosophy can give account of eclipses, yet we feel their consequences.
I.ii.156 (338,8) I promise you, the effects he writes of, succeed unhappily] The folio edition commonly differs from the first quarto, by augmentations or insertions, but in this place it varies by omission, and by the omission of something which naturally introduces the following dialogue. It is easy to remark, that in this speech, which ought, I think, to be inserted as it now is in the text, Edmund, with the common craft of fortune-tellers, mingles the past and future, and tells of the future only what he already foreknows by confederacy, or can attain by probable conjecture. (see 1765, VI, 27, 6)
I.ii.178 (339,1) that with the mischief of your person it would scarcely allay] This reading is in both copies; yet I believe the author gave it, that but with the mischief of your person it would scarce allay.
I.iii.19 (341,2) Old fools are babes again; and must be us'd/ With checks, as flatteries when they are seen abus'd] These lines hardly deserve a note, though Mr. Theobald thinks them very fine. Whether fools or folks should be read is not worth enquiry. The controverted line is yet in the old quarto, not as the editors represent it, but thus:
With checks as flatteries when they are seen abus'd.
I am in doubt whether there is any error of transcription. The sense seems to be this: Old men must be treated with checks, when as they are seen to be deceived with flatteries: or, when they are weak enough to be seen abused by flatteries, they are then weak enough to be used with checks. There is a play of the words used and abused. To abuse is, in our author, very frequently the same as to deceive. This construction is harsh and ungrammatical; Shakespeare perhaps thought it vicious, and chose to throw away the lines rather than correct them, nor would now thank the officiousness of his editors, who restore what they do not understand.
I.iv.118 (347,5) Would I had two coxcombs, and two daughters] Two fools caps, intended, as it seems, to mark double folly in the man that gives all to his daughters.
I.iv.133 (347,7) Lend less than thou owest] That is, do not lend all that thou hast. To owe, in old English, is to possess. If owe be taken for to be in debt, the more prudent precept would be, Lend more than thou owest.
I.iv.153-170 (348,9) This dialogue, from No, lad; teach me, down to, Give me an egg, was restored from the first edition by Mr. Theobald. It is omitted in the folio, perhaps for political reasons, as it seemed to censure monopolies.
I.iv.181 (349,2) Fools ne'er had less grace in a year] There never was a time when fools were less in favour; and the reason is, that they were never so little wanted, for wise men now supply their place. Such I think is the meaning. The old edition has wit for grace.
I.iv.219 (350,5) That's a sheal'd peascod] i.e. Now a mere husk, which contains nothing. The outside of a king remains, but all the intrinsic parts of royalty are gone: he has nothing to give. (1773)
I.iv.245 (351,3) Whoop, Jug] There are in the fool's speeches several passages which seem to be proverbial allusions, perhaps not now to be understood.
I.iv.256 (352,1) Fool. Which they will make an obedient father] [This line I have restored from the quarto. STEEVENS] This note [Tyrwhitt's, quoted by Steevens] is written with confidence disproportionate to the conviction which it can bring. Lear might as well know by the marks and tokens arising from sovereignty, knowledge, and reason, that he had or had not daughters, as he could know by any thing else. But, says he, if I judge by these tokens, I find the persuasion false by which I long thought myself the father of daughters. (1773)
I.iv.302 (355,7) from her derogate body] [Derogate for unnatural. WARB.] Rather, I think, degraded; blasted.
That these hot tears, which break from me perforce, Should make thee worth them.--Blasts and fogs upon thee! The untented woundings of a father's curse Pierce every sense about thee!--Old fond eyes, Beweep this cause again]
I will transcribe this passage from the first edition, that it may appear to those who are unacquainted with old books, what is the difficulty of revision, and what indulgence is due to those that endeavour to restore corrupted passages.--That these hot tears, that breake from me perforce, should make the worst blasts and fogs upon the untender woundings of a father's curse, peruse every sense about the old fond eyes, beweep this cause again, &c.
I.iv.362 (358,3) compact it more] Unite one circumstance with another, so as to make a consistent account.
I.iv.366 (358,4) You are much more at task for want of wisdom] It is a common phrase now with parents and governesses. I'll take you to task, i.e. I will reprehend and correct you. To be at task, therefore, is to be liable to reprehension and correction. (1773)
I.v.5 (358,1) I shall be there afore you] He seems to intend to go to his daughter, but it appears afterwards that he is going to the house of Glo'ster.
I.v.25 (359,2) I did her wrong] He is musing on Cordelia.
I.v.42 (359,3) To take it again perforce!] He is meditating on the resumption of his royalty.
II.i.9 (360,1) ear-kissing arguments] Subjects of discourse; topics.
II.i.19 (361,2) queazy question] Something of a suspicious, questionable, and uncertain nature. This is, I think, the meaning.
II.i.27 (361,4) have you nothing said/Upon his party 'gainst the duke of Albany?] I cannot but think the line corrupted, and would read,
Against his party, for the duke of Albany?
II.i.57 (363,7) gasted] Frighted.
II.i.59 (363,8) Not in this land shall he remain uncaught;/And found--Dispatch] [Not in this land shall he remain uncaught; And found dispatch--the noble duke, &c.]
[W: found, dispatch'd.] I do not see how this change mends the sense: I think it may be better regulated as in the page above. The sense is interrupted. He shall be caught--and found, he shall be punished. Dispatch.
II.i.67 (363,2) And found him pight to do it, with curst speech] Pight is pitched, fixed, settled. Curst is severe, harsh, vehemently angry.
II.i.122 (366,7) Occasions, noble Glo'ster, of some prize] [W: poize] Prize, or price, for value. (1773)
II.i.126 (366,8) from our home] Not at home, but at some other place.
II.ii.9 (367,1) Lipsbury pinfold] The allusion which seems to be contained in this line I do not understand. In the violent eruption of reproaches which bursts from Kent in this dialogue, there are some epithets which the commentators have left unexpounded, and which I am not very able to make clear. Of a three-suited knave I know not the meaning, unless it be that he has different dresses for different occupations. Lilly-liver'd is cowardly; white-blooded and white-liver'd are still in vulgar use. An one-trunk-inheriting slave, I take to be a wearer of old cast-off cloaths, an inheritor of torn breeches.
II.ii.36 (368,4) barber-monger] Of this word I do not clearly see the force.
II.ii.39 (368,5) Vanity the puppet's] Alluding to the mysteries or allegorical shews, in which vanity, iniquity, and other vices, were personified.
II.ii.45 (369,6) neat slave] You mere slave, you very slave.
II.ii.69 (369,8) Thou whoreson zed; thou unnecessary letter!] I do not well understand how a man is reproached by being called zed, nor how Z is an unnecessary letter. Scarron compares his deformity to the shape of Z, and it may be a proper word of insult to a crook-backed man; but why should Gonerill's steward be crooked, unless the allusion be to his bending or cringing posture in the presence of his superiors. Perhaps it was written, thou whoreson C (for cuckold) thou unnecessary letter. C is a letter unnecessary in our alphabet, one of its two sounds being represented by S, and one by K. But all the copies concur in the common reading.
II.ii.87 (371,3) epileptic visage!] The frighted countenance of a man ready to fall in a fit.
II.ii.103 (372,5) constrains the garb/Quite from his nature] Forces his outside or his appearance to something totally different from his natural disposition.
II.ii.109 (372,8) Than twenty silly ducking observants] [W: silky] The alteration is more ingenious than the arguments by which it is supported.
II.ii.119 (373,8) though I should win your displeasure to intreat me to't] Though I should win you, displeased as you now are, to like me so well as to intreat me to be a knave.
Good king, that must approve the common saw! Thou out of heaven's benediction com'at To the warm sun!]
That art now to exemplify the common proverb, That out of, &c. That changest better for worse. Hanmer observes, that it is a proverbial saying, applied to those who are turned out of house and home to the open weather. It was perhaps first used of men dismissed from an hospital, or house of charity, such as was erected formerly in many places for travellers. Those houses had names properly enough alluded to by heaven's benediction.
I know 'tis from Cordelia; Who hath most fortunately been inform'd Of my obscur'd coarse, and shall find time From this enormous state, seeking to give Losses their remedies]
This passage, which some of the editors have degraded, as spurious, to the margin, and others have silently altered, I have faithfully printed according to the quarto, from which the folio differs only in punctuation. The passage is very obscure, if not corrupt. Perhaps it may be read thus:
--Cordelia--has been--informed. Of my obscur'd course, and shall find time From this enormous state-seeking, to give Losses their remedies.--
Cordelia is informed of our affairs, and when the enormous care of seeking her fortune will allow her time, she will employ it in remedying losses. This is harsh; perhaps something better may be found. I have at least supplied the genuine reading of the old copies. Enormous is unwonted, out of rule, out of the ordinary course of things.
II.iii.18 (377,2) Poor pelting villages] Pelting is, I believe, only an accidental depravation of petty. Shakespeare uses it in the Midsummer-Night's Dream of small brooks.
II.iii.20 (378,3) Poor Turlygood! poor Tom!] [W: Turlupin] Hanmer reads, poor Turlurd. It is probable the word Turlygood was the common corrupt pronunciation.
II.iii.21 (378,4) Edgar I nothing am] As Edgar I am out-lawed, dead in law; I have no longer any political existence.
II.iv (378,1) Changes again to the earl of Glo'ster's castle] It is not very clearly discovered why Lear comes hither. In the foregoing part he sent a letter to Glo'ster; but no hint is given of its contents. He seems to have gone to visit Glo'ster while Cornwall and Regan might prepare to entertain him.
II.iv.24 (380,4) To do upon respect such violent outrage] To violate the public and venerable character of a messenger from the king.
II.iv.46 (380,7) Winter's not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way] If this be their behaviour, the king's troubles are not yet at an end.
II.iv.70 (381,9) All that follow their noses are led by their eyes, but blind men; and there's not a nose among twenty, but can smell him that's stinking] There is in this sentence no clear series of thought. If he that follows his nose is led or guided by his eyes, he wants no information from his nose. I persuade myself, but know not whether I can persuade others, that our author wrote thus:--"All men are led by their eyes, but blind men, and they follow their noses; and there's not a nose among twenty but can smell him that's stinking."--Here is a succession of reasoning. You ask, why the king has no more in his train? why, because men who are led by their eyes see that he is ruined; and if there were any blind among them, who, for want of eyes, followed their noses, they might by their noses discover that it was no longer fit to follow the king.
But I will tarry; the fool will stay, And let the wise man fly; The knave turns fool, that runs away; The fool no knave, perdy]
I think this passage erroneous, though both the copies concur. The sense mill be mended if we read,
But I will tarry; the fool will stay, And let the wise man fly; The fool turns knave, that runs away; The knave no fool,--
That I stay with the king is a proof that I am a fool, the wise men are deserting him. There is knavery in this desertion, but there is no folly.
II.iv.116 (383,3) Is practice only] Practice is in Shakespeare, and other old writers, used commonly in an ill sense for unlawful artifice.
II.iv.122 (384,4) Cry to it, nuncle, as the cockney did to the eels, when she put them i' the paste alive] Hinting that the eel and Lear are in the same danger.
II.iv.142 (384,7) Than she to scant her duty] The word scant is directly contrary to the sense intended. The quarto reads,
--slack her duty,
which is no better. May we not change it thus:
You less know bow to value her desert, Than she to scan her duty.
To scan may be to measure or proportion. Yet our author uses his negatives with such licentiousness, that it is hardly safe to make any alteration.--Scant may mean to adapt, to fit, to proportion; which sense seems still to be retained in the mechanical term scantling. (see 1765, VI, 67, 4)
II.iv.155 (385,1) Do you but mark how this becomes the house?] [T: the use?] [Warburton called "becomes the house" "a most expressive phrase"] with this most expressive phrase I believe no reader is satisfied. I suspect that it has been written originally,
Ask her forgiveness? Do you but mark how this becometh--thus. Dear daughter, I confess, &c.
Becomes the house, and becometh thus, might be easily confounded by readers so unskilful as the original printers.
II.iv.157 (386,2) Age is unnecessary] i.e. Old age has few wants.
II.iv.162 (386,3) Look'd black upon me] To look black, may easily be explained to look cloudy or gloomy. See Milton:
"So frown'd the mighty combatants, that hell Grew darker at their frown."--
II.iv.170 (386,4) To fall, and blast her pride!] Thus the quarto: the folio reads not so well, to fall and blister. I think there is still a fault, which may be easily mended by changing a letter:
--Infect her beauty, Ye fen-suck'd fogs, drawn by the powerful sun, Do, fall, and blast her pride!
II.iv.174 (387.6) Thy tender-hested nature shall not give/Thee o'er to harshness] This word, though its general meaning be plain, I do not critically understand.
II.iv.178 (387,7) to scant my sizes] To contract my allowances or proportions settled.
II.iv.203 (388,9) much less advancement] The word advancement is ironically used here for conspicuousness of punishment; as we now say, a man is advanced to the pillory. We should read,
--but his own disorders Deserv'd much more advancement.
II.iv.204 (388,1) I pray you, father, being weak, seem so] [W: deem't so] The meaning is, since you are weak, be content to think yourself weak. No change is needed.
II.iv.218 (389,3) base life] i.e. In a servile state.
II.iv.227 (390,5) embossed carbuncle] Embossed is swelling, protuberant.
II.iv.259 (391,6) Those wicked creatures yet do look well-favour'd:/ When others are more wicked] Dr. Warburton would exchange the repeated epithet wicked into wrinkled in both places. The commentator's only objection to the lines as they now stand, is the discrepancy of the metaphor, the want of opposition between wicked and well-favoured. But he might have remembered what he says in his own preface concerning mixed modes. Shakespeare, whose mind was more intent upon notions than words, had in his thoughts the pulchritude of virtue, and the deformity of wickedness; and though he had mentioned wickedness, made the correlative answer to deformity.
III.i.7 (394,1) That things might change, or cease: tears his white hair] The first folio ends the speech at change, or cease, and begins again with Kent's question, But who is with him? The whole speech is forcible, but too long for the occasion, and properly retrenched.
III.i.18 (395,3) my note] My observation of your character.
III.i.29 (395,6) are but furnishings] Furnishings are what we now call colours, external pretences. (1773)
There is division, Although as yet the face of it is cover'd with mutual cunning, 'twixt Albany and Cornwall; Who have (as who have not, whom their great stars Throne and set high?) servants, who seem no less; Which are to France the spies and speculations Intelligent of our state. What hath been seen, Either in snuffs and packings of the dukes; Or the hard rein, which both of them have borne Against the old kind king; or something deeper, Whereof, perchance, these are but furnishings. [But, true it is, from France there comes a power Into this scatter'd kingdom; who already, Wise in our negligence, have secret fee In some of our best ports, and are at point To shew their open banner.--Now to you:]
The true state of this speech cannot from all these notes be discovered. As it now stands it is collected from two editions: the lines which I have distinguished by Italics are found in the folio, not in the quarto; the following lines inclosed in crotchets are in the quarto, not in the folio. So that if the speech be read with omissions of the Italics, it will stand according to the first edition; and if the Italics are read, and the lines that follow them omitted, it will then stand according to the second. The speech is now tedious, because it is formed by a coalition of both. The second edition is generally best, and was probably nearest to Shakespeare's last copy, but in this passage the first is preferable; for in the folio, the messenger is sent, he knows not why, he knows not whither. I suppose Shakespeare thought his plot opened rather too early, and made the alteration to veil the event from the audience; but trusting too much to himself, and full of a single purpose, he did not accommodate his new lines to the rest of the scene.--The learned critic's [Warburton] emendations are now to be examined. Scattered he has changed to scathed; for scattered, he says, gives the idea of an anarchy, which was not the case. It may be replied that scathed gives the idea of ruin, waste, and desolation, which was not the case. It is unworthy a lover of truth, in questions of great or little moment, to exaggerate or extenuate for mere convenience, or for vanity yet less than convenience. Scattered naturally means divided, unsettled, disunited.--Next is offered with great pomp a change of sea to seize; but in the first edition the word is fee, for hire, in the sense of having any one in fee, that is, at devotion for money. Fee is in the second quarto changed to see, from which one made sea and another seize.
III.ii.4 (398,1) thought-executing] Doing execution with rapidity equal to thought.
III.ii.19 (399,4) Here I stand, your slave] [W: brave] The meaning is plain enough, he was not their slave by right or compact, but by necessity and compulsion. Why should a passage be darkened for the sake of changing it? Besides, of brave in that sense I remember no example.
III.ii.24 (399,5) 'tis foul] Shameful; dishonourable.
III.ii.30 (399,6) So beggars marry many] i.e. A beggar marries a wife and lice.
III.ii.46 (400,1) Man's nature cannot carry/The affliction, nor the fear] So the folio: the later editions read, with the quarto, force for fear, less elegantly.
III.ii.56 (401,3) That under covert and convenient seeming] Convenient needs not be understood in any other than its usual and proper sense; accommodate to the present purpose; suitable to a design. Convenient seeming is appearance such as may promote his purpose to destroy.
III.ii.53 (401,4) concealing continents] Continent stands for that which contains or incloses.
III.ii.72 (401,(5) Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart,/ That's sorry yet for thee] Some editions read,
--thing in my heart;
from which Hanmer, and Dr. Warburton after him, have made string, very unnecessarily; both the copies have part.
He that has a little tiny wit,-- With heigh ho, the wind and the rain; Must make content with his fortunes fit, Though the rain it raineth every day]
I fancy that the second line of this stanza had once a termination that rhymed with the fourth; but I can only fancy it; for both the copies agree. It was once perhaps written,
With heigh ho, the wind and the rain in his way.
The meaning seems likewise to require this insertion. "He that has wit, however small, and finds wind and rain in his way, must content himself by thinking, that somewhere or other it raineth every day, and others are therefore suffering like himself." Yet I am afraid that all this is chimerical, for the burthen appears again in the song at the end of Twelfth Night, and seems to have been an arbitrary supplement, without any reference to the sense of the song. (see 1765, VI, 84, 6)
III.ii.80 (402,8) I'll speak a prophecy ere I go] [W: or two ere] The sagacity and acuteness of Dr. Warburton are very conspicuous in this note. He has disentangled the confusion of the passage, and I have inserted his emendation in the text. Or e'er is proved by Mr. Upton to be good English, but the controversy was not necessary, for or is not in the old copies. [Steevens retained "ere"]
III.ii.84 (403,1) No heretics burnt, but wenches' suitors] The disease to which wenches' suitors are particularly exposed, was called in Shakespeare's time the brenning or burning.
In, boy; go first. [To the Fool.] You houseless poverty-- Nay, get thee in. I'll pray, and then I'll sleep]
These two lines were added in the author's revision, and are only in the folio. They are very judiciously intended to represent that humility, or tenderness, or neglect of forms, which affliction forces on the mind.
III.iv.52 (407,3) led through fire and through flame] Alluding to the ignis fatuus, supposed to be lights kindled by mischievous beings to lead travellers into destruction.
III.iv.54 (407,4) laid knives under his pillow] He recounts the temptations by which he was prompted to suicide; the opportunities of destroying himself, which often occurred to him in his melancholy moods.
III.iv.60 (407,5) Bless thee from whirlwinds, star-blasting, and taking!] To take is to blast, or strike with malignant influence:
--strike her young limbs, Ye taking airs, with lameness.
III.iv.77 (408,6) pelican daughters] The young pelican is fabled to suck the mother's blood.
III.iv.95 (408,8) light of ear] [i.e. Credulous. WARBURTON.] Not merely credulous, but credulous of evil, ready to receive malicious reports. (1773)
III.iv.103 (409,1) says suum, mun, ha no nonny, dolphin my boy, boy, Sessy: let him trot by] Of this passage I can make nothing. I believe it corrupt: for wildness, not nonsense, is the effect of a disordered imagination. The quarto reads, hay no on ny, dolphins, my boy, cease, let him trot by. Of interpreting this there is not much hope or much need. But any thing may be tried. The madman, now counterfeiting a proud fit, supposes himself met on the road by some one that disputes the way, and cries Hey!--No--but altering his mind, condescends to let him pass, and calls to his boy Dolphin (Rodolph) not to contend with him. On--Dolphin, my boy, cease. Let him trot by.
III.iv.122 (410,3) web and the pin] Diseases of the eye.
Saint Withold footed thrice the void; He met the night-mare, and her nine-fold; Bid her alight, and her troth plight, And aroynt thee, witch, aroynt thee!]
In the old quarto the corruption is such as may deserve to be noted. "Swithold footed thrice the old another night moore and her nine fold bid her, O light, and her troth plight, and arint thee, with arint thee."
III.iv.144 (412,6) small deer] Sir Thomas Hanmer reads geer, and is followed by Dr. Warburton. But deer in old language is a general word for wild animals.
III.iv.187 (414,8) Child Rowland] This word is in some of our ballads. There is a song of Child Walter, and a Lady.
III.v.21 (415,2) If I find him comforting the king] He uses the word in the juridical sense for supporting, helping, according to its derivation; salvia comfortat ne vos.--Schol. Sal. (rev. 1778, IX, 477, 3)
III.vi.20 (416,2) a horse's health] [W: heels] Shakespeare is here speaking not of things maliciously treacherous, but of things uncertain and not durable, A horse is above all other animals subject to diseases.
III.vi.26 (416,3) Wantest thou eyes at trial, madam?] It may be observed that Edgar, being supposed to be found by chance, and therefore to have no knowledge of the rest, connects not his ideas with those of Lear, but pursues his own train of delirious or fantastic thought. To these words, At trial, madam? I think therefore that the name of Lear should be put. The process of the dialogue will support this conjecture. (1773)
III.vi.27 (417,4) Come oe'er the broom, Bessy, to me] As there is no relation between broom and a boat, we may better read,
Come o'er the brook, Bessy, to me.
Sleepest, or wakest thou, jolly shepherd? Thy sheep be in the corn; And for one blast of thy minikin mouth, Thy sheep shall take no harm.]
This seems to be a stanza of some pastoral song. A shepherd is desired to pipe, and the request is enforced by a promise, that though his sheep be in the corn, i.e. committing a trespass by his negligence, implied in the question, Sleepest thou or wakest? Yet a single tune upon his pipe shall secure them from the pound. (1773)
III.vi.77 (419,8) Sessy, come] Here is sessey again, which I take to be the French word cessez pronounced cessey, which was, I suppose, like some others in common use among us. It is an interjection enforcing cessation of any action, like, be quiet, have done. It seems to have been gradually corrupted into, so, so.
III.vi.78 (419,9) thy horn is dry] Men that begged under pretence of lunacy used formerly to carry a horn, and blow it through the streets.
III.vi.103-121 (420,2) [Kent. Opprest nature sleeps] The lines inserted from the quarto are in crotchets. The omission of them in the folio is certainly faulty: yet I believe the folio is printed from Shakespeare'a last revision, carelessly and hastily performed, with more thought of shortening the scenes, than of continuing the action.
III.vi.111 (421,4) free things] States clear from distress.
III.vi. 117 (421,5)
Mark the high noises! and thyself bewray, When false opinion, whose wrong thought defiles thee, In thy just proof, repeals, and reconciles thee]
Attend to the great events that are approaching, and make thyself known. Then that false opinion now prevailing against thee shall, in consequence of just proof of thy integrity, revoke its erroneous sentence, and recall thee to honour and reconciliation.
III.vii.13 (421,6) ray lord of Glo'ster] Meaning Edmund, newly invested with his father's titles. The steward, speaking immediately after, mentions the old duke by the same title.
Though well we may not pass upon his life Without the form of justice; yet our power Shall do a courtesy to our wrath]
To do a courtesy is to gratify, to comply with. To pass, is to pass a judicial sentence. (1773)
III.vii.29 (422,4) corky arms] Dry, wither'd, husky arms.
III.vii.54 (424,9) I am ty'd to the stake, and I must stand the course] The running of the dogs upon me.
III.vii.65 (425,2) All cruels else subscrib'd] Yielded, submitted to the necessity of the occasion.
III.vii.99-107 (426,3) I'll never care what wickedness I do] [This short dialogue I have inserted from the old quarto, because I think it full of nature. Servants could hardly see such a barbarity committed on their master, without pity; and the vengeance that they presume canst overtake the actors of it is a sentiment and doctrine well worthy of the stage. THEOBALD.] It is not necessary to suppose them the servants of Glo'ster; for Cornwall was opposed to extremity by his own servant.
IV.i.1 (427,1) Yet better thus, and known to be contemn'd] The meaning is, 'Tis better to be thus contemned, and known to yourself to be contemned. Or perhaps there is an error, which may be rectified thus:
Yet better thus unknown to be contemn'd.
When a man divests himself of his real character he feels no pain from contempt, because he supposes it incurred only by a voluntary disguise which he can throw off at pleasure. I do not think any correction necessary.
IV.i.20 (429,3) Our mean secures us] [i.e. Moderate, mediocre condition. WARBURTON.] Banner writes, by an easy change, meanness secures us. The two original editions have,
Our meanes secures us.--
I do not remember that mean is ever used as a substantive for low fortune, which is the sense here required, nor for mediocrity, except in the phrase, the golden mean. I suspect the passage of corruption, and would either read,
Our means seduce us:--
Our powers of body or fortune draw us into evils. Or,
Our maims secure us.--
That hurt or deprivation which makes us defenceless, proves our safeguard. This is very proper in Glo'ster, newly maimed by the evulsion of his eyes.
IV.i.59-64 (431,8) [Five fiends have been in poor Tom at once; of lust, as Obidicut; Hobbididance, prince of dumbness; Mahu, of stealing; Modo, of murder; and Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and mowing; who since possesses chamber-maids and waiting-women. So bless thee, master!]] The passage in crotchets is omitted in the folio, because I suppose as the story was forgotten, the jest was lost.
IV.i.68 (432,1) Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man] Lear has before uttered the same sentiment, which indeed cannot be too strongly impressed, tho' it may be too often repeated.
IV.i.69 (432,2) That slaves your ordinance] [W: braves] The emendation is plausible, yet I doubt whether it be right. The language of Shakespeare is very licentious, and his words have often meanings remote from the proper and original use. To slave or beslave another is to treat him with terms of indignity; in a kindred sense, to slave the ordinance, may be, to slight or ridicule it.
IV.ii.1 (433,1) our mild husband] It must be remembered that Albany, the husband of Gonerill, disliked, in the end of the first act, the scheme of oppression and ingratitude.
IV.ii.29 (434,5) I have been worth the whistle] This expression is a reproach to Albany for having neglected her; though you disregard me thus, I have been worth the whistle, I have found one that thinks me worth calling. (1773)
IV.ii.35 (435,9) From her maternal sap] [W: material] I suppose no reader doubts but the word should be maternal. Dr. Warburton has taken great pains without much success, and indeed without much exactness of attention, to prove that material has a more proper sense than maternal, and yet seemed glad at last to infer from an apparent error of another press that material and maternal meant the same.
IV.ii.45 (436,2) A man, a prince by him so benefited?] [After this line I suspect a line or two to be wanting, which upbraids her for her sister's cruelty to Glo'ster. WARBURTON.] Here is a pompous note to support a conjecture apparently erroneous, and confuted by the next scene, in which the account is given for the first time to Albany of Glo'ster's sufferings.
IV.ii.50 (436,3) Like monsters of the deep] Fishes are the only animals that are known to prey upon their own species.
IV.ii.62 (437,5) Thou changed, and self-cover'd thing] Of these lines there is but one copy, and the editors are forced open conjecture. They have published this line thus;
Thou chang'd, and self-converted thing;
but I cannot but think that by self-cover'd the author meant, thou that hast disguised nature by wickedness; thou that hast hid the woman under the fiend.
IV.ii.83 (438,6) One way, I like this well] Gonerill is well pleased that Cornwall is destroyed, who was preparing war against her and her husband, but is afraid of losing Edmund to the widow.
IV.iii (439,1) The French camp, near Dover. Enter Kent, and a Gentleman] This scene seems to have been left out only to shorten the play, and is necessary to continue the action. It is extant only in the quarto, being omitted in the first folio. I have therefore put it between crotchets.
IV.iii (439,2) a Gentleman] The gentleman whom he sent in the foregoing act with letters to Cordelia.
IV.iii.26 (440,4) Made she no verbal question?] I do not see the impropriety of verbal question; such pleonasms are common. So we say, my ears have heard, my eyes have beheld. Besides, where is the word quest [Warburton's emendation] to be found?
IV.iii.33 (440,6) And clamour-moisten'd] Clamour moisten'd her; that is, her out-cries were accompanied with tears.
IV.iii.36 (441,7) one self-mate and mate] The same husband and the same wife.
IV.iii.51 (441,9) 'Tis so they are a-foot] Dr. Warburton thinks it necessary to read, 'tis said; but the sense is plain, So it is that they are on foot.
IV.iv.4 (442,1) With bur-docks, hemlock] I do not remember any such plant as a hardock, but one of the most common weeds is a burdock, which I believe should be read here; and so Hanmer reads.
IV.iv.20 (443,2) the means to lead it] The reason which should guide it.
IV.iv.26 (443,3) My mourning and important tears hath pitied] In other places of this author for importunate.
IV.iv.27 (443,4) No blown embition] No inflated, no swelling pride. Beza on the Spanish Armada:
"Quem bene te ambitio mersit vanissima, ventus, Et tumidos tumidae voa superastis aquae."
IV.v.4 (444,1) Reg. Lord Edmund spake not with your lady at home?] The folio reads, your lord; but lady is the first and better reading.
IV.v.22 (444,3) Let me unseal the letter. Stew. Madam, I had rather] I know not well why Shakespeare gives the steward, who is a mere factor of wickedness, so much fidelity. He now refuses the letter; and afterwards, when he is dying, thinks only how it may be safely delivered.
IV.v.29 (445,5) I do advise you, take this note] Note means in this place not a letter but a remark. Therefore observe what I am saying.
IV.v.32 (446,6) You may gather more] You may infer more than I have directly told you.
IV.vi (446,1) The country near Dover. Enter Glo'ster, and Edgar as a peasant] This scene, and the stratagem by which Glo'ster is cured of his desperation, are wholly borrowed from Sidney's Arcadia.
IV.vi.7 (447,2) thy voice is alter'd] Edgar alters his voice in order to pass afterwards for a malignant spirit.
IV.vi.11 (447,5) How fearful/And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!] This description has been much admired since the time of Addison, who has remarked, with a poor attempt at pleasantry, that "he who can read it without being giddy, has a very good head, or a very bad one." The description is certainly not mean, but I am far from thinking it wrought to the utmost excellence of poetry. He that looks from a precipice finds himself assailed by one great and dreadful image of irresistible destruction. But this overwhelming idea is dissipated and enfeebled from the instant that the mind can restore itself to the observation of particulars, and diffuse its attention to distinct objects. The enumeration of the choughs and crows, the samphire-man, and the fishers, counteracts the great effect of the prospect, as it peoples the desert of intermediate vacuity, and stops the mind in the rapidity of its descent through emptiness and horror.
IV.vi.19 (447,4) her cock] Her cock-boat.
IV.vi.43 (448,6) when life itself/Yields to the theft] When life is willing to be destroyed.
IV.vi.47 (449,7) Thus might he pass, indeed] Thus he might die in reality. We still use the word passing bell.
IV.vi.53 (449,9) Ten masts at each make not the altitude] [Pope: attacht] Mr. Pope's conjecture may stand if the word which he uses were known in our author's time, but I think it is of later introduction. He may say,
Ten masts on end--
IV.vi.57 (449,1) chalky bourn] Bourn seems here to signify a hill. Its common signification is a brook. Milton in Comus uses bosky bourn in the same sense perhaps with Shakespeare. But in both authors it may mean only a boundary.
IV.vi.73 (450,2) the clearest gods] The purest; the most free from evil.
IV.vi.80 (450,3) Bear free and patient thoughts] To be melancholy is to have the mind chained down to one painful idea; there is therefore great propriety in exhorting Glo'ster to free thoughts, to an emancipation of his soul from grief and despair.
IV.vi.81 (450,4) The safer sense will ne'er accommodate/His master thus] [W: sober sense] I read rather,
The saner sense will ne'er accoomodate His master thus.
"Here is Lear, but he must be mad: his sound or sane senses would never suffer him to be thus disguised."
IV.vi.87 (451,5) That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper] This crow-keeper was so common in the author's time, that it is one of the few peculiarities mentioned by Ortelius in his account of our island.
IV.vi.93 (451,8) Give the word] Lear supposes himself in a garrison, and before he lets Edgar pass, requires the watch-word.
IV.vi.97 (452,7) Ha! Gonerill!--with a white beard!] So reads the folio, properly; the quarto, whom the later editors have followed, has, Ha! Gonerill, ha! Regan! they flattered me, &c. which is not so forcible.
IV.vi.98 (452,8) They flattered me like a dog] They played the spaniel to me.
IV.vi.121 (453,2) Whose face between her forks] I believe that the forks were two prominences of the ruff rising on each side of the face.
IV.vi.124 (453,4) nor the soyled horse] Soiled horse is probably the same as pampered horse, un cheval soûlé.
IV.vi.169 (454.5) Robes and furr'd gowns hide all] From hide all to accuser's lips, the whole passage is wanting in the first edition, being added, I suppose, at his revisal.
IV.vi.187 (455,8) This a good block!] I do not see how this block corresponds either with his foregoing or following train of thoughts. Madmen think not wholly at random. I would read thus, a good flock. Flocks are wool moulded together. The sentence then follows properly:
It were a delicate stratagem to shoe A troop of horse with felt;--
i.e. with flocks kneaded to a mass, a practice I believe sometimes used in former ages, for it is mentioned in Ariosto:
"--Fece nel cader strepito quanto Avesse avuto sotto i piedi il feltro."
It is very common for madmen to catch an accidental hint, and strain it to the purpose predominant in their minds. Lear picks up a flock, and immediately thinks to surprize his enemies by a troop of horse shod with flocks or felt. Yet block may stand, if we suppose that the sight of a block put him in mind of mounting his horse.
IV.vi.199 (457,1) Why, this would make a man, a man of salt] Would make a man melt away like salt in wet weather.
IV.vi.206 (457,2) Then there's life in't] The case is not yet desperate.
IV.vi.217 (457,3) the main descry/Stands on the hourly thought] The main body is expected to be descry'd every hour. The expression is harsh.
IV.vi.246 (459,7) che vor'ye] I warn you. Edgar counterfeits the western dialect.
IV.vi.281 (460,3) Thee I'll rake up] I'll cover thee. In Staffordshire, to rake the fire, is to cover it with fuel for the night.
IV.vi.234 (460,4) the death-practis'd duke] The duke of Albany, whose death is machinated by practice or treason.
IV.vii.3 (461,1) every measure fail me] All good which I shall allot thee, or measure out to thee, will be scanty.
IV.vii.9 (461,4) shortens my made intent] [W: laid] An intent made, is an intent formed. So we say in common language, to make a design, and to make a resolution.
IV.vii.41 (464,2) 'Tis wonder, that thy life and wits, at once,/Had not concluded all] [W: concluded.--Ah!] The plain construction is this: It is wonder that the wits and life had not all ended.
[Gent. Holds it true, Sir, That the duke of Cornwall was so slain?]
What is printed in crotchets is not in the folio. It is at least proper, if not necessary; and was omitted by the author, I suppose, for no other reason than to shorten the representation.
V.i.4 (467,2) his constant pleasure] His settled resolution.
V.i.54 (470,7) We will greet the time] We will be ready to meet the occasion.
V.i.61 (470,8) carry out my side] Bring my purpose to a successful issue, to completion. Side seems here to have the sense of the French word partie, in prendre partie, to take his resolution.
V.i.68 (471,9) for my state/Stands on me to defend, not to debate] I do not think that for stands in this place as a word of inference or causality. The meaning is rather: Such is my determination concerning Lear; as for my state it requires now, not deliberation, but defence and support.
V.iii.16 (472,1) And take upon us the mystery of things,/As if we were God's spies] As if we were angels commissioned to survey and report the lives of men, and were consequently endowed with the power of prying into the original motives of action and the mysteries of conduct.
V.iii.18 (472,2) packs and sects] Packs is used for combinations or collection, as is a pack of cards. For sects I think sets might be more commodiously read. So we say, affairs are now managed by a new set. Sect, however, may well stand.
V.iii.24 (473,6) flesh and fell] Flesh and skin.
[At this time We sweat and bleed: the friend hath lost his friend; And the best quarrels, in the heat, are curs'd By those that feel their sharpness:-- The question of Cordelia, and her father, Requires a fitter place.]
This passage, well worthy of restoration, is omitted in the folio.
V.iii.65 (475,4) The which immediacy] [Immediacy, for representation. WARBURTON.] Immediacy is rather supremacy in opposition to subordination, which has quiddam medium between itself and power.
V.iii.79 (476,7) The lett alone lies not in your good will] Whether he shall not or shall depends not on your choice.
V.iii.89 (476,8) An interlude!] This short exclamation of Gonerill is added in the folio edition, I suppose, only to break the speech of Albany, that the exhibition on the stage might be more distinct and intelligible.
V.iii.129 (478,1) Behold, it is the privilege of mine honours,/My oath, and my profession] The privilege of this oath means the privilege gained by taking the oath administered in the regular initiation of a knight professed.
Alb. Save him, save him! Gon. This is mere practice, Glo'ster]
He desired that Edmund's life might be spared at present, only to obtain his confession, and to convict him openly by his own letter.
V.iii.166 (480,6) Let us exchange charity] Our author by negligence gives his heathens the sentiments and practices of Christianity. In Hamlet there is the same solemn act of final reconciliation, but with exact propriety, for the personages are Christians.
V.iii. 204-221 (481,2) [Edg;.--This would have seem'd a period] The lines between crotchets are not in the folio.
V.iii.229 (433,4) Here comes Kent, Sir] The manner in which Edgar here mentions Kent, seems to require the lines which are inserted from the first edition in the foregoing scene.
Edg. Or image of that horror? Alb. Fall, and cease!]
These two exclamations are given to Edgar and Albany in the folio, to animate the dialogue, and employ all the persons on the stage; but they are very obscure.
V.iii.301 (487,4) With boot] With advantage, with increase.
(488) General Observation. The tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakespeare. There is perhaps no play which keeps the attention so strongly fixed; which so much agitates our passions and interests our curiosity. The artful involutions of distinct interests, the striking opposition of contrary characters, the sudden changes of fortune, and the quick succession of events, fill the mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity, and hope. There is no scene which does not contribute to the aggravation of the distress or conduct of the action, and scarce a line which does not conduce to the progress of the scene. So powerful is the current of the poet's imagination, that the mind, which once ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly along.
On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct it may be observed, that he is represented according to histories at that time vulgarly received as true. And, perhaps, if we turn our thoughts upon the barbarity and ignorance of the age to which this story is referred, it will appear not so unlikely as while we estimate Lear's manners by our own. Such preference of one daughter to another, or resignation of dominion on such conditions, would be yet credible, if told of a petty prince of Guinea or Madagascar. Shakespeare, indeed, by the mention of his earls and dukes, has given us the idea of times more civilized, and of life regulated by softer manners; and the truth is, that though he so nicely discriminates, and so minutely describes the characters of men, he commonly neglects and confounds the characters of ages, by mingling customs ancient and modern, English and foreign.
My learned friend Mr. Warton, who has in the Adventurer very minutely criticised this play, remarks, that the instances of cruelty are too savage and shocking, and that the intervention of Edmund destroys the simplicity of the story. These objections may, I think, be answered, by repeating, that the cruelty of the daughters is an historical fact, to which the poet has added little, having only drawn it into a series by dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologize with equal plausibility for the extrusion of Glo'ster's eyes, which seems an act too horrid to be endured in dramatic exhibition, and such as must always compel the mind to relieve its distress by incredulity. Yet let it be remembered that our author well knew what would please the audience for which he wrote.
The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the action is abundantly recompensed by the addition of variety, by the art with which he is made to co-operate with the chief design, and the opportunity which he gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and connecting the wicked son with the wicked daughters, to impress this important moral, that villainy is never at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last terminate in ruin.
But though this moral be incidentally enforced, Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and, what is yet more strange, to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified by The Spectator, who blames Tate for giving Cordelia success and happiness in his alteration, and declares, that, in his opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty. Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to secure the favourable reception of Cato, the town was poisoned with much false and abominable criticism, and that endeavours had been used to discredit and decry poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life: but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or, that if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.
In the present case the public has decided. Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I night relate, I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.
There is another controversy among the critics concerning this play. It is disputed whether the predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. Mr. Murphy, a very judicious critic, has evinced by induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil. He observes with great justness, that Lear would move our compassion but little, did we not rather consider the injured father than the degraded king.
The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom Hollinshed generally copied; but perhaps immediately from an old historical ballad. My reason for believing that the play was posterior to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tempest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications: it first hinted Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. The writer of the ballad added something to the history, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had seen Shakespeare. [Johnson appends "A lamentable SONG of the Death of King Leir and his Three Daughters"]