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That heaven's vault should crack :-She's gone for
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
Is this the promis'd end 50?
Edg. Or image of that horror?
Fall, and cease
That ever I have felt.
O my good master! [Kneeling.
Lear. 'Pr'ythee, away.
'Tis noble Kent, your friend. Lear. A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
says that she killed herself). The dramatic writers of Shakespeare's 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 the poet to extend her life beyond her misfortunes.-Steevens.
50 Kent, in contemplating the unexampled scene of exquisite affection which was then before him, and the unnatural attempt of Goneril and Regan against their father's life, recollects those passages of St. Mark's Gospel in which Christ foretells to his disciples the end of the world, and hence his question, "Is this the promised end of all things, which has 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 :
Up, up, and see
The great doom's image! Malcolm! Banquo!
As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,
To countenance this horror."
There is an allusion to the same passage of Scripture in a speech of Gloster's, in the second scene of the first act.-Mason.
51 To cease is to die. 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."
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.
Lear. Did I not, fellow? I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion I would have made them skip 52: 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 53.
Lear. This is a dull sight 54: 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. Kent. No, my good lord, I am the very manLear. I'll see that straight.
Kent. That from your first of difference and decay, Have follow'd your sad steps.
52 What Lear has just said has been anticipated by Justice Shallow, in The Merry Wives of Windsor:-"I have seen the time with my long sword I would have made you four tall fellows skip like rats." It is again repeated in Othello:
"I have seen the day
That with this little arm and this good sword
I have made my way," &c.
53"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." The quarto reads, "She lov'd or hated," which confirms this
54 I think, with Mr. Blakeway, that Lear means his eyesight was bedimmed either by excess of grief, or, as is usual, by the approach of death. So in Baret," Dull eyes, inertes oculi:""To dull the eyesight, hebetare oculos." Albany says of Lear below," He knows not what he sees," where the folio erroneously reads "he says."
You are welcome hither.
Kent. Nor no man else; all's cheerless, dark, and
Your eldest daughters have fore-doom'd 55 themselves, And desperately are dead.
Ay, so I think.
Alb. He knows not what he sees; and vain it is That we present us to him.
You lords, and noble friends, know our intent.
To him our absolute power :-You, to your rights;
[To EDGAR and KENT.
With boot, and such addition as your honours
Have more than merited 57 :-All friends shall taste The wages of their virtue, and all foes
The cup of their deservings.-O, see, see!
Lear. And my poor fool is hang'd 58! No, no, no life:
55 Thus one of the quartos: the folio reads foredone, which is probably wrong, as the next words would then be mere tautology. See note 48, p. 482, ante.
56 This great decay is Lear, whom Shakespeare poetically calls so; and means the same as if he had said, "this piece of decayed royalty," "this ruined majesty." Gloster calls him in a preceding scene, "ruin'd piece of nature."
57 These lines are addressed to Kent as well as to Edgar, else the word honours would not have been in the plural number. Boot is advantage, increase. By honours is meant, honourable conduct.
58 66 This," says Steevens, "is an expression of tenderness for his dead Cordelia (not his fool, as some have thought), on whose
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
'Pray you, undo this button: Thank you, sir.—
Look up, my lord. Kent. Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates him,
That would upon the rack of this tough world
O, he is gone indeed. Kent. The wonder is, he hath endur'd so long : He but usurp'd his life.
Alb. Bear them from hence. — Our present busi
lips he is still intent, and dies while he is searching there for indications of life. Poor fool,' in the age of Shakespeare, was often an expression of endearment. The fool of Lear was long ago forgotten; having filled the space allotted to him in the arrangement of the play, he appears to have been silently withdrawn in the sixth scene of the third act. Besides this, Cordelia was recently hanged; but we know not that the Fool had suffered in the same manner, nor can imagine why he should. That the thoughts of a father, in the bitterest of all moments, when his favourite child lay dead in his arms, should recur to the antic, who had formerly diverted him, has somewhat in it that cannot be reconciled to the idea of genuine despair and sorrow.
There is an ingenious note by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the Variorum Shakespeare, sustaining a contrary opinion; and the state of Lear's mind must be remembered; yet Malone observes, “Lear, from the time of his entrance in this scene to his uttering these words, and from thence to his death, is wholly occupied by the loss of his daughter. He is now in the agony of death, and surely at such a time, when his heart was just breaking, it would be highly unnatural that he should think of his fool. He had just seen his daughter hanged, having unfortunately been admitted too late to preserve her life, though time enough to punish the perpetrator of the act."
Is general woe.
Friends of my
soul, you [To KENT and EDGAR. Rule in this realm, and the gor'd state sustain. Kent. I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls, and I must not say, no.
59 Alb. The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we, that are young, Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
[Exeunt, with a dead March.
59 In the folio, this speech is given to Edgar.
END OF VOL IX.
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