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What! have his daughters brought him to this pass?
And when Kent assures him that the beggar hath no daughters, he hastily answers;
Death, traitor, nothing could have subdued nature
Afterwards, upon the calm contemplation of the misery of Edgar, he breaks out into the following serious and pathetic reflection : ‘Thou wert better in thy grave, than to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies. Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three of us are sophisticated. Thou art the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more than such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings! Come, unbutton here.'
Shakspeare has no where exhibited more inimitable strokes of his art than in this uncommon scene, where he has so well conducted even the natural jargon of the beggar, and the jestings of the fool, which in other hands must have sunk into burlesque, that they contribute to heighten the pathetic to a very high degree.
The heart of Lear having been agitated and torn by a conflict of such opposite and tumultuous passions, it is not wonderful that his 'wits should now begin to unsettle.' The first plain indication of the loss of his reason is his calling Edgar a ' learned Theban ;' and telling Kent that he will keep still with his philosopher.' When he next appears, he imagines he is punishing his daughters. The imagery is extremely strong, and chills one with horror to read it;
To have a thousand with red burning spits
As the fancies of lunatics have an extraordinary force and liveliness, and render the objects of their frenzy as it were present to their eyes, Lear actually thinks himself suddenly restored to his kingdom, and seated in judgment to try his daughters for their cruelties :
I'll see their trial first; bring in the evidence.
Here he imagines that Regan escapes out of his hands, and he eagerly exclaims,
Stop her there.
False justicer, why hast thou let her 'scape ? A circumstance follows that is strangely moving indeed ; for he fancies that his favourite domestic creatures, that used to fawn upon and caress him, and of which he was eminently fond, have now their tempers changed, and join to insult him :
The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart, see! they bark at me. He again resumes his imaginary power, and orders them to anatomize Regan ; 'See what breeds about her heart.--Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts! You, Sir,' speaking to Edgar, ‘I entertain for one of my Hundred;' a circumstance most artfully introduced to remind us of the first affront he received, and to fix our thoughts on the causes of his distraction.
General criticism is on all subjects useless and unentertaining, but is more than commonly absurd with respect to Shakspeare, who must be accompanied step by step, and scene by scene, in his gradual developements of characters and passions, and whose finer features must be singly pointed out, if we would do complete justice to his genuine beauties. It would have been easy to have declared, in general terms, that the madness of Lear was very natural and pathetic;' and the reader might then have escaped, what he may, perhaps, call a multitude of well-known quotations : but then it had been impossible to exhibit a perfect picture of the secret workings and changes of Lear's mind, which vary in each succeeding passage, and which render an allegation of each particular sentiment absolutely necessary.
Adventurer, No. 116, December 15, 1753.
OBSERVATIONS ON KING LEAR CONCLUDED.
Madness being occasioned by a close and continued attention of the mind to a single object, Shakspeare judiciously represents the resignation of his crown to daughters so cruel and unnatural, as the particular idea which has brought on the distraction of Lear, and which perpetually recurs to his imagination, and mixes itself with all his ramblings. Full of this idea, therefore, he breaks out abruptly in the Fourth Act: ‘No, they cannot touch me for coining: I am the king himself.' He believes himself to be raising recruits, and censures the inability and unskilfulness of some of his soldiers : ‘There's your press-money. That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper : draw me a clothier's yard. Look, look, a mouse! Peace, peace: this piece of toasted cheese will do it.' The art of our poet is transcendent in thus making a passage that even borders on burlesque, strongly expressive of the madness he is painting. Lear suddenly thinks himself in the field; there's my gauntlet—I'll prove it on a giant !—and that he has shot his arrow successfully : 0 well-flown barb! i’th clout, i'th clout: hewgh! give the word.' He then recollects the falsehood and cruelty of his daughters, and breaks out in some pathetic reflections on his old age, and on the tempest to which he was so lately exposed : ‘Ha! Gonerill, ha! Regan! They flattered me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs on my beard, ere the black ones were there. To say, Ay, and No, to every thing that I said-Ay and No too, was no good divinity. When the rain came to wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter; when the thunder would not peace at my bidding; there I found 'em, there I smelt 'em out. Go to, they're not men of their words; they told me I was every thing: 'tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.' The impotence of royalty to exempt its possessor, more than the meanest subject, from suffering natural evils, is here finely hinted at.
His friend and adherent Gloster, having been lately deprived of sight, enquires if the voice he hears is not the voice of the king ; Lear instantly catches the word, and replies with great quickness,
-Ay, every inch a king;
Adultery? no, thou shalt not die; die for adultery? He then makes some very severe reflections on the hypocrisy of lewd and abandoned women, and adds, Fie, fie, fie; pah, pah; give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination ;' and as every object seems to be present to the
eyes of the lunatic, he thinks he pays for the drug: 'there's money for thee ! Very strong and