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F. J. FURNIVALL, M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt.
ASSISTED BY JOHN MUNRO
KING LEAR. — “ This play resembles a stormy night. The first scene is like a wild sunset, grand and awful, with gusts of wind and mutterings of thunder, presaging the coming storm. Then comes
a furious tempest of crime and madness, through which we see dimly the monstrous and unnatural forms of Goneril and Regan, Cornwall and Edmund, and hear ever and anon the wild laugh of the Fool, the mad howls of Lear, and the low moan of the blind Gloster; while afar off a ray of moonlight breaks through the clouds, and throws its silvery radiance on the queenly figure of Cordelia standing calm and peaceful in the storm, like an angel of truth and purity amid the raging strife of a sinful and blood-stained world. At the last, one great thunder-clap of death : the tempest ceases, and in the grey light of a cloudy dawn we see the corpses lying stiff and stark, the innocent and the guilty alike whelmed in the blind rage of Fate" (Florence O'Brien).1 Lear is especially the play of
This passage was written by one who had never heard of Coleridge's comments on Shakspere, and had never seen his words, which I had long forgotten too :-"In the Shaksperian drama there
the breach of family ties; the play of horrors, unnatural cruelty to fathers, brothers, sisters, by those who should have loved them dearest. Not content with unsexing one woman, as in Macbeth, Shakspere has in Lear unsext two. Not content with making Lear's daughters treat him with cruel ingratitude, Shakspere has also made Edmund plot against his brother's and father's lives. Lear is a race-play too. It shows the Keltic passion, misjudgment, and superstition, as in Glendower of 1 Henry IV., in Macbeth and Cymbeline. Goneril' and Regan are like the ghoul-like hags of the French Revolution. A few links with Othello may be named. Desdemona and her love for her father being subordinate to that for her husband, are the same as Cordelia’s. Othello, at the end of the play, has seen the day that with
this good sword ” he'd have made his way through twenty times their stop, and Lear, too, at the end of this play, has seen the day that with his “good falchion he would have made them skip. With Macbeth we may compare the witches, the Keltic king, the ingratitude of Macbeth to Duncan, as of Lear's daughters to him, while the terrible fierceness of Lady Macbeth is but the preparation for the more fiend-like Goneril and Regan. Under All's Well we is a vitality which grows and evolves itself from within, a key-note, which guides and controls the harmonies throughout. What is Lear It is storm and tempest-the thunder at first grumbling in the far horizon-then gathering around us, and at length bursting in fury over our heads-succeeded by a breaking of the clouds for a while, a last flash of lightning, the closing-in of night, and the single hope of darkness.”-Lit. Rem., ii. 104.
Compare Shallow in Merry Wives, II. i. pp. 53-54_"I have seen the time, with my long sword I would have made you four tall fellows skip like rats.
have already noted the likeness of the king's shine and hail at once to Cordelia's sunshine and rain at once," her smiles and tears. Lear, as first presented to us, is so self-indulgent and unrestraind, has been so foold to the top of his bent, is so terribly unjust, not only to Cordelia, but to Kent, that one feels hardly any punishment can be too great for him. The motive that he puts to draw forth the desired expression of affection from Cordelia, Do profess love to get a big reward,” is such that no girl with true love for a father could leave unrepudiated ; and when his proposal gets the answer it deserves, he meets his daughter's nobleness by curses and revenge. Stript by his own act of his own authority,” his Fool 3 with bitter sarcasm teaches him what a fool he's been. And few can regret that he was made to feel a bite even sharper than a serpent's tooth. Still one is glad to see that he was early struggling against his own first wild passion, and that he would blame
1 I can't help thinking that if Lear had asked the question as One asked it, free from selfishness of heart, “Lovest thou me more than these?” the answer would not have been unlike Peter's, " Thou knowest that I love thee."-E. H. Hickey. Probably, as Prof. March suggests, Cordelia already lovd the King of France. Compare Rosa. lind's "What talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando?"-As You Like It, III. iv. p. 92.
2 The folly of parents giving up their property to their children, was often dwelt on by early English writers. It is so by Robert of Brunne : see the tale he tells about it in_iny edition of His Handlyng Synne (written A.D. 1303), pp. 37-9, Roxb. Club, p. 40-2, E. E. Text Soc.
s Note the growth in depth and tenderness of Shakspere's fools as he advances from his First Period. The late Mr. Grant White said in the Galaxy, January, 1877, p. 72:-"In King Lear the Fool rises into heroic proportions, and becomes a sort of conscience, or second thought, to Lear. Compared even with Touchstone he is very much more elevated, and shows not less than Hamlet, or than Lear himself, the grand development of Shakspere's mind at this period of maturity." See Mr. Hetherington on this in Cornhill Mag., 1881.
his own jealous curiosity before seeing Goneril's purpose of unkindness. One sympathises with his prayer to Heaven to keep him in temper—" he would not be mad” --with his acquirement of some self-control, when excusing the hot duke's insolence by his illness. One sees tho' how he still measures love by the allowances of knights it will give him; and it is not till driven out to the mercy of the winds and storm, till he knows that he is but a poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man,” till he can think of the poor naked wretches of whom he has before taken too little care, that one pities the sufferer for the consequences of his own folly. When he recovers from his madness and has come to the knowledge of himself, has found, smelt out, those flatterers who 'd destroy him, then is he more truly “every inch a king,” though cut to the brains, than ever he was before. The pathos of his recognition of Cordelia, his submission to her, and seeking her blessing, his lamentation over her corpse, are exceeded by nothing in Shakspere. Professor Spalding dwells on the last scene as an instance of how Shakspere got his most intense effects by no grand situation like Massinger did, like Shakspere himself did in earlier time, but out of the simplest materials. Spalding says,
“ The horrors which have gathered so thickly throughout the last act are carefully removed to the background,
1 I intentionally keep up the historic use of like as a conjunction, as my friend William Morris did. Originally “like as junction, and “like to” the preposition. Then the as and to dropt ofi, and like became both conjunction and preposition, though some folk who don't know the history of the change object to the conjunctional use of “like
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but free room is left for the sorrowful group on which every eye is turned. The situation is simple in the extreme; but how tragically-moving are the internal convulsions, for the representation of which the poet has worthily husbanded his force. Lear enters with frantic cries, bearing the body of his dead daughter in his arms; he alternates between agitating doubts and wishful unbelief of her death, and piteously experiments on the lifeless corpse ; he bends over her with the dotage of an old man's affection, and calls to mind the soft lowness of her voice, till he fancies he can hear its murmurs. Then succeeds the dreadful torpor of despairing insanity, during which he receives the most cruel tidings with apathy, or replies to them with wild incoherence ; and the heart flows forth at the close with its last burst of love only to break in the vehemence of its emotion, commencing with the tenderness of regret, swelling into choking grief, and at last, when the eye catches the tokens of mortality in the dead, snapping the chords of life in an agonised horror.” "With all his quick passion, his fierce Keltic nature," says Mr. Munro, Lear could love deeply and tenderly. On the storm-swept heath, in the howl of the wind, the pitiless driving of the rain and the flash of the lightning, his first thought is for the Fool whom he loves : ‘In, boy, go first;' and all the memory of the loves of earlier days, and the bitter remembrance of the wrong he had done her and of his own sufferings, come to him as he gazes on the fair face of his dead Cordelia, and find expression in those terrible Nevers /