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the brink of insanity, as if his pent-up faculties were exulting in their incipient freedom from the ties that hold them in order; his gradual settling into that innatural calmness which is far more appalling than th: fiercest agitation, because it marks the transition from the breaking down of law to the outbreak of anarchy; the towerings of his soul amid its own ruins during his passage into that perfect hallucination, wherein the mind lends an objective validity to its own lawless and disjointed fancies; his loosening and scattering out the mind's hidden jewels in the mad revel of his unbound and dishevelled faculties, until he finally sinks, brokenhearted and broken-witted, into the sleep of utter prostration ;—all this, joined to the incessant groanings and howlings of the storm; the wild, inspired babblings of the Fool, and the reciprocal gushings of sympathy between him and Lear; the desperate fidelity of Kent, outstripping and preventing the malignities of fortune with his ministries of love; the crazy, bedlamitish jargon of Edgar, whose feigned madness, striking in with Lear's real madness, takes away just enough of its horror and borrows just enough of its dignity to keep either from becoming insupportable, thus begetting harmony from discord itself ;--the whole at last dying away into the soft, sweet, solemn discourse of Cordelia, as if the storm had faltered into music upon her coming ; and winding up with the reviving of Lear, healed, softened and subdued, “his untuned and jarring senses calmed and composed, as if a peace, be still, had fallen upon his mind the moment his feelings recovered their resting place :-in all this we have "a world's convention of agonies,” whereof every reader's emotions must
confess the power, though perhaps no analysis can ever fathom the secret.
Lear's speeches amid the tempest contain, I think, the grandest exhibition of creative power to be met with in i literature. They seern spun out of the very nerves
and sinews of the storm. It is the instinct of strong passion to lay hold of whatever objects and occurrences lie nearest at hand, and twist itself a language out of them, incorporating itself with their substance, and reproducing them o'er-informed with its own life. To Lear, accordingly, and to us in his presence, the storm becomes expressive of filial ingratitude ; seems spitting its fire, and spouting its water, and hurling its blasts against him. Thus the warring tempest," the sheets of fire," the "bursts of horrid thunder," the "groans of roaring wind and rain,” take all their meaning from his mind; are instinct with his passion ; become invisible to him and to us save as instruments and expressions of filial enmity. This is human passion in its utmost stress and outlay of creative energy, literally “drawing all things into one,” moulding and organizing the world, as it were, into the embodiment of a single thought.
“ Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters;
I tax not you, ye elements, with unkindness,
In this plenipotence of imagination, thus seizing and outwrestling and crushing the embattled elements into its service, there is a sublimity almost too vast for our thoughts.
The scene between Edgar and the eyeless Gloster, where the latter is made to believe himself ascending and leaping from the chalky cliff of Dover, is a remarkable instance of the poet's power to overcome the inherent incredibility of a thing by his opulence of description. Great as is the miracle of Gloster's belief, it is authenticated to our feelings by the array of vivid, truthful imagery that induces it. Thus does Shakspeare, as occasion requires, enhance the beauty of his representation, so as to atone for its want of verisimilitude. When a thing cannot be made beautiful by its truth, he makes it too beautiful not to seem true.
It is well known, that a certain "word-joiner” has favoured the world with a Tatification of this play. In like manner certain others have versified the Psalms for us; and then, as in the case of Shakspeare, a portion of Christendom had the good taste to prefer their versification to the Psalms as God and David wrote them. The chief merit of the Tatified Lear was, that the king and Cordelia came off triumphant; so that the play wound up with a happy catastrophe: or rather, in this arrangement the catastrophe is thrown back into the third or fourth act; so that, instead of a drama beginning at one end and ending at the other, we have a nameless thing beginning at both ends and ending in the middle. And yet Dr. Johnson gave to this miserable work the suffrage of his great name. The gift may drag down the giver ; it can never, never raise up
receiver! Tate, however, succeeded in dwarfing and dementing the play, so that the most dull and prosaic mind could relish it; for which cause it has kept and keeps possession of the stage. Why, the catastrophe, as it stands, is the sublimest one in the whole Shakspearian drama. There is an awful beauty in Lear's sighing and gazing his life away over the lifeless form of Cordelia, such as can nowhere else be found ; pathos enough to melt the stubbornest heart, and wring tears of confession from insensibility itself. It is the crowning glory of the whole play, which sets the seal to all the glories that have gone before, and without which they are aimless and meaningless. The cutting out of the precious Fool, and the turning of Cordelia into a sort of lovesick intriguante, feigning indifference in order to cheat and enrage her father, and make him abandon her to a forbidden match with Edgar, completes this shameless, this execrable piece of dementation. Tate improve Lear? Set a tailor at work, rather, to improve Niagara! Withered be the hand, palzied be the arm, that ever dares to touch one of Shakspeare's plays! The same sacrilegious spirit that committed this abominable desecration of them, also undertook to improve some of the finest architecture in England, and of course spoilt it. But Tate lived and worked in and for that age of polished, genteel heathenism, sometimes called the Augustan Age of English literature; an age which, with its barrenness of imagination, and its pride and pruriency of understanding, was of course too wise and too irreligious to produce or appreciate scarce any works of art but such as were resolvable into elegant, lifeless, expressionless surface.
LECTURE X V.
TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO.
DR. JOHNSON'S CRITICISM-IAGO AND RODERIGO.
DR. JOHNSON winds up his excellent remarks on Othello by saying, “Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occasionally narrated, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and scrupulous regularity." This remark of course implies that the play would have been improved by such an alteration. The improvement would have dispensed with the whole of the first act, which, by the way, is among the best things in the poet's works, and favoured us, instead, with various soliloquies on matters of history ; that is, with narrations in the form of soliloquy, but addressed to the audience. In which case the speakers would perform the part of a chorus, making their appearance not so much to carry forward the action, as to bring up the audience while the action stood still : like Edmund in the Tatified Lear, they would come forward talking to themselves indeed, yet saying what had no meaning, but that it was intended for the hearing of others. Here, then, would be two palpable improprieties,—the turning of the actor into an orator by putting him in communication with the audience, and the making him soliloquize matter inconsistent with the nature