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REG. I pray you, sir, take patience; I have hope, You less know how to value her desert, Than she to scant her duty.*
•Than she to scant her duty.] The word scant is directly contrary to the sense intended. The quarto reads:
slack her duty.
which is no better. May we not change it thus: You less know how to value her desert,
Than she to scan her duty.
To scan may be to measure or proportion. Yet our author uses his negatives with such licentiousness, that it is hardly safe to make any alteration. Scant may mean to adapt, to fit, to proportion; which sense seems still to be retained in the mechanical term scantling. JOHNSON.
Sir Thomas Hanmer had proposed this change of scant into scan; but surely no alteration is necessary. The other reading -slack, would answer as well. You less know how to value her desert, than she (knows) to scant her duty, i. e. than she can be capable of being wanting in her duty. I have at least given the intended meaning of the passage. ŠTEEVENS.
Shakspeare, without doubt, intended to make Regan sayI have hope that the fact will rather turn out, that you know not how to appreciate her merit, than that she knows how to scant, or be deficient in, her duty. But that he has expressed this sentiment inaccurately, will, I think, clearly appear from inverting the sentence, without changing a word. "I have hope (says Regan) that she knows more [or better] how to scant her duty, than you know how to value her desert." i. e. I have hope, that she is more perfect, more an adept, (if the expression may be allowed,) in the non-performance of her duty, than you are perfect, or accurate, in the estimation of her merit. In The Winter's Tale we meet with an inaccuracy of the same kind:
I ne'er heard yet,
"That any of these bolder vices wanted
"Less impudence to gainsay what they did,
where, as Dr. Johnson has justly observed, "wanted should be had, or less should be more." Again, in Cymbeline: "—be it but to fortify her judgment, which else an easy battery might lay flat, for taking a beggar without less quality." Here also less should certainly be more.
Say, how is that?
REG. I cannot think, my sister in the least Would fail her obligation: If, sir, perchance, She have restrain'd the riots of your followers, 'Tis on such ground, and to such wholesome end, As clears her from all blame.
LEAR. My curses on her!
Of her confine: you should be rul'd, and led
Say, you have wrong'd her, sir.
Again, in Macbeth:
Ask her forgiveness?
"Who cannot want the thought how monstrous
"It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain
"To kill the gracious Duncan ?"
Here unquestionably for cannot the poet should have written. See also Vol. XVII. p. 240, n. 6.
If Lear is less knowing in the valuation of Goneril's desert, than she is in her scanting of her duty, then she knows better how to scant or be deficient in her duty, than he knows how to appreciate her desert. Will any one maintain, that Regan meant to express a hope that this would prove the case?
Shakspeare perplexed himself by placing the word less before know; for if he had written, "I have hope that you rather know how to make her desert less than it is, (to under-rate it in your estimation) than that she at all knows how to scant her duty," all would have been clear; but, by placing less before know, this meaning is destroyed.
Those who imagine that this passage is accurately expressed as it now stands, deceive themselves by this fallacy: in paraphrasing it, they always take the word less out of its place, and connect it, or some other synonymous word, with the word desert. MALONE.
Say, &c.] This, as well as the following speech, is omitted in the quartos. STEEVENS.
Do you but mark how this becomes the house:6 Dear daughter, I confess that I am old;
Age is unnecessary: on my knees I beg, [Kneeling. That you'll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food.
6 Do you but mark how this becomes the house:] The order
of families, duties of relation. WARBURTON.
In The Tempest we have again nearly the same sentiment: "But O how oddly will it sound that I
"Must ask my child forgiveness?" MALONE.
Dr. Warburton's explanation may be supported by the following passage in Milton on Divorce, B. II. ch. xii: « the restraint whereof, who is not too thick-sighted, may see how hurtful, how destructive, it is to the house, the church, and commonwealth!" TOLLET.
The old reading may likewise receive additional support from the following passage in The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, 1598: "Come up to supper; it will become the house wonderful well.”
Mr. Tollet has since furnished me with the following extract from Sir Thomas Smith's Commonwealth of England, 4to. 1601, chap. II. which has much the same expression, and explains it. "They two together [man and wife] ruleth the house. The house I call here, the man, the woman, their children, their servants, bond and free," &c. STEEVENS.
Again, in Painter's Palace of Pleasure:-"The gentleman's wife one day could not refraine (beholding a stagges head set up in the gentleman's house) from breaking into a laughter before his face, saying how that head became the house very well."
Age is unnecessary:] i. e. Old age has few wants.
This usage of the word unnecessary is quite without example; and I believe my learned coadjutor has rather improved than explained the meaning of his author, who seems to have designed to say no more than that it seems unnecessary to children that the lives of their parents should be prolonged. Age is unnecessary, may mean, old people are useless. So, in The Old Law, by Massinger:
your laws extend not to desert,
"But to unnecessary years; and, my lord,
"His are not such." STEEVENS.
Unnecessary in Lear's speech, I believe, means-in want of necessaries, unable to procure them. TYRWHITT.
REG. Good sir, no more; these are unsightly
She hath abated me of half my train;
Look'd black upon me; struck me with her
Most serpent-like, upon the very
All the stor❜d vengeances of heaven fall
Fye, fye, fye! LEAR. Younimble lightnings, dart your blinding flames
Into her scornful eyes! Infect her beauty,
Look'd black upon me;] To look black, may easily be explain'd to look cloudy or gloomy. See Milton:
"So frown'd the mighty combatants, that hell
So, Holinshed, Vol. III. p. 1157: "the bishops thereat repined, and looked black."
9 To fall and blast her pride!] Thus the quarto: The folio reads not so well, to fall and blister. JOHNSON.
Fall is, I think, used here as an active verb, signifying to humble or pull down. Ye fen-suck'd fogs, drawn from the earth by the powerful action of the sun, infect her beauty, so as to fall and blast, i. e. humble and destroy, her pride. Shakspeare in other places uses fall in an active sense. So, in Othello":
"Each drop she falls will prove a crocodile." Again, in Troilus and Cressida:
make him fall
"His crest, that prouder than blue Iris bends." In the old play of King Leir our poet found
"I ever thought that pride would have a fall."
O the blest gods!
So will you wish on me, when the rash mood's on." LEAR. No, Regan, thou shalt never have my
Thy tender-hefted nature2 shall not give
Thee o'er to harshness; her eyes are fierce, but thine Do comfort, and not burn: 'Tis not in thee
I see no occasion for supposing with Malone, that the word fall is to be considered in an active sense, as signifying to humble or pull down; it appears to me to be used in this passage in its common acceptation; and that the plain meaning is this, "You fen suck'd fogs, drawn up by the sun in order to fall down again and blast her pride." M. MASON.
I once proposed the same explanation to Dr. Johnson, but he would not receive it. STEEVENS.
when the rash mood's on.] Thus the folio. The quartos read only,when the rash mood-perhaps leaving the sentence purposely unfinished, as indeed I should wish it to be left, rather than countenance the admission of a line so inharmonious as that in the text. STEEVENS.
Thy tender-hefted nature-] Hefted seems to mean the same as heaved. Tender-hefted, i. e. whose bosom is agitated by tender passions. The formation of such a participle, I believe, cannot be grammatically accounted for. Shakspeare uses hefts for heavings in The Winter's Tale, Act II. Both the quartos however read, "tender-hested nature;" which may mean a nature which is governed by gentle dispositions. Hest is an old word signifying command. So, in The Wars of Cyrus, &c.
"Must yield to hest of others that be free." Hefted is the reading of the folio. STEEVENS.
Do comfort, and not burn:] The same thought, but more expanded, had already occurred in Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella:
"She comes with light and warmth, which like Aurora
"Of gentle force, so that mine eyes dare gladly play
"Scorch not, but onely doe darke chilling sprites remove." STEEVENS.