William Shakespeare.

The dramatic works of William Shakspeare... embracing a life of the poet, and notes, original and selected (Volume 7) online

. (page 1 of 37)
Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe dramatic works of William Shakspeare... embracing a life of the poet, and notes, original and selected (Volume 7) → online text (page 1 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook
































THE story of King Lear and his Three Daughters was originally told
by Geffrey of Monmouth, from whom Holinshed transcribed it ; and in
his Chronicle, Shakspeare had certainly read it ; but he seems to have
been more indebted to the old anonymous play, entitled The True
Chronicle Hystorie of Leire, King of England, and his Three Daughters,
Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordelia ; 1605. A play with that title was entered
on the Stationers books by Edward White, May 14, 1594 ; and there are
two other entries of the same piece, May 8, 1605, and Nov. 26, 1607.
From the Mirror of Magistrates, Shakspeare has taken the hint for the
behavior of the steward, and the reply of Cordelia to her father concern
ing her future marriage. The episode of Gloucester and his sons must
have been borrowed from Sidney s Arcadia, no trace of it being found in
the other sources of the fable. The reader will also find the story of
King Lear in the second book and tenth canto of Spenser s Faerie
Queene, and in the fifteenth chapter of the third book of Warner s
Albion s England. Camden, in his Remaines, under the head of Wise
Speeches, tells a similar story to this of Lear, of Ina, king of the West
Saxons ; which, if the thing ever happened, probably was the real origin
of the fable. The story has found its way into many ballads and other
metrical pieces ; one ballad will be found in Dr. Percy s Reliques of
Ancient English Poetry, vol. i. 3d edit. The story is also to be found in
the unpublished Gesta Romanorum, and in the Romance of Perceforest
The whole of this play could not have been written till after 1603.
Harsnet s Declaration of Popish Impostures, to which it contains so many
references, and from which the fantastic names of several spirits are


borrowed, was not published till that year. It must have been produced
before the Christmas of 1GOG; for, in the entry of Lear on the Stationers
Register, on the 2Gth of November, 1G07, it is expressly recorded to have
been played, during the preceding Christmas, before his majesty at
Whitehall. Malone places the date of the composition in 1005 ; Dr.
Drake in 1G04.

" Of this noble tragedy, one of the first productions of the noblest of
poets, it is scarcely possible to express our admiration in adequate terms
Whether considered as an effort of art, or as a picture of the passions, it
is entitled to the highest praise. The two portions of which the fable
consists, involving the fate of Lear and his daughters, and of Gloster and
his sons, influence each other in so many points, and are blended with
such consummate skill, that whilst the imagination is delighted by diver
sity of circumstances, the judgment is equally gratified in viewing their
mutual cooperation towards the final result ; the coalescence being so
intimate, as not only to preserve the necessary unity of action, but to
constitute one of the greatest beauties of the piece.

"Such, indeed, is the interest excited by the structure and concate
nation of the story, that the attention is not once suffered to flag. By a
rapid succession of incidents, by sudden and overwhelming vicissitudes,
by the most awful instances of misery and destitution, by the boldest
contrariety of characters, are curiosity and anxiety kept progressively
increasing, ana with an impetus so strong as nearly to absorb every
faculty of the mind and every feeling of the heart.

" Victims of frailty, of calamity, or of vice, in an age remote and
barbarous, the actors in this drama are brought forward with a strength
of coloring, which, had the scene been placed in a more civilized era,
might have been justly deemed too dark and ferocious, but is not discor
dant with the earliest heathen age of Britain. The effect of this style
of characterization is felt, occasionally, throughout the entire play ; but
it is particularly visible in the delineation of the vicious personages of the
drama; the parts of Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and Cornwall, being loaded
not only with ingratitude of the deepest dye, but with cruelty of the most
savage and diabolical nature: they are the criminals, in fact, of an age
where vice may be supposed to reign with lawless and gigantic power,
and in which the extrusion of Closter s eyes might be such an event as


not unfrequently occurred. Had this mode of casting his characters in
the extreme, been applied to the remainder of the dramatis personce, we
should have lost some of the finest lessons of humanity and wisdom that
ever issued from the pen of an uninspired writer ; but, with the exception
of a few coarsenesses, which remind us of the barbarous period to which
the story is referred, and of a few incidents rather revolting to credibility,
hut which could not be detached from the original narrative, the virtuous
agents of the play exhibit the manners and the feelings of civilization,
and are of that mixed fabric which can alone display a just portraiture
of the nature and composition of our species.

" The characters of Cordelia and Edgar, it is true, approach nearly
to perfection; but the filial virtues of the former are combined with such
exquisite tenderness of heart, and those of the latter, with such bitter
humiliation and suffering, that grief, indignation, and pity, are instantly
excited. Very striking representations are also given of the rough fidelity
of Kent, and of the hasty credulity of Glostev ; but it is in delineating the
passions, feelings, and afflictions of Lear, that our Poet has wrought up
a picture of human misery which has never been surpassed, and which
agitates the soul with the most overpowering emotions of sympathy and

" The conduct of the unhappy monarch having been founded merely
on the impulses of sensibility, and not on any fixed principle or rule of
action, no sooner has he discovered the baseness of those on whom he
had relied, and the fatal mistake into which he had been hurried by the
delusions of inordinate fondness and extravagant expectation, than he
feels himself bereft of all consolation and resource. Those to whom he
had given all, for whom he had stripped himself of dignity and power,
and on whom he had centred every hope of comfort and repose in his
old age, his inhuman daughters, having not only treated him with utter
coldness and contempt, but sought to deprive him of all the respectability,
and even of the very means of existence, what, in a mind so constituted
as Lear s, the sport of intense and ill-regulated feeling, and tortured by
the reflection of having deserted the only child who loved him, what but
madness could be expected as the result? It was, in fact, the necessary
consequence of the reciprocal action of complicated distress and morbid
sensibility; and, in describing the approach of this dreadful infliction,. in


tracing its progress, its height, and subsidence, our Poet has displayed
such an intimate knowledge of the workings of the human intellect, under
all its aberrations, as would afford an admirable study for the inquirer into
mental physiology. He has, also, in this play, as in that of Hamlet, finely
discriminated between real and assumed insanity; Edgar, amidst all the
wild imagery which his imagination has accumulated, never touching on
the true source of his misery ; whilst Lear, on the contrary, finds it asso
ciated with every object and every thought, however distant or dissimilar.
Not even the Orestes of Euripides, or the Clementina of Richardson, can,
as pictures of disordered reason, be placed in competition with this of
Lear: it maybe pronounced, indeed, from its truth and completeness,
beyond the reach of rivalry." *

An anonymous writer, who has instituted a comparison between the
Lear of Shakspeare and the CEdipus of Sophocles, and justly given the
palm to the former, closes his essay with the following sentence, to which
every reader of taste and feeling will subscribe : "There is no detached
character in Shakspeare s writings which displays so vividly as this the
hand and mind of a master ; which exhibits so great a variety of excel
lence, and such amazing powers of delineation ; so intimate a knowledge
of the human heart, with such exact skill in tracing the progress and the
effects of its more violent and more delicate passions. It is in the man
agement of this character, more especially, that he fills up that grand idea
of a perfect poet, which we delight to image to ourselves, but despair of
seeing realized." f

In the same work from whence this is extracted, will be found an
article, entitled " Theatralia," attributed to the pen of Mr. Charles Lamb,
in which arc the following striking animadversions on the liberty taken
in changing the catastrophe of this tragedy in representation: "The
Lear of Shakspeare cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery with
which they mimic the storm lie goes out in, is not more inadequate to
represent the horrors of the real elements, than any actor can be to rep
resent Lear. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in
intellectual : the explosions of his passions are terrible as a volcano ; they

storms turning up, and disclosing to the bottom, that rich sea, his

* Drake s Shakspeare, and his Times, vol. ii. p. -100.

f The Reflector, vol. ii. p. 139, cm Greek and English Tragedy.


mind, with all its vast riches : it is his mind which is laid bare. This
case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on ; even as
he himself neglects it. On the stage, we see nothing but corporal in
firmities and weakness, the impotence of age ; while we read it, we see
not Lear, but we are Lear, we are in his mind ; we are sustained by a
grandeur which baffles the malice of his daughters and storms ; in the
aberrations of his reason, we discover a mighty, irregular power of rea
soning, unmethodized from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its
powers, as the wind blows where it listeth, at will on the corruptions and
abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones to do with that sublime
identification of his age with that of the heavens themselves, when, in his
reproaches to them for conniving at the injustice of his children, he
reminds them that they themselves are old ! What gesture shall we
appropriate to this ? What has voice or the eye to do with such things ?
But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it show ; it is too
hard and stony ; it must have love-scenes, and a happy ending. It is not
enough that Cordelia is a daughter, she must shine as a lover too. Fate
has put his hook in the nostrils of this leviathan, for Garrick and his
followers, the showmen of the scene, to draw it about more easily. A
happy ending ! as if the living martyrdom that Lear had gone through,
the flaying of his feelings alive, did not make a fair dismissal from the
stage of life the only decorous thing for him. If he is to live and be
happy after, if he could sustain this world s burden after, why all this
pudder and preparation? why torment us with all this unnecessary
sympathy ? as if the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and
sceptre again could tempt him to act over again his misused station,
as if, at his years, and with his experience, any thing was left but to die *


LEAR, King of Britain.

King of France.

Duke of Burgundy.

Duke of Cornwall.

Duke of Albany.

Earl of Kent.

Earl of Gloster.

EDGAR, Son to Gloster.

EDMUND, Bastard Son to Gloster.

CURAN, a Courtier.

Old Man, Tenant to Gloster.

Physician. Fool.

OSWALD, Steward to GoneriL

An Officer, employed by Edmund.

Gentleman, Attendant on Cordelia.

A Herald.

Servants to Cornwall.


REGAN, V Daughters to Lear.


Knights attending on the King, Officers, Messengers,
Soldiers, and Attendants.

SCENE. Britain.



SCENE I. A Room of State in King Lear s Palace.


Kent. I THOUGHT the king had more affected the
duke of Albany, than Cornwall.

Glo. It did always seem so to us ; but now, in the
divisioh of the kingdom, 1 it appears not which of the
dukes he values most ; for equalities are so weighed,
that curiosity 2 in neither can make choice of cither s
moiety. 3

Kent. Is not this your son, my lord ?

Glo. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge. I
have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I
am brazed to it.

Kent. I cannot conceive you.

Glo. Sir, this young fellow s mother could : where
upon she grew round-wombed ; and had, indeed, sir, a
son for her cradle, ere she had a husband for her bed.
Do you smell a fault?

1 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 Gloster only were privy to his design,
which he still kept in his own hands, to be changed or performed as sub
sequent reasons should determine him.

2 Curiosity is scrupulous exactness.

3 Moiety is used by Shakspeare for part or portion.



Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of
it being so proper. 1

Glo. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some
year elder than this, who jet is no dearer in my ac
count. Though this knave came somewhat saucily into
the world before he was sent for, yet w r as his mother
fair ; there was good sport at his making, and the
whoreson must be acknowledged.- Do you know this
noble gentleman, Edmund ?

Edm. No, my lord.

Glo. My lord of Kent. Remember him hereafter as
my honorable friend.

Edm. My services to your lordship.

Kent. I must love you, and sue to know you better.

Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving.

Glo. He hath been out nine years, and away he
shall again. The king is coming.

[Trumpets sound within.

CORDELIA, and Attendants.

Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy,

Glo. I shall, my liege.

Lear. Mean time we shall express our darker 2 pur-

" pose.

Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom ; and tis our fast intent 3
To shake; all cares and business from our age ;
Conferring 5 them on younger strengths, while we,
Unburdened, crawl toward death. Our son of Corn
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,

1 Proper is comely, handsome.

i. e. more secret. The sense is, " We have already made known our
desire of parting the kingdom. We will now discover the reasons by
which we shall regulate the partition."

e. our determined resolution. The quartos read "first intent."
* J he quartos road confirming.


We have this hour a constant will * to publish

Our daughters several dowers, that future strife

May be prevented now. The princes, France and


Great rivals in our youngest daughter s love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters,
(Since now we will divest us, both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state, 2 )
Which of you, shall we say, doth love us most ?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where merit doth most challenge it. Goneril,
Our eldest- born, speak first.

Gon. Sir, I

Do love yoft more than words can wield the matter,
Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty ;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare ;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor ;
As much as child e er loved, or father found.
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable ;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you. 3

Cor. What shall Cordelia do ? Love, and be silent.


Lear. Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,
With shadowy forests and with champains riched, 4
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,
We make thee lady. To thine and Albany s issue
Be this perpetual. What says our second daughter,
Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall ? Speak.

Reg. I am made of that self metal as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. 5 In my true heart

1 A firm, determined will. The lines from while we to prevented now
are omitted in the quartos.

2 The two lines in a parenthesis are omitted in the quartos.

3 " 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."

4 i. e. enriched. So Drant in his translation of Horace s Epistles,

" To ritch his country, let his words lyke flowing water fall."

5 That is, " estimate me at her value ; my love has at least equal claim
to your favor. Only she comes short of me in this, that I profess myself


I find, she names my very deed of love ;

Only she comes too short, that I profess

Myself an enemy to all other joys,

Which the most precious square of sense possesses ;

And find I am alone felicitate

In your dear highness love.

r . Then poor Cordelia ! [Aside.

And yet not so ; since, I am sure, my love s
More richer than my tongue.

Lear. To thee, and thine, hereditary ever,
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom ;
No less in space, validity, 1 and pleasure,
Than that conferred 2 on Goneril. Now, our joy,
Although the last, not least ; to whose young love
The vines of France, and milk of Burgundy,
Strive to be interessed : 3 what can you say, to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

Cor. Nothing, my lord.

Lear. Nothing ?

Cor. Nothing.

Lear. Nothing can come of nothing; speak again.

Cor. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond ; nor more, nor less.

Lear. How, how, Cordelia? mend your speech a

Lest it may mar your fortunes.

Cor. Good my lord,

You have begot me, bred me, loved me ; I
Return those duties back as are right fit,

an enemy to all other joys which the most precious aggregation of sense
can bestow." Square is here used for the whole, complement, as circle is
now sometimes used.

1 Validity is several times used to signify ivorth, value, by Shakspeare.
It does not, however, appear to have been peculiar to him in this sense.

~ The folio reads conferred ; the quartos, confirmed. So in a former
passage \ve have in the quartos confirming for conferring. The word
i-tntjinn might be used in this connection in a legal sense, as it is in instru-
im nts of conveyance.

- To interest and to intcresse are not, perhaps, different spellings of the
same verb, but two distinct words, though of the same import We
have inttressed in Ben Jonson s Sejanus. Drayton also uses the word in
the Preface to his Polyolbion.


Obey you, love you, and most honor you.

Why have my sisters husbands, if they say,

They love you all ? Haply, when I shall wed,

That lord, whose hand must take my plight, shall carry

Half my love with him, half my care, and duty.

Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,

To love my father all.

Lear. But goes this with thy heart ?

Cor. Ay, good my lord.

Lear. So young, and so untender ?

Cor. So young, my lord, and true.

Lear. Let it be so, thy truth then be thy dower ;
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate, and the night ;
By all the operations of the orbs,
From whom we do exist, and cease to be ;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, forever. The barbarous Scythian,,
Or he that makes his generation l messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.

Kent. Good my liege,

Lear. Peace, Kent !

Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
I loved her most, and thought to set my rest
On her kind nursery. Hence, and avoid my sight !


So be my grave my peace, as here I give
Her father s heart from her ! Call France ; who stirs ?
Call Burgundy. Cornwall, and Albany,
With my two daughters dowers digest this third ;
Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.
I do invest you jointly with my power,
Preeminence, and all the large effects
That troop with majesty. Ourself, by monthly course,
With reservation of a hundred knights,

1 His children.


By you to be sustained, shall our abode

Make with you by due turns. Only we still retain 1

The name, and all the additions 2 to a king ;

The sway,

Revenue, execution of the rest, 3

Beloved sons, be yours ; which to confirm,

This coronet part between you. [Giving the crown.

Kent. Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honored as my king,
Loved as my father, as my master followed,
As my great patron thought on in my prayers,

Lear. The bow is bent and drawn ; make from the

Kent. Let it fall rather, though the fork invade
The region of my heart ; be Kent unmannerly,
When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old

man ?

Think st thou, that duty shall have dread to speak,
When power to flattery bows ? To plainness honor s


When majesty stoops to folly. Reverse thy doom ; 4
And, in thy best consideration, check
This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgment,
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least ;
Nor are those empty-hearted, whose low sound
Reverbs 5 no hollowness.

Lear. Kent, on thy life, no more.

Kent. My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thine enemies, 6 nor fear to lose it,
Thy safety being the motive.

Lear. Out of my sight !

1 Thus the quarto ; folio, " we shall retain."
" All the titles belonging to a king."

3 By the execution of the rest," all the other functions of the kingly
office are probably meant

4 The folio reads, " reserve thy state : " and has falls instead of
" stoops to folly."

5 This is, perhaps, a word of the Poet s own : meaning the same as re

The expression to wage against is used in a letter from Guil. Webbe

> Kobt Wilmot, prefixed to Tancred and Gismund, 1592: "You shall

not be able to wage against me in the charges growing upon this action."

SC. I.]


Kent. See better, Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank l of thine eye.

Lear. Now, by Apollo,

Kent. Now, by Apollo, king,

Thou swear st thy gods in vain.

Lear. O vassal ! miscreant !

[Laying his hand on his sword.

Alb. Corn. Dear sir, forbear.

Kenfr Do;

Kill tfiy physician, and the fee bestow
Upon the foul disease. Revoke thy gift,
Or, whilst I can vent clamor from my throat,
I ll tell thee, thou dost evil.

Lear. Hear me, recreant !

On thine allegiance, hear me !
Since thou hast sought to make us break our vow, ^
(Which we durst never yet,) and, with strained pride,
To come betwixt our sentence and our power,
(Which nor our nature nor our place can bear ;)
Our potency made 2 good, take thy reward.
Five days we do allot thee, for provision
To shield thee from diseases 3 of the world ;
And, on the sixth, to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom. If, on the tenth day following,
Thy banished trunk be found in our dominions,
The moment is thy death. Away ! By Jupiter,
This shall not be revoked.

Kent. Fare thee well, king; since thus thou wilt


Freedom 4 lives hence, and banishment is here.
The gods to their dear shelter take thee, maid,


That justly think st, and hast most rightly said !-
And your large speeches may your deeds approve,


1 The blank is the mark at which men shoot.

2 They to whom I have surrendered my authority, yielding me the
ability to dispense it in this instance." Quarto B. reads "mofee good.

3 Thus the quartos. The folio reads disasters." By diseases are meant
uneasinesses, inconveniences. f

4 The quartos read "Friendship;" and in the next line, instead ot
dear shelter," "protection."


That good effects may spring from words of love.

Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu ;

He ll shape his old course in a country new. [Exit.

Re-enter GLOSTER, with FRANCE, BURGUNDY, and

Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe dramatic works of William Shakspeare... embracing a life of the poet, and notes, original and selected (Volume 7) → online text (page 1 of 37)