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Cordelia leaves you: I know you what
To your professed bosoms I commit him:
GON. Prescribe not us our duties."
Let your study Be, to content your lord; who hath receiv'd you At fortune's alms.' You have obedience scanted, And well are worth the want that you have wanted.2
Use well our father:] So the quartos. The folio reads—Love well. MALONE.
-professed bosoms-] All the ancient editions read-professed. Mr. Pope-professing; but, perhaps, unnecessarily, as Shakspeare often uses one participle for the other;-longing for longed in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and all-obeying for all-obeyed in Antony and Cleopatra. STEEVENS.
9 Prescribe not us our duties.] Prescribe was used formerly without to subjoined. So, in Massinger's Picture:
Shall I prescribe you, "Or blame your fondness."
At fortune's alms.] The same expression occurs again in Othello:
"And shoot myself up in some other course,
2 And well are worth the want that you have wanted.]. You are well deserving of the want of dower that you are without. So, in The Third Part of King Henry VI. Act IV. sc. i: "Though I want a kingdom," i. e. though I am without a kingdom. Again, in Stowe's Chronicle, p. 137: "Anselm was expelled the realm, and wanted the whole profits of his bishoprick,” i. e. he did not receive the profits, &c. TOLLET.
Thus the folio. In the quartos the transcriber or compositor inadvertently repeated the word worth. They read:
"And well are worth the worth that you have wanted."
COR. Time shall unfold what plaited cunning3 hides;
Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.
This, however, may be explained by understanding the second worth in the sense of wealth. MALONE.
A clash of words similar to that in the text, occurs in Chapman's version of the twentieth Iliad:
"— the gods' firme gifts want want to yeeld so soone, "To men's poore powres ;— -" STEEVENS.
Come, my fair Cordelia. [Exeunt FRANCE and CORDELIA.
-plaited cunning-] i. e. complicated, involved cunning. JOHNSON.
I once thought that the author wrote plated:-cunning superinduced, thinly spread over. So, in this play:
Plate sin with gold,
"And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks." But the word unfold, and the following lines in our author's Rape of Lucrece, show, that plaited, or (as the quartos have it) pleated, is the true reading:
"For that he colour'd with his high estate, "Hiding base sin in pleats of majesty." MALONE. • Who cover faults, &c.] The quartos read: Who covers faults, at last shame them derides. The former editors read with the folio:
Who covers faults at last with shame derides.
Mr. M. Mason believes the folio, with the alteration of a letter, to be the right reading:
Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides, Who covert faults at last with shame derides. The word who referring to time.
In the third Act, Lear says:
-Caitiff, shake to pieces,
"That under covert, and convenient seeming,
In this passage Cordelia is made to allude to a passage in Scripture Prov. xxviii. 13: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy." HENLEY.
GON. Sister, it is not a little I have to say, of what most nearly appertains to us both. I think, our father will hence to-night.
REG. That's most certain, and with you; next month with us.
GON. You see how full of changes his age is; the observation we have made of it hath not been little he always loved our sister most; and with what poor judgment he hath now cast her off, appears too grossly.
REG. 'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.
GON. The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash; then must we look to receive from his age, not alone the imperfections of long-engrafted condition, but, therewithal, the unruly waywardness that infirm and cholerick years bring with them.
REG. Such unconstant starts are we like to have from him, as this of Kent's banishment.
GON. There is further compliment of leavetaking between France and him. Pray you, let us hit together: If our father carry authority with such dispositions as he bears, this last surrender of his will but offend us.
REG. We shall further think of it.
of long-engrafted condition,] i. e. of qualities of mind, confirmed by long habit. So, in Othello: ". -a woman of so gentle a condition!" See also Vol. XII. p. 521, n. 7.
-let us hit-] So the old quarto. The folio, let us sit. JOHNSON. let us hit-] i. e. let us agree. STEEVENS.
GON. We must do something, and i' the heat."
A Hall in the Earl of Gloster's Castle.
Enter EDMUND, with a Letter.
EDM. Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law My services are bound: Wherefore should I Stand in the plague of custom; and permit
-i' the heat.] i. e. We must strike while the iron's hot. So, in Chapman's version of the twelfth Book of Homer's Odyssey:
and their iron strook
"At highest heat." STEEVENS.
Thou, nature, art my goddess;] Edmund speaks of nature in opposition to custom, and not (as Dr. Warburton supposes) to the existence of a God. Edmund means only, as he came not into the world as custom or law had prescribed, so he had nothing to do but to follow nature and her laws, which make no difference between legitimacy and illegitimacy, between the eldest and the youngest.
To contradict Dr. Warburton's assertion yet more strongly, Edmund concludes this very speech by an invocation to heaven: "Now gods stand up for bastards!" STEEVENS.
Edmund calls nature his goddess, for the same reason that we call a bastard a natural son: one, who according to the law of nature, is the child of his father, but according to those of civil society is nullius filius. M. MASON.
9 Stand in the plague of custom;] The word plague is in all the old copies: I can scarcely think it right, nor can I reconcile myself to plage, the emendation proposed by Dr. Warburton, though I have nothing better to offer. JOHNSON.
The meaning is plain, though oddly expressed. Wherefore should I acquiesce, submit tamely to the plagues and injustice
The curiosity of nations' to deprive me,'
Shakspeare seems to mean by the plague of custom, Wherefore should I remain in a situation where I shall be plagued and tormented only in consequence of the contempt with which custom regards those who are not the issue of a lawful bed? Dr. Warburton defines plage to be the place, the country, the boundary of custom; a word, I believe, to be found only in Chaucer. STEEVENS.
The curiosity of nations-] Curiosity, in the time of Shakspeare, was a word that signified an over-nice scrupulousness in manners, dress, &c. In this sense it is used in Timon: "When thou wast (says Apemantus) in thy gilt and thy perfume, they mocked thee for too much curiosity." Barrett, in his Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionary, 1580, interprets it, piked diligence: something too curious, or too much affected: and again in this play of King Lear, Shakspeare seems to use it in the same sense,
which I have rather blamed as my own jealous curiosity." Curiosity is the old reading, which Mr. Theobald changed into courtesy, though the former is used by Beaumont and Fletcher, with the meaning for which I contend.
It is true, that Orlando, in As you like it, says: "The cour tesy of nations allows you my better;" but Orlando is not there inveighing against the law of primogeniture, but only against the unkind advantage his brother takes of it, and courtesy is a word that fully suits the occasion. Edmund, on the contrary, is turning this law into ridicule; and for such a purpose, the curiosity of nations, (i. e. the idle, nice distinctions of the world,) is a phrase of contempt much more natural in his mouth, than the softer expression of-courtesy of nations. STEEVENS.
Curiosity is used before in the present play, in this sense::"For equalities are so weighed, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety."
Again, in All's well that ends well:
"Frank nature, rather curious than in haste,
IN THE ENGLISH DICTIONARY, or Interpreter of hard Words, by H. Cockeram, 8vo. 1655, curiosity is defined" More diligence than needs." MALONE.
By "the curiosity of nations" Edmund means the nicety, the strictness of civil institution. So, when Hamlet is about to prove that the dust of Alexander might be employed to stop a bunghole, Horatio says, "that were to consider the matter too curiously." M. MASON.