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Here passion prompts each short expressive speech ;
Or silence paints what words can never reach.

J. W.

When Jocasta, in Sophocles, has discovered that Edipus was the murderer of her husband, she immediately leaves the stage; but in Corneille and Dryden she continues on it during a whole scene, to bewail her destiny in set speeches. I should be guilty of insensibility and injustice, if I did not take this occasion to acknowledge, that I have been more moved and delighted by hearing this single line spoken by the only actor of the age who understands and relishes these little touches of nature, and therefore the only one qualified to personate this most difficult character of Lear, than by the most pompous speeches in Cato or Tamerlane.

That Garrick, who is here alluded to, had great merit in giving to his representation of Lear a more natural, touching, and impassioned tone than had previously been effected, tradition has uniformly asserted; nor was the acting of Mr. Kemble in this part perhaps less entitled to praise; but, notwithstanding the efforts of these accomplished performers, I cannot but be of opinion with Mr. Lamb, where, speaking of the almost insuperable difficulty of justly representing this sublimely impassioned character, he tells us, in language which may be said to form a most magnificent picture of the afflicted monarch, that “they (the actors) might more easily propose to personate the Satan of Milton upon a stage, or one of Michael Angelo's terrible figures. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual : the explosions of his passion are terrible as a volcano; they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that sea, his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his In the next scene, the old king appears in a very distressful situation. He informs Regan, whom he believes to be still actuated by filial tenderness, of the cruelties he had suffered from her sister Gonerill in very pathetic terms :

Beloved Regan,
Thy sister's naught.--- Regan! she hath tied
Sharp-tooth'd unkindness, like a vulture, here.
I scarce can speak to thee-thou'lt not believe,
With how deprav'd a quality-- Regan !

It is a stroke of wonderful art in the poet to represent him incapable of specifying the particular ill usage he has received, and breaking off thus abruptly, as if his voice was choked by tenderness and resentment.

When Regan counsels him to ask her sister for

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 infirmities and weakness, the impotence of rage; 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 daughters and storms; in the aberrations of his reason, we discover a mighty irregular power of reasoning, immethodized from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers, as the wind blows where it listeth, at will upon 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 the voice or the eye to do with these things ?"-Lamb's Works, vol. 2, p. 25.


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giveness, he falls on his knees with a very striking kind of irony, and asks her how such supplicating language as this becometh him:

Dear daughter, I confess that I am old;
Age is unnecessary: on my knees I beg,

That you'll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food. But being again exhorted to sue for reconciliation, the advice wounds him to the quick, and forces him into execrations against Gonerill, which, though they chill the soul with horror, are yet well suited to the impetuosity of his temper:

She hath abated me of half my train;
Look'd black upon me; struck me with her tongue,
Most serpent-like, upon the very heart-
All the stor’d vengeances of heaven fall
On her ungrateful top! Strike her young bones,
Ye taking airs, with lameness !
Ye nimble lightnings, dart your blinding flames
Into her scornful eyes !

The wretched king, little imagining that he is to be outcast from Regan also, adds very movingly;

'Tis not in thee
To grudge my pleasures, to cut off my train,
To bandy hasty words, to scant my sizes.-

-Thou better know'st
The offices of nature, bond of childhood-
Thy half o'th' kingdom thou hast not forgot,
Wherein I thee endow'd-

That the hopes he had conceived of tender usage from Regan should be deceived, heightens his distress to a great degree. Yet it is still aggravated and increased by the sudden appearance of Gonerill; upon the unexpected sight of whom he exclaims,

-Who comes here? O heavens !
If you do love old men, if your sweet sway
Allow obedience, if yourselves are old,

Make it your cause, send down and take my part ! This address is surely pathetic beyond expression; it is scarce enough to speak of it in the cold terms of criticism. There follows a question to Gonerill, that I have never read without tears :

Ar't not asham'd to look upon this beard? This scene abounds with many noble turns of passion, or rather conflicts of


passions. The inhuman daughters urge him in vain, by all the sophistical and unfilial arguments they were mistresses of, to diminish the number of his train. He answers them by only four poignant words:

I gave you all! When Regan at last consents to receive him, but without any attendants, for that he might be served by her own domestics, he can no longer contain his disappointment and rage. First he appeals to the Heavens, and points out to them a spectacle that is, indeed, inimitably affecting :

You see me here, ye gods! a old man, As full of griefs as age, wretched in both : If it be you that stir these daughters' hearts Against their father, fool me not so much To bear it tamely !


Then suddenly he addresses Gonerill and Regan in the severest terms, and with the bitterest threats :

No, you unnatural hags!
I will have such revenges on you both-
That all the world shall— I will do such things-
What they are yet, I know not-

Nothing occurs to his mind severe enough for them to suffer, or him to inflict. His passion rises to a height that deprives him of articulation. He tells them that he will subdue his sorrow, though almost irresistible; and that they shall not triumph over his weakness :

You think I'll weep!
No! I'll not weep; I have full cause of weeping:
But this heart shall break into a thousand flaws,

Or e'er I'll weep!
He concludes,

O fool-I shall go mad !

which is an artful anticipation, that judiciously prepares us for the dreadful event that is to follow in the succeeding acts.


Adventurer, No. 113, December 4, 1753,

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