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'romantic.' Nothing like Hamlet's mysterious sigh 'The rest is silence,' nothing like Othello's memories of his life of marvel and achievement, was possible to Lear. Those last thoughts are romantic in their strangeness: Lear's five-times repeated 'Never,' in which the simplest and most unanswerable cry of anguish rises note by note till the heart breaks, is romantic in its naturalism; and to make a verse out of this one word required the boldness as well as the inspiration which came infallibly to Shakespeare at the greatest moments. But the familiarity, boldness and inspiration are surpassed (if that can be) by the next line, which shows the bodily oppression asking for bodily relief. The imagination that produced Lear's curse or his defiance of the storm may be paralleled in its kind, but where else are we to seek the imagination that could venture to follow that cry of Never with such a phrase as 'undo this button,' and yet could leave us on the topmost peaks of poetry?1


Gloster and Albany are the two neutral characters of the tragedy. The parallel between Lear and Gloster, already noticed, is, up to a certain point, so marked that it cannot possibly be accidental. Both are old white-haired men (iii. vii. 37); both, it would seem, widowers, with children comparatively young. Like Lear, Gloster is tormented, and his life is sought, by the child whom he favours; he is tended and healed by the child whom he has wronged. His sufferings, like Lear's, are partly traceable to his own extreme folly and injustice, and, it may be

The Quartos give the 'Never' only thrice (surely wrongly), and all the actors I have heard have preferred this easier task. I ought perhaps to add that the Quartos give the words 'Break, heart; I prithee, break!' to Lear, not Kent. They and the Folio are at odds throughout the last sixty lines of King Lear, and all good modern texts are eclectic.

added, to a selfish pursuit of his own pleasure.' His sufferings, again, like Lear's, purify and enlighten him he dies a better and wiser man than he showed himself at first. They even learn the same lesson, and Gloster's repetition (noticed and blamed by Johnson) of the thought in a famous speech of Lear's is surely intentional.1 And, finally, Gloster dies almost as Lear dies. Edgar reveals himself to him and asks his blessing (as Cordelia asks Lear's):

but his flaw'd heart

Alack, too weak the conflict to support-
"Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief,
Burst smilingly.

So far, the resemblance of the two stories, and also of the ways in which their painful effect is modified, is curiously close. And in character too Gloster is, like his master, affectionate, credulous

The connection of these sufferings with the sin of earlier days (not, it should be noticed, of youth) is almost thrust upon our notice by the levity of Gloster's own reference to the subject in the first scene, and by Edgar's often quoted words 'The gods are just,' etc. The following collocation, also, may be intentional (iii. iv. 116):


Fool. Now a little fire in a wild field were like an old lecher's heart; a small spark, all the rest on's body cold. Look, here comes a walking fire. GLOSTER with a torch.]

Pope destroyed the collocation by transferring the stage-direction to a point some dozen lines later.

2 The passages are here printed together (iii. iv. 28 ff. and iv. i.

67 ff.):

Lear. Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens just.

Glo. Here, take this purse, thou whom the heavens' plagues

Have humbled to all strokes: that I am wretched

Makes thee the happier: heavens, deal so still!

Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,

That slaves your ordinance, that will not see

Because he doth not feel, feel your power quickly;

So distribution should undo excess,

And each man have enough.

Schmidt's idea—based partly on the omission from the Folios at i. ii. 103 (see Furness' Variorum) of the words 'To his father that so

and hasty. But otherwise he is sharply contrasted with the tragic Lear, who is a towering figure, every inch a king,' while Gloster is built on a much smaller scale, and has infinitely less force and fire. He is, indeed, a decidedly weak though good-hearted man; and, failing wholly to support Kent in resisting Lear's original folly and injustice," he only gradually takes the better part. Nor is his character either very interesting or very distinct. He often gives one the impression of being wanted mainly to fill a place in the scheme of the play; and, though it would be easy to give a long list of his characteristics, they scarcely, it seems to me, compose an individual, a person whom we are sure we should recognise at once. If this is so, the fact is curious, considering how much we see and hear of him.

I will add a single note. Gloster is the superstitious character of the drama,the only one. He thinks much of these late eclipses in the sun and moon.' His two sons, from opposite points of view, make nothing of them. His easy acceptance of the calumny against Edgar is partly due to this weakness, and Edmund builds upon it, for an evil purpose, when he describes Edgar thus:

Here stood he in the dark, his sharp sword out,
Mumbling of wicked charms, conjuring the moon,
To prove's auspicious mistress.


tenderly and entirely loves him'—that Gloster loved neither of his sons, is surely an entire mistake. See, not to speak of general impressions, iii. iv. 171 ff.

'Imagination demands for Lear, even more than for Othello, majesty of stature and mien. Tourgénief felt this and made his 'Lear of the Steppes' a gigantic peasant. If Shakespeare's texts give no express authority for ideas like these, the reason probably is that he wrote primarily for the theatre, where the principal actor might not be a large man.

2 He is not present, of course, till France and Burgundy enter; but while he is present he says not a word beyond 'Here's France and Burgundy, my noble lord.' For some remarks on the possibility that Shakespeare imagined him as having encouraged Lear in his idea of dividing the kingdom see Note T. It must be remem bered that Cornwall was Gloster's arch and patron.'


Edgar in turn builds upon it, for a good purpose, when he persuades his blind father that he was led to jump down Dover cliff by the temptation of a fiend in the form of a beggar, and was saved by a miracle:

As I stood here below, methought his eyes

Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,
Horns whelk'd and waved like the enridged sea:
It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy father,
Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours
Of men's impossibilities, have preserved thee.

This passage is odd in its collocation of the
thousand noses and the clearest gods, of grotesque
absurdity and extreme seriousness. Edgar knew
that the 'fiend' was really Gloster's 'worser spirit,'
and that 'the gods' were himself. Doubtless,
however—for he is the most religious person in
the play—he thought that it was the gods who,
through him, had preserved his father; but he
knew that the truth could only enter this super-
stitious mind in a superstitious form.

The combination of parallelism and contrast that we observe in Lear and Gloster, and again in the attitude of the two brothers to their father's superstition, is one of many indications that in King Lear Shakespeare was working more than usual on a basis of conscious and reflective ideas. Perhaps it is not by accident, then, that he makes Edgar and Lear preach to Gloster in precisely the same strain. Lear says to him :

If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloster:
Thou must be patient; we came crying hither:
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry. I will preach to thee: mark.

Edgar's last words to him are:

What, in ill thoughts again? Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all.

Albany is merely sketched, and he is so generally neglected that a few words about him may be in place. He too ends a better and wiser man than he began. When the play opens he is, of course, only just married to Goneril; and the idea is, I think, that he has been bewitched by her fiery beauty not less than by her dowry. He is an inoffensive peace-loving man, and is overborne at first by his great love' for his wife and by her imperious will. He is not free from responsibility for the treatment which the King receives in his house; the Knight says to Lear, 'there's a great abatement of kindness appears as well in the general dependants as in the duke himself also and your daughter.' But he takes no part in the quarrel, and doubtless speaks truly when he protests that he is as guiltless as ignorant of the cause of Lear's violent passion. When the King departs, he begins to remonstrate with Goneril, but shrinks in a cowardly manner, which is a trifle comical, from contest with her. She leaves him behind when she goes to join Regan, and he is not further responsible for what follows. When he hears of it, he is struck with horror the scales drop from his eyes, Goneril becomes hateful to him, he determines to revenge Gloster's eyes. His position is however very difficult, as he is willing to fight against Cordelia in so far as her army is French, and unwilling in so far as she represents her father. This difficulty, and his natural inferiority to Edmund in force and ability, pushes him into the background; the battle is not won by him but by Edmund; and but for Edgar he would certainly have fallen a victim to the murderous plot against him. When it is discovered, however, he is fearless and resolute enough, beside being full of kind feeling towards Kent and Edgar, and of sympathetic distress at Gloster's death. And one would be sure that he is meant to retain this strength till the end, but for his last words. He has

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