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on well tried ground, or perhaps than he may be hereafter. So far from detracting from the great merit of this gentleman, we think it does him credit, and evinces his respect for his audience, that he generally avoids all those dubious points which have the slightest tendency to put the entirety and consistent effect of the scene to hazard. As we have been led to these observations by the progress of our criticism, we will mention an instance of this creditable circumspection which, though not immediately connected with Lear, will not be thought inapplicable to this part of our subject.
On Mr. Kemble's first performance of Prospero, in the Tempest, the critics were astonished to hear him pronounce the plural of the word ACHE as if it were spelled AITCHES-in which he was most certainly correct: the word being a dissyllable, and as such placed by Shakspeare in every line in which he uses it-as for instance:
Fill all thy bones with aches; make thee roar
That beasts shall tremble at thy din.
Aches contract and starve your supple joints. A contest, however, arose about it in London, among the enlightened critics and the would-bes, which never can be ended till ignorance acquires the very best part of knowledge,"to know itself.” During this contest, Mr. Kemble being laid up with sickness, Mr. Cooke was appointed to the character; and now, when all looked eagerly for his pronunciation of aches, behold he left the whole line out;-on which the following impromptu appeared.
I've hit upon't-by Jove, I'll utter neither. But to return to Lear, there were several points in the mad scenes, which Cooke hit off with great force and felicity. One was,
First let me talk with this philosopher:
What is the cause of thunder? Another:
I'll take the word of this same learned Theban:
What is your study?
Make no noise, make no noise; draw the curtains;
From the time Lear's senses begin to be restored, Cooke's personation of him was excellent. His killing the ruffians, albeit it raised a little laugh among the greasy night-caps, was inimitably executed.
The sudden renovation of strength, occasioned by despair, and the no less sudden relapse into weakness, received from him the highest coloring of nature; and nothing could be more expressive of exultation than his looks when he exclaimed,
Did I not, fellow?
I would make them skip: Or the mixture of painful recollection and compulsory resignation depicted in the shake and decline of his head, and in the feeble sinking in his voice, when he said
I am old now,
And these same crosses spoil me. We consider the scene in which Lear comes to himself after having slept, to be equal to any one of our bard's best productions. The state of doubt he is in, standing as he does on the confines of both worlds, in which of them he is, but rather inclining to the supposition that he is an inhabitant of the other, is divinely conceived, and more than humanly expressed.
You do me wrong to take me out of the grave:-
Cord. Sir, do you know me?
die? The whole of this scene is ineffably tender.—The old man's affectionate and penitent expressions to Cordelia,,his feebleness, his misgivings.
Yet I am doubtful: for I am mainly ignorant
To be my child Cordelia. This is perhaps the most exquisite pitch of tenderness which the imitative genius of man has ever reached: and here Cooke displayed the extent and versatility of his powers: his voice, his looks and
his utterance perfectly corresponding with the purpose of the poet, and sending every word irresistibly home to the heart.
Always lamenting that this tragedy should ever be represented in Mr. Tate's or Mr. Colman's mutilated shape, we felt more than cominon regret at it this evening, seeing how much was lost to the audience in the performance which Cooke would have made of the last act in its original state.
To secure ourselves from the imputation of dogmatism in the opinions we have advanced, we will first show that we do not stand alone in them. We will produce respectable authorities in our favour, and we will then extract for our readers some of the passages that have been cut out, that they may judge what they lose by this little less than sacrilegious innovation upon the best work of the divine Shakspeare.
A tasteful and enlightened British critic, now living, speaks thus of those alterations:
“Lear, Shakspeare's chef d'euvre in sublimity of imagination " and potent interest, was altered by Tate in 1681, and by Colman “ in 1768. Our inimitable bard owes, in my opinion, more blame “ than thanks for what they have done, though their respective al“terations, the one grounded on the former, show much critical “ ingenuity. Those who approve of the innovations of Tate, in the « fortunate loves of Edgar and Cordelia, and in the catastrophe “ which now preserves Lear and Cordelia for happier days, may « differ from me, but I cannot think otherwise than that these va“ riations, especially the second, are destructive of the two great “ legitimate ends of tragedy,—To pobrgar xati talsivos-terror and « compassion. The sufferance of the innocent may want poetical “ justice, but it does not lack example in human life, of which the “ stage is the mirror; and the distress excited by any tragic action, “ however excessive (if not disgusting as well as horrible, like “the blinding of Gloster) is so proper to this species of drama, " that it cannot be dispensed with, without producing a compara“ tively miserable tameness in the denouement, like that which ob“ tains in this tragedy as it is represented. In Tate's Lear, the old “ king is restored to his senses and his crown; Kent shares in his “prosperity, and Edgar and Cordelia complete the comic termi« nation of the piece by a marriage. Is this to be compared with
• As is the case with the catastrophe of The Robbers.
“ Shakspeare's conception? Scene the last,-Enter Lear mad, “ with Cordelia dead in his arms.--He, the father, then franticly “exclaims,
“Do you see this?—Look on her, look, her lips,
“ Look there, look there.”-Expires. " Kent sees this in reality, which in fiction harrows up the soul; « his faithful heart bursts, and he follows his master. Which ca. “ tastrophe has in it the true spirit and genius of tragedy?-Johnson “ is, however, against me; but what he says of his own sensations, “ is, I contend, an argument militating powerfully in my favour.
- I was,' he observes, 'many years ago, so shocked by Corde“ lia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again “ the last scenes of the play, till I undertook to revise them as an " editor.”
What Mr. Addison says, will be found in the fortieth number of the Spectator, Vol. 1st. The preliminary reasoning is too long for admission now, but what immediately relates to Lear, is as follows:
“ Terror and commiseration leave a pleasing anguish in the « mind; and fix the audience in such a serious composure of " thought, as is much more lasting and delightful than any little “ transient starts of joy and satisfaction. Accordingly we find that “ more of our English tragedies have succeeded, in which the fa« vourites of the audience sink under their calamities, than those “ in which they recover themselves out of them. The best plays “ of this kind are the Orphan, Venice Preserved, Alexander the “ Great, Theodosius, Oedipus, Oroonoko, Othello, &c. King Lear “ is an admirable tragedy as Shakspeare wrote it; but as it is re“ formed according to the chimerical notions of poetical justice, it “ has lost half its beauties."
The whole doctrine upon which this depends was first laid down by Aristotle, and has been since felicitously inforced and illustrated by Burke in some passages of his work on the Sublime and Beautiful. So much for three, at least, of the greatest moral and critical philosophers that ever lived. Let our readers now consult their own hearts when they hear what Shakspeare says:
Enter Lear with Cordelia dead in his arms.
- I know when one is dead, and when one lives:
Kent. Is this the promis'd end?
Lear. This feather stirs; she lives! If it be so,
Kent. O my good master!
Lear. A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
-No, no, no life!
-Pray you undo this button:--thank you, sir.
Other poets would have made Kent or Edgar direct the attention to the swelling and heaving of Lear's heart in the struggles of expiring nature, but the great necromancer does it by a touch from Lear himself: “ Pray you undo this button—thank you, sir."
After this exposition, we trust, there are few of our readers who will not join us in deprecating the alterations of Lear, and in wishing Shakspeare's great original composition restored to the stage.
In the course of the foregoing analysis we have adverted to the poverty of the original piece from which Shakspeare took his outline of Lear. We will now present that piece to our readers, who, from a comparison of the foundation with the superstructure which Shakspeare has raised upon it, will see in a stronger light the magnitude of his genius. From the dunghil of Ennius, Virgil is said to have collected gold; the following, from which that great chemist Shakspeare contrived to extract something more precious, is from a much meaner dunghil. The perusal of this old piece will rather serve to raise than depreciate his genius in the estimation Vol. IV.