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Enter LEAR, with CORDELIA dead in his Arms; ' EDGAR, Officer, and Others.
LEAR. Howl, howl, howl, howl!-O, you are men of stones;
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so That heaven's vault should crack:-O, she is gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives; She's dead as earth :-Lend me a looking-glass; If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, Why, then she lives.
Is this the promis'd end?
3- Cordelia dead in his arms;] This princess, according to the old historians, retired with victory from the battle which she conducted in her father's cause, and thereby replaced him on the throne but in a subsequent one fought against her (after the death of the old king) by the sons of Goneril and Regan, she was taken, and died miserably in prison. The poet found this in history, and was therefore willing to precipitate her death, which he knew had happened but a few years after. The dra-matick writers of this age suffered as small a number of their heroes and heroines to escape as possible; nor could the filial piety of this lady, any more than the innocence of Ophelia, prevail on Shakspeare to extend her life beyond her misfortunes. STEEVENS.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, the original relater of this story, says, that Cordelia was thrown by her nephews into prison, "where, for grief at the loss of her kingdom, she killed herself."
Kent. Is this the promis'd end? Edg. Or image of that horror?] It appears to me that by the promised end Kent does not mean that conclusion which the state of their affairs seemed to promise, but the end of the world. In St. Mark's Gospel, when Christ foretels to his disciples the end of the world, and is describing to them the signs that were to precede, and mark the approach of, our final dissolution, he
Fall, and cease !5
says, "For in those days shall be affliction such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created, unto this time, neither shall be:" and afterwards he says, "Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death." Kent in contemplating the unexampled scene of exquisite affliction which was then before him, and the unnatural attempt of Goneril and Regan against their father's life, recollects these passages, and asks, whether that was the end of the world that had been foretold to us. To which Edgar adds, or only a representation or resemblance of that horror?
So Macbeth, when he calls upon Banquo, Malcolm, &c. to view Duncan murdered, says
66 -up, up, and see
"The great doom's image!"
There is evidently an allusion to the same passages in scripture, in a speech of Gloster's, which he makes in the second scene of the first Act:
"These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us ;-love cools; friendship falls off; brothers divide; in cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked 'twixt son and father. This villain of mine comes under the prediction; there's son against father; the king falls from the bias of nature; there's father against child: We have seen the best of our time."
If any criticks should urge it as an objection to this explanation, that the persons of the drama are pagans, and of consequence unacquainted with the scriptures, they give Shakspeare credit for more accuracy than I fear he possessed. M. MASON.
This note deserves the highest praise, and is inserted in the present work with the utmost degree of gratitude to its author. STEEVENS.
I entirely agree with Mr. Mason in his happy explanation of this passage. In a speech which our poet has put into the mouth of young Clifford in The Second Part of King Henry VI. a similar imagery is found. On seeing the dead body of his father, who was slain in battle by the Duke of York, he exclaims"-O, let the vile world end,
"And the premised flames of the last day
"Now let the general trumpet blow his blast,
LEAR. This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so,
There is no trace of these lines in the old play on which The Second Part of King Henry VI. was formed.
Image is again used for delineation or representation, in King Henry IV. P. I. "No counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed.”
Again, in Hamlet: "The play is the image of a murder done in Vienna."
Mr. M. Mason has not done justice to his ingenious explanation of these words, by not quoting the whole of the passage in Macbeth:
up, up, and see
"The great doom's image! Malcolm! Banquo!
"As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprights,
"To countenance this horror.”
Here we find disjecti membra poeta; the second and fourth line, taken together, furnishing us with the very expression of the text.
Fall, and cease!] Albany is looking with attention on the pains employed by Lear to recover his child, and knows to what miseries he must survive, when he finds them to be ineffectual. Having these images present to his eyes and imagination, he cries out, Rather fall, and cease to be, at once, than continue in existence only to be wretched. So, in All's Well, &c. to cease is used for to die: and in Hamlet, the death of majesty is called "the cease of majesty."
Again, in All's well that ends well:
"Or, ere they meet, in me, O nature, cease!
The word is used nearly in the same sense in a former scene in this play:
Bids the wind blow the earth into the sea, "Or swell the curled waters 'bove the main, "That things might change or cease."
I doubt, however, whether Albany's speech is addressed to Lear. MALONE.
To whom then is it addressed? STEEVENS.
There is a passage in The Double Marriage of Fletcher, which supports Steevens's conjecture: Juliana says to Virolet
"Be what you please, this happiness yet stays with me, "You have been mine:-oh my unhappy fortune!
It is a chance that does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.
LEAR. A' plague upon you, murderers, traitors
I might have sav'd her; now she's gone for ever!Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little. Ha!
What is't thou say'st?-Her voice was ever soft, Gentle, and low; an excellent thing in woman:I kill'd the slave that was a hanging thee.
OFF. 'Tis true, my lords, he did.
Did I not, fellow?
I have seen the day, with my good biting faulchion
"Pand. Nay break, and die.
This feather stirs ;] So, in The White Devil, or Vittoria Corombona, 1612: "Fetch a looking-glass, see if his breath will not stain it; or pull some feathers from my pillow, and lay them to his lips." STEEVENS.
A common experiment of applying a light feather to the lips of a person supposed to be dead, to see whether he breathes. There is the same thought in K. Henry IV. P. II. Act IV. sc. iv: By his gates of breath
"There lies a downy feather, which stirs not.”
And to express a total stillness in the air, in Donne's poem, called The Calm, there is the like sentiment; which Jonson, in his conversation with Drummond of Hawthornden, highly commended:
in one place lay
"Feathers and dust, to-day and yesterday." WHalley.
murderers, traitors all!] Thus the folio. The quartos read-murderous traitors all. MALONE.
I would have made them skip: I am old now, And these same crosses spoil me.-Who are you? Mine eyes are none o'the best:-I'll tell you straight. KENT. If fortune brag of two she lov'd and hated, One of them we behold.9
LEAR. This is a dull sight;1 Are you not Kent? KENT. The same; Your servant Kent: Where is your servant Caius? LEAR. He's a good fellow, I can tell you that; He'll strike, and quickly too:-He's dead and rotten.
I have seen the day, with my good biting faulchion
I would have made them skip:] It is difficult for an author who never peruses his first works, to avoid repeating some of the same thoughts in his latter productions. What Lear has just said, had been anticipated by Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor: "I have seen the time with my long sword I would have made your four tall fellows skip like rats." It is again repeated in Othello:
66 - I have seen the day
"That with this little arm and this good sword
9 If fortune brag of two she lov'd and hated,
One of them we behold.] I suppose by the two whom fortune once loved, and then hated, Kent means, Lear and himself; and that each of them, looking on the other, saw a rare instance of her caprice. He may, however, be only thinking of Lear, the object of her hate.
This is the reading of the folio. The quartos read-lov'd or hated; and they may be right, if the interpretation last given be the true one. MALONE.
The meaning of this passage appears to me to be this. If Fortune, to display the plenitude of her power, should brag of two persons, one of whom she had highly elevated, and the other she had wofully depressed, we now behold the latter. quarto reads She lov'd or hated, which seems to confirm this explanation; but either reading will express the same sense. M. MASON.
This is a dull sight:] This passage is wanting in the quartos. So, in Macbeth:
"This is a sorry sight." STEEVens.