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PRINTED FROM THE ACTING COPY, WITH REMARKS,
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL.
To which are added,
A DESCRIPTION OF THE COSTUME, -CAST OF THE CHARACTERS,
ENTRANCES AND EXITS, -RELATIVE POSITIONS OF THE PERFORMERS ON THE STAGE, -AND THE WHOLE OF THE STAGE
As now performed at the
THEATRES ROYAL, LONDON.
EMBELLISHED WITH A FINE WOOD ENGRAVING,
By Mr. WHITE, from a Drawing by Mr. R. CRUIKSHANK.
JOHN CUMBERLAND, 19, LUDGATE HILL.
KING LEAR is, beyond all comparison, the most affecting tragedy that is to be found in any language. A father, in blind confidence, giving up all to his children-those children requiting his parental kindness with scorn and ingratitude, rebelling against him, turning him out to the wild tempest, to desolation and madness,-present a picture so superhaman and appalling, that nature shrinks from the contemplation of it. Yet Shakspeare, in the conduct of this drama, has displayed such wonderful art, that nothing seems overstrained: the effects, however shocking to humanity, result as naturally from their causes, as in the ordinary affairs of life. The madness of Lear is inevitable, since, after such bitter provocation, it was impossible that reason could any longer bold her seat in a mind so formed of passion and sensibility. If it be true, with regard to human calamity, that
“He best can paint it who has felt it most," What shall we say to the madness of Lear, depicted as it is with the utmost grandeur of thought and expression, but that, as every passion of the soul was familiar to Shakspeare, the most mysterious and terrible of them all had engaged his deepest contemplation ? And, whether we consider the ungovernable violence of the unhappy king, in the banishment of Cordelia, and of the faithful Kent; his eredulous fondness in giving up all to his daughters, and relying upon their duty and affection for the support and comfort of his old age ; his rage and disappointment at finding himself deceived; his bitter imprecations on their ingratitude; bis remorse for the ill treatment of her, whose only fault was her sincerity; his madness and death, with all their accompanying horrorema more overwhelming picture of hu. man misery never harrowed up the feelings or crushed the heart.
The prominent feature in the disposition of Lear-a feature characteristic of the rude age in which he is supposed to reign-is impetuo. sity. If he is quick in his affections, he is no less só in his resentments. He is alive to the slightest show of neglect. In the scene where Oswald enters singing, and the physician reminds him that he is entertained with slender ceremony, he replies
“ Say'st thou so? Thou but remember'st me of mine own conception." And, when the ingratitude of Goneril first discovers itself in abating him of half of his train, the dreadful truth bursts full upon his mind, and he exclaims, in an agony of rage and disappointment
« Darkness and devils ! Saddle my borses, call my train together.
Degenerate viper! I'll not stay wit thee." In the subsequent scene before the Earl of Gloster's castle, fresh indignities wait the unhappy king. He discovers his man in the stocks, a sight which swells the spleen upward to his heart. He is then reminded of the fiery quality of the duke, at which he loses all patience, and retorts
My breath and blood! Fiery ? the fiery duke? Tell the hot duke" The goodness of his nature, however, instantly returns, and he addre
« No, but not yet ; may be, he is not well;
I beg his pardon, and I'll chide my rashness
That took the indispos'd and sickly fit
For the sound man." Affronts now follow each other in such rapid succession, he is al. ternately reproved and browbeaten by his disobedient children. He is asked by Goneril
" What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five,
To follow in a house for
“ What need one?” From this moment he loses all power of self-possession, and abandons himself to despair; yet, even in this pitiable state of helplessness and old age, does he threaten his unnatural offspring with future vengeance:
“ I will do such things,
The terrors of the earth.' Till, borne down with unutterable anguish, he rushes out with an ex. clamation prophetic of the heart-rending scene that immediately follows:
“ 0, gods, I shall go mad !” The scene where Lear is turned out in the storm, defies all powers of description. We can feel the force of the poet's genius, even to agony: but we must inherit a portion of that genius, ere we can describe what we feel. Here are no supernatural agents called forth to deepen the horror of the scene-no furies weaving the web of fate. No
“ Iron sleet of arrowy shower
Hurtling through the darken'd air." But a dethroned monarch, an unhappy father, in the simple grandear of unparalleled misery, invoking those “servile ministers," the ele ments, to pour down their extremest vengeance upon his head :
" You sulph'rous and thongbt-executing fires,
Vaunt couriers to oak-cleaving thunberbolts,
Singe my white head." Here we make a stan), and call upon the genius of every age and nation to produce a parallel to this scene. The most affecting image in all antiquity is Priam "supplicating Achilles for the dead body of Hector. But Lear, wandering over the barren heath, amidst storm and tempest, with a broken heart, and a bewildered brain, is so transcendantly sublime and awful, that antiquity must acknowledge the supremacy of Shakspeare, and bow to the immortal. One of the most painful of morbid sensations is the pressure of one idea upon the mind : it absorbs every other feeling, aud finds in objects the most opposite and dissimilar some sad resemblance. Hence, amidst the wild uproar of the elements, Lear remembers but the unkindness 'of his children. The tempest above, is lost in that which rages within his bosom.", Every scene calls forth some fresh image of perfidy ani ingratitude. In his distraction, he fancies himself standing on the threshold of his palace, and his domestic favourites opposing bis en. trance by their clamour: “ The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart,--see, they
bark at me." To this, remorse for his unjust treatment of Cordelia adds an ad. ditional pang.. His anguish is divided between he remembrance of his daughters inhumanity and his own.
The scenes where Lear and Edgar encounter each other, are full of power and imagination. The ravings of assnmed madness are rich in wildness of thought and luxuriance of fancy : the pathetic aberrations of a disordered mind, ever recurring to its own misery, are depicted with a truth that renders the contrast wonderfully impressive. Edgar wanders from subject to subject, from image to image; every object in the material and immaterial world-things, most soul, strange, and unnatural, are called forth with a facility that is any thing but akin to madness. Lear never for one moment wanders from his misfortunes. Thus, when he first beholds Edgar, he exclaims,
« What, have his daughters brought him to this pass !" And when Kent replies
“ He has no daughter, sir,” He passionately retorts
“ Death! Traitor, nothing could have subdu'd nature
To such lowness, but his unkind daughters." Every exclamation bears some affinity to filial ingratitude. At one moment he anticipates vengeance« Right, ha! ba! Was it not pleasant to have a thousand with red
hot Spits come hissing in upon them.”
At another, he fancies that vengeance completed, and exclaims with a ferocity that makes the blood run cold :“ You say right; let 'em anatomize Regan, see what breeds about
her heart." The death of Lear realizes all that can be imagined of human woe. Any future poet who shall carry distress beyond this, may claim even a prouder laurel than Shakspeare.
The singularly wild and grotesque character assumed by Edgar, is that of a Turlupin, or Turlygood, or Bedlam Beggar, one of a fraternity of itinerant rogues who obtained alms by practising the gesticulations of madmen, in the dark ages of superstition. Mr. Douce remarks, that the Turlupins were a fanatical sect, that overrun France, Italy, and Germany, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and that their subsequent appellation of the fraternity of poor men may be the reason why these Bedlam Beggars (one of which Edgar personates) have obtained the name of Turlupins. We have a very curious description of them in Decker's Bellman of London, 1616; where they are denominated, Tom of Bedlam's Band of Madcaps, or Poor Tom's Flock of Wild Geese; the latter are also called Abraham Men. The character is supported by Shakspeare with much picturesque effect, and draws from Lear those fine reflections on the instability and worthlessness of human nr.
Cordelia is a pattern of all that is amiable in woman : she has truth, gentleness, and courage. It might have been more satisfactory to the lovers of poetical justice, if she had survived trinmphantly to replace her father on his throne. It had saved succeeding ages many convulsive sobs, many heart-breaking throes. With our estimate of life, feeling that the balance of good is against us, we regard this affecting drama as one of those wholesome contemplations that softens and corrects the human heart. The story of Lear belongs to a very early period of British history, the particulars of which are related by Hollingshead. It is to be found in the French Romance, enti. tled Perceforest ; and in the unpublislied Latin Gesta Romanorum