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ALB. How far your eyes may pierce, I cannot
Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.2
GON. Nay, then
ALB. Well, well; the event.
Court before the same.
Enter LEAR, KENT, and FOOL.
LEAR. Go you before to Gloster with these letters: acquaint my daughter no further with any thing you know, than comes from her demand out of the letter: If your diligence be not speedy, I shall be there before you.3
KENT. I will not sleep, my lord, till I have delivered your letter.
* Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.] So, in our author's 103d Sonnet:
"Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
"To mar the subject that before was well?" MALone. —there before you.] He seems to intend to go to his daughter, but it appears afterwards that he is going to the house of Gloster. STEEVENS.
The word there in this speech shows, that when the king says, "Go you before to Gloster," he means the town of Gloster, which, as Mr. Tyrwhitt has observed, Shakspeare chose to make the residence of the Duke of Cornwall and Regan, in order to give a probability to their setting out late from thence, on a visit to the Earl of Gloster, whose castle our poet conceived to be in the neighbourhood of that city. Our old English earls usually resided in the counties from whence they took their titles. Lear, not finding his son-in-law and his wife at home, follows them to the Earl of Gloster's castle. See Mr. Tyrwhitt's note, in Act II. sc. iv. MALone.
FOOL. If a man's brains were in his heels, were't not in danger of kibes?
LEAR. Ay, boy.
FOOL. Then, I pr'ythee, be merry; thy wit shall not go slip-shod.
LEAR. Ha, ha, ha!
FOOL. Shalt see, thy other daughter will use thee kindly for though she's as like this as a crab is like an apple, yet I can tell what I can tell.
LEAR. Why, what canst thou tell, my boy?5
FOOL. She will taste as like this, as a crab does to a crab. Thou canst tell, why one's nose stands i' the middle of his face?
FOOL. Why, to keep his eyes on either side his nose; that what a man cannot smell out, he may spy into.
LEAR. I did her wrong :
FOOL. Can'st tell how an oyster makes his shell? LEAR. No.
FOOL. Nor I neither; but I can tell why a snail has a house.
FOOL. Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his daughters, and leave his horns without
-thy other daughter will use thee kindly:] The Fool uses the word kindly here in two senses; it means affectionately, and like the rest of her kind. M. MASON.
5 Why, what canst thou tell, my boy?] So the quartos. The folio reads What canst tell, boy? MALONE.
"I did her wrong:] He is musing on Cordelia. JOHNSON.
LEAR. I will forget my nature.—So kind a father!-Be my horses ready?
FOOL. Thy asses are gone about 'em. The reason why the seven stars are no more than seven, is a pretty reason.
LEAR. Because they are not eight?
FOOL. Yes, indeed: Thou wouldest make a good fool.
LEAR. To take it again perforce !"-Monster ingratitude!
FOOL. If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I'd have thee beaten for being old before thy time.
LEAR. How's that?
FOOL. Thou should'st not have been old, before thou hadst been wise.
LEAR. O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!
Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!
7 To take it again perforce!] He is meditating on the resumption of his royalty. JOHNSON.
He is rather meditating on his daughter's having in so violent a manner deprived him of those privileges which before she had agreed to grant him. STEEVENS.
The subject of Lear's meditation is the resumption of that moiety of the kingdom which he had given to Goneril. This was what Albany apprehended, when he replied to the upbraidings of his wife:-"Well, well; the event?"-what Lear himself projected when he left Goneril to go to Regan:
66 Yet I have left a daughter,
"Who, I am sure, is kind and comfortable;
"When she shall hear this of thee, with her nails "She'll flay thy wolfish visage. Thou shalt find, "That I'll resume the shape, which thou dost think "I have cast off for ever; thou shalt, I warrant thee." And what Curan afterwards refers to, when he asks Edmund : "Have you heard of no likely wars toward, 'twixt the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany?" HENley.
How now! Are the horses ready?
GENT. Ready, my lord.
LEAR. Come, boy.
FOOL. She that is maid now, and laughs at my departure,
Shall not be a maid long, unless things be cut [Exeunt.
-unless things be cut shorter.] This idle couplet is apparently addressed to the females present at the performance of the play; and, not improbably, crept into the playhouse copy from the mouth of some buffoon actor, who "spoke more than was set down for him."
It should seem, from Shakspeare's speaking in this strong manner, that he had suffered the injury he describes. Indecent jokes, which the applause of the groundlings might occasion to be repeated, would, at last, find their way into the prompter's book, &c.
I am aware, that such liberties were exercised by the authors of Locrine, &c.; but can such another offensive and extraneous address to the audience be pointed out among all the dramas of Shakspeare? STEEVENS.
ACT II. SCENE I.
A Court within the Castle of the Earl of Gloster.
Enter EDMUND and CURAN, meeting.
EDM. Save thee, Curan.
CUR. And sir. I have been with your fayou, ther; and given him notice, that the duke of Cornwall, and Regan his duchess, will be here with him to-night.
EDM. How comes that?
CUR. Nay, I know not: You have heard of the news abroad; I mean, the whispered ones, for they are yet but ear-kissing arguments?"
EDM. Not I; 'Pray you, what are they?
CUR.' Have you
heard of no likely wars toward, 'twixt the dukes of Cornwall and Albany?
EDM. Not a word.
CUR. You may then, in time. Fare you well, sir,
[Exit, EDM. The duke be here to-night? The better!
This weaves itself perforce into my business!
'-ear-kissing arguments?] Ear-kissing arguments means that they are yet in reality only whisper'd ones. STEEVENS. Cur.] This, and the following speech, are omitted in one of the quartos. STEEVENS.