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INTRODUCTION

BY

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.1 With Macbelh 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 i 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.

1. 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.

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