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he would serve: his noble but indiscreet and ill-timed endeavours to arrest, only go to aggravate Lear's judgment on Cordelia, while at the same time they provoke a similar judgment on himself; and, afterwards, his generous rashness and “saucy roughness" in behalf of the king, while it draws on himself the malice of the sister fiends, only quickens and sharpens their persecution of Lear. Such is Kent's virtue; beautiful indeed, but unavailing; nay, the more beautiful for the very reason that it miscarries ; so that we cannot help loving the doer most, even when most regretting the deed. But his
“ Virtue gives herself light through darkness for to wade;"
the same noble-heartedness which betrays him into dangers and difficulties, moulds them, as they come, into commodities. His equal attachment to Lear and Cordelia,—an attachment wherein friendship and loyalty go hand in hand,-joined to the sentence which puts it out of his power to serve either, involves him in perplexities wherein I know not whether he discovers more of cunning or of magnanimity. Deprived the opportunities of a loyal subject, and compelled to smuggle in his impassioned loyalty under the disguise of a servant to Lear, he makes his indiscretions-subservient to his goodness;
“entire affection scorneth nicer hands ;” so that he appears noblest in mind when lowest in estate. Such
is the deep divine cunning of virtue; the more it is crushed the more it conquers; “with darkness and with danger compassed round,” it'only breeds occasion thence for still nobler sacrifices; and when apparently sinking under adversities, before we can drop a tear over its fall, it has turned them into opportunities.
In Kent and the Steward we have one of those effective contrasts with which the poet seldom fails to enrich the harmony of his greater efforts. As the former is the soul of goodness clothed in the assembled nobilities of manhood; so the latter is the very extract and embodiment of meanness; two men, than whom, “no contraries hold more antipathy." To call the Steward wicked, would be to slander and abuse the term; he is absolutely beneath censure; an object only of contempt and scorn; one of those convenient packhorses whereon guilt often sides to its ends. Except the task of smoothing the way for the passions of a wicked mistress, there were no employment base enough for him. None but a reptile, like him, could ever have got hatched into notice in such a noisome atmosphere as Goneril's society; otherwise there could not be sympathy enough between them to admit the relation of superior and subaltern. So that, as Coleridge says, “even in this the judgment and invention of the poet are very observable ;--for what else could the willing tool of a Goneril be? Not a vice but this of meanness was left open to him!”
There is a strange assemblage of qualities in the Fool's character, and a strange effect arising from their
union and position, which I am not a little at loss to describe. Coleridge pronounces him a no less wonderful creation than Caliban. He seems almost as necessary to the development of Lear's character as Lear himself is; indeed, he is the common gauge and expo
nent of all the characters about him,--the mirror in • which their finest and deepest lineaments are all re
flected. Though a privileged character, with the largest opportunity of seeing, and the largest liberty of speaking, he everywhere turns his privileges into charities, making the immunities of the clown subservient to the noblest sympathies of the man. He is therefore by no means a mere harlequinian appendage, dealing in pasteboard quirks and antics, and introduced as an act of courtesy to a local demand; but stands in living connection with the highest passion and pathos of the play : his place bringing him the prerogative of entire familiarity with Lear, without abating in the least our regard for him as a man; so that, though we know him for the king's jester, we respect him quite as much and love him rather more than if he were the king's counsellor. A mixture of buffoonery and benevolence, he uses the former but to express the latter, while the latter continually prompts him to the use of the former; and he makes his folly the vehicle of truths which the king will hear in no other shape, but of which he encourages the utterance by scolding thereat; while at the same time his affectionate tenderness sanctifies all his nonsense, and converts his foolishest witticisms into wisdom. His being heralded into our presence by the announcement of his pining away at the loss of Cordelia, sends a consecration before him: that his spirit feeds on her presence,
hallows every thing about him; and even in his jests we feel allowed to "touch what she, by wearing it, hath made divine.” Lear manifestly loves him and cleaves to him, partly for his own sake, and partly because he is all there is left of her who was the joy of his old eyes: for we feel a delicate, scarce-discernible play of sympathy between them on Cordelia's account; the king obviously taking a secret delight in his allusions to her, though he will endure them from nobody else : as a lady in love will sometimes scold her maid for talking, and thereby provoke her to talk the more, of the person whom she would scarce allow another to name in her presence. Lear's touching allusion to the poor Fool,” when Cordelia's death is wringing the cords of his life atwain, and his spirit is struggling to break its prison and follow hers, finishes the story of the love that was between them ;-a love only not so strong as that which was stronger than life, and of which Cordelia was the object. That the Fool's beauty of character triumphs over such disadvantages of place, makes him appear all the more wonderful ; while at the same time Lear is proportionably enhanced in our eye by the fact that his humblest satellite thus turns out a sun.
I know not, therefore, how I can better describe the Fool, than as the soul of pathos in a sort of comic masquerade ; one in whom fun and frolic are sublimed and idealized into tragic beauty; with the garments of mourning showing through and softened by the lawn of playsul
In his “ labouring to outjest Lear's heart-struck injuries,” we see that his wits are set a-dancing by grief; that his jests are secreted from the depths of a heart struggling with pity and sorrow, as foam enwreathes the
face of deeply-troubled waters. So have I seen the lip quiver and the cheek dimple into a smile, to relieve the eye of a burden it was reeling under, yet ashamed to let fall. There is all along a shrinking, velvet-footed delicacy of step in the Fool's antics, as if, awed by the holiness of the ground, they had put the shoes from off their feet; and he seems bringing diversion to our thoughts, that he may the better steal a sense of woe into our hearts; as grief sometimes puts on a face of mirth, and then gets betrayed by its very disguise. It is truly hard to tell whether the inspired antics, which glitter and sparkle from the surface of his mind, be in more impressive contrast with the dark, tragic scenes into which they are thrown, like rockets into a midnight tempest, or with the undercurrent of deep, tragic thoughtfulness out of which they falteringly issue and play.
As Lear himself seems to me the poet's masterpiece of individual characterization, so the third and fourth acts of the play, and especially the parts where Lear appears, seem his masterpiece of dramatic combination. The fierce raging of the elements around the king, and the fiercer raging of the elements within him; the darkness, the lightning, the torrent, and the blast, all appearing mad with enmity against him, and he himself, thus desperately beset and as desperately befriended, outfacing and shaming the terrific convulsions of nature with his more terrific explosions of passion; his preternatural illumination and utterancy of mind when tottering on