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Gent. Your lady, sir, your lady; and her sister By her is poisoned; she hath confessed it."
Edm. I was contracted to them both; all three Now marry in an instant.
Alb. Produce their bodies, be they alive or dead! This judgment of the Heavens, that makes us tremble, Touches us not with pity. [Exit Gentleman.
Alb. O it is he.
The time will not allow the compliment,
Here comes Kent, sir.
Kent. Alack, why thus?
Great thing of us forgot!Speak, Edmund, where's the king? and where's Cordelia ? Seest thou this object, Kent?
[The bodies of GONERIL and REGAN are brought in.
Yet Edmund was beloved. The one the other poisoned for my sake, And after slew herself.
Alb. Even so.-Cover their faces.
Edm. I pant for life:-Some good I mean to do,
1 Thus the quarto. The folio reads "she confesses it.”
Run, run, O, run
Edg. To whom, my lord?-Who has the office? send Thy token of reprieve.
Edm. Well thought on; take my sword,
Give it the captain.
Haste thee, for thy life.
Edm. He hath commission from thy
Alb. The gods defend her! Bear him hence awhile.
Enter LEAR, with CORDELIA dead in his arms; 2 EDGAR,
Lear. Howl, howl, howl, howl!-0, you are men
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
Fall, and cease! 4
O my good master! [Kneeling.
Lear. 'Pr'ythee, away,T
1 To fordo signifies to destroy. It is used again in Hamlet.
2 The old historians say that Cordelia retired with victory from the battle, which she conducted in her father's cause, and thereby replaced him on the throne; but in a subsequent one fought against her (after the death of the old king), by the sons of Regan and Goneril, she was taken, and died miserably in prison. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the original relater of the story, says that she killed herself.
3 Kent, in contemplating the scene before him, recollects those passages of St. Mark's Gospel, in which Christ foretells to his disciples the end of the world; and hence his question. To which Edgar adds, Or only a representation or resemblance of that horror.
4 To cease is to die. "Rather fall, and cease to be at once, than con tinue in existence only to be wretched."
[Exit EDGAR. wife and me
I might have saved her; now she's gone forever!
Did I not, fellow?
Kent. If Fortune brag of two she loved and hated,
Lear. This is a dull sight:2 Are you not Kent?
Kent. That, from your first of difference and decay,
You are welcome hither. Kent. Nor no man else; all's cheerless, dark, and deadly.
Your eldest daughters have fore-doomed themselves,
Ay, so I think.
Alb. He knows not what he sees; 4 and vain it is
1 "If Fortune, to display the plenitude of her power, should brag of two persons, one of whom she had highly elevated, and the other she had wofully depressed, we now behold the latter." The quarto reads, “She loved or hated," which confirms this sense.
2 Lear means that his eyesight was bedimmed either by excess of grief, or, as is usual, by the approach of death.
3 Thus the quartos: the folio reads foredone, which is probably right See note 1, on page 130.
4 The quarto reads says.
Enter an Officer.
Off. Edmund is dead, my lord.
To him our absolute power.-You, to your rights,
[He dies. He faints!--My lord, my lord,Kent. Break, heart; I pr'ythee, break! Edg.
Look up, my lord. Kent. Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates
That would upon the rack of this tough world
O, he is gone indeed. Kent. The wonder is, he hath endured so long ; He but usurped his life.
Alb. Bear them from hence.-Our present business
1 "This great decay" is Lear.
2 These lines are addressed to Kent as well as to Edgar. Boot is advantage, increase. By honors is meant honorable conduct.
3 This is an expression of tenderness for his dead Cordelia (not his fool, as some have thought), on whose lips he is still intent, and dies while he is searching there for indications of life. "Poor fool," in the age of Shakspeare, was an expression of endearment.
4 The Rev. Dr. J. Warton judiciously observes, that the swelling and heaving of the heart is described by this most expressive circumstance.
Is general woe.
Friends of my soul, you twain [To KENT and EDGAR. Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain. Kent. I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls, and I must not say no.
Alb. The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most; we, that are young, Shall never see so much, nor live so long. [Exeunt, with a dead march.
THE tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakspeare. 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 oppositions 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. Shakspeare, 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 of dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologize with equal plausibility for the extrusion of Gloster'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.