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So might the ignorance in which we are left as to the fate of the Fool, and several more of the defects noticed in the text.
To illustrate the other point (a), that Shakespeare may have omitted to write some things which he had originally intended, the play would obviously gain something if it appeared that, at a time shortly before that of the action, Gloster had encouraged the King in his idea of dividing the kingdom, while Kent had tried to dissuade him. And there are one or two passages which suggest that this is what Shakespeare imagined. If it were so, there would be additional point in the Fool's reference to the lord who counselled Lear to give away his land (1. iv. 154), and in Gloster's reflection (III. iv. 168),
His daughters seek his death: ah, that good Kent!
He said it would be thus:
('said,' of course, not to the King but to Gloster and perhaps others of the council). Thus too the plots would be still more closely joined. Then also we should at once understand the opening of the play. To Kent's words, 'I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall,' Gloster answers, 'It did always seem so to us.' Who are the 'us' from whom Kent is excluded? I do not know, for there is no sign that Kent has been absent. But if Kent, in consequence of his opposition, had fallen out of favour and absented himself from the council, it would be clear. So, besides, would be the strange suddenness with which, after Gloster's answer, Kent changes the subject; he would be avoiding, in presence of Gloster's son, any further reference to a subject on which he and Gloster had differed. That Kent, I may add, had already the strongest opinion about Goneril and Regan is clear from his extremely bold words (1. i. 165),
Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
Did Lear remember this phrase when he called Goneril 'a disease that's in my flesh' (II. iv. 225)?
Again, the observant reader may have noticed that Goneril is not only represented as the fiercer and more determined of the two sisters but also strikes one as the more sensual. And with this may be connected one or two somewhat curious
points: Kent's comparison of Goneril to the figure of Vanity in the Morality plays (11. ii. 38); the Fool's apparently quite irrelevant remark (though his remarks are scarcely ever so), 'For there was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass' (III. ii. 35); Kent's reference to Oswald (long before there is any sign of Goneril's intrigue with Edmund) as 'one that would be a bawd in way of good service' (11. ii. 20); and Edgar's words to the corpse of Oswald (1v. vi. 257), also spoken before he knew anything of the intrigue with Edmund, I know thee well: a serviceable villain; As duteous to the vices of thy mistress As badness would desire.
Perhaps Shakespeare had conceived Goneril as a woman who before her marriage had shown signs of sensual vice; but the distinct indications of this idea were crowded out of his exposition when he came to write it, or, being inserted, were afterwards excised. I will not go on to hint that Edgar had Oswald in his mind when (III. iv. 87) he described the servingman who 'served the lust of his mistress' heart, and did the act of darkness with her'; and still less that Lear can have had Goneril in his mind in the declamation against lechery referred to in Note S.
I do not mean to imply, by writing this note, that I believe in the hypotheses suggested in it. On the contrary I think it more probable that the defects referred to arose from carelessness and other causes. But this is not, to me, certain; and the reader who rejects the hypotheses may be glad to have his attention called to the points which suggested them.
MOVEMENTS OF THE DRAMATIS PERSONÆ IN ACT II. OF KING LEAR.
I have referred in the text to the obscurity of the play on this subject, and I will set out the movements here.
When Lear is ill-treated by Goneril his first thought is to seek refuge with Regan (1. iv. 274 f., 327 f.). Goneril, accord
ingly, who had foreseen this, and, even before the quarrel, had determined to write to Regan (1. iii. 25), now sends Oswald off to her, telling her not to receive Lear and his hundred knights (1. iv. 354 f.). In consequence of this letter Regan and Cornwall immediately leave their home and ride by night to Gloster's house, sending word on that they are coming (II. i. 1 ff., 81, 120 ff.). Lear, on his part, just before leaving Goneril's house, sends Kent with a letter to Regan, and tells him to be quick, or Lear will be there before him. And we find that Kent reaches Regan and delivers his letter before Oswald, Goneril's messenger. Both the messengers are taken on by Cornwall and Regan to Gloster's house.
In 11. iv. Lear arrives at Gloster's house, having, it would seem, failed to find Regan at her own home. And, later, Goneril arrives at Gloster's house, in accordance with an intimation which she had sent in her letter to Regan (11. iv. 186 f.). Thus all the principal persons except Cordelia and Albany are brought together; and the crises of the double actionthe expulsion of Lear and the blinding and expulsion of Gloster -are reached in Act III. And this is what was required.
But it needs the closest attention to follow these movements. And, apart from this, difficulties remain.
1. Goneril, in despatching Oswald with the letter to Regan, tells him to hasten his return (1. iv. 363). Lear again is surprised to find that his messenger has not been sent back (II. iv. I f., 36 f.). Yet apparently both Goneril and Lear themselves start at once, so that their messengers could not return in time. It may be said that they expected to meet them coming back, but there is no indication of this in the text.
2. Lear, in despatching Kent, says (1. v. 1):
Go you before to Gloster with these letters. Acquaint my daughter no further with anything you know than comes from her demand out of the letter.
This would seem to imply that Lear knew that Regan and Cornwall were at Gloster's house, and meant either to go there (so Koppel) or to summon her back to her own home to receive him. Yet this is clearly not so, for Kent goes straight to Regan's house (II. i. 124, II. iv. 1, 27 ff., 114 ff.).
Hence it is generally supposed that by 'Gloster,' in the passage just quoted, Lear means not the Earl but the place; that Regan's
home was there; and that Gloster's castle was somewhere not very far off. This is to some extent confirmed by the fact that Cornwall is the 'arch' or patron of Gloster (II. i. 60 f., 112 ff.). But Gloster's home or house must not be imagined quite close to Cornwall's, for it takes a night to ride from the one to the other, and Gloster's house is in the middle of a solitary heath with scarce a bush for many miles about (11. iv. 304).
The plural these letters' in the passage quoted need give no trouble, for the plural is often used by Shakespeare for a single letter; and the natural conjecture that Lear sent one letter to Regan and another to Gloster is not confirmed by anything in the text.
The only difficulty is that, as Koppel points out, 'Gloster' is nowhere else used in the play for the place (except in the phrase 'Earl of Gloster' or 'my lord of Gloster'); and—what is more important that it would unquestionably be taken by the audience to stand in this passage for the Earl, especially as there has been no previous indication that Cornwall lived at Gloster. One can only suppose that Shakespeare forgot that he had given no such indication, and so wrote what was sure to be misunderstood,— unless we suppose that 'Gloster' is a mere slip of the pen, or even a misprint, for 'Regan.' But, apart from other considerations, Lear would hardly have spoken to a servant of 'Regan,' and, if he had, the next words would have run 'Acquaint her,' not 'Acquaint my daughter.'
SUSPECTED INTERPOLATIONS IN KING LEAR.
There are three passages in King Lear which have been held to be additions made by 'the players.'
The first consists of the two lines of indecent doggerel spoken by the Fool at the end of Act 1.; the second, of the Fool's prophecy in rhyme at the end of III. ii.; the third, of Edgar's soliloquy at the end of III. vi.
It is suspicious (1) that all three passages occur at the ends of scenes, the place where an addition is most easily made;
and (2) that in each case the speaker remains behind alone to utter the words after the other persons have gone off.
I postpone discussion of the several passages until I have called attention to the fact that, if these passages are genuine, the number of scenes which end with a soliloquy is larger in King Lear than in any other undoubted tragedy. Thus, taking the tragedies in their probable chronological order (and ignoring the very short scenes into which a battle is sometimes divided),1 I find that there are in Romeo and Juliet four such scenes, in Julius Cæsar two, in Hamlet six, in Othello four, in King Lear seven, in Macbeth two, in Antony and Cleopatra three, in Coriolanus one. The difference between King Lear and the plays that come nearest to it is really much greater than it appears from this list, for in Hamlet four of the six soliloquies, and in Othello three of the four, are long speeches, while most of those in King Lear are quite short.
Of course I do not attach any great importance to the fact just noticed, but it should not be left entirely out of account in forming an opinion as to the genuineness of the three doubted passages.
1I ignore them partly because they are not significant for the present purpose, but mainly because it is impossible to accept the division of battlescenes in our modern texts, while to depart from it is to introduce intolerable inconvenience in reference. The only proper plan in Elizabethan drama is to consider a scene ended as soon as no person is left on the stage, and to pay no regard to the question of locality, -a question theatrically insignificant and undetermined in most scenes of an Elizabethan play, in consequence of the absence of movable scenery. In dealing with battles the modern editors seem to have gone on the principle (which they could not possibly apply generally) that, so long as the place is not changed, you have only one scene. Hence in Macbeth, Act v., they have included in their Scene vii. three distinct scenes; yet in Antony and Cleopatra, Act III., following the right division for a wrong reason, they have two scenes (viii. and ix.), each less than four lines long.
"One of these (v. i.) is not marked as such, but it is evident that the last line and a half form a soliloquy of one remaining character, just as much as some of the soliloquies marked as such in other plays.
According to modern editions, eight, Act II., scene ii., being an instance. But it is quite ridiculous to reckon as three scenes what are marked as scenes ii., iii., iv. Kent is on the lower stage the whole time, Edgar in the so-called scene iii. being on the upper stage or balcony. The editors were misled by their ignorance of the stage arrangements.
Perhaps three, for v. iii. is perhaps an instance, though not so marked.