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sealed and the whole course of tragic experience is started. This passage is therefore the very pivot on which the plot of the play revolves.

Staunton, having caught correctly at the staunton meaning of such words as “co-join,” seems to be the only critic to have suspected that the passage has physiological allusion. He explains: “Leontes asks, 'Can it be possible a mother's vehement imagination should penetrate even to the womb, and there imprint upon the embryo what stamp she choose? Such apprehensive fantasy, then, he goes on to say, 'we may believe will readily co-join with something tangible, and it does; etc.”Staunton's idea of its significance seems to be that, as Hermione was a woman of strong imagination, which is brought out by the fact that Mamillius bears so close a resemblance to his father, she might easily be beguiled into an attachment for Polixenes. While this is an oceanwidth from the idea, it shows at least that he had an inkling of the meaning of certain words.

Furness gives this conjecture short shrift, saying, rather disdainfully, "Are we to believe that the betossed soul of Leontes is here interested in a recondite physiological speculation?”

To a man who did not catch the passage as a whole, nor understand its bearing upon the play in general, this physiological interpretation of certain words must certainly have seemed ridiculous.

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THE CLEAREST GODS

Edgar. ... therefore, thou happy father,
Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours
Of men's impossibilities, have preserved thee.

(King Lear, iv, 6, 72)

The meaning of “clearest” in this connection is a point which remains unconquered. Furness submits a list of the most notable conjectures since the time of Theobald and Samuel Johnson but does not venture to suggest that any of them may be right.

When Shakespeare is so extremely logical that he begins a statement with therefore, we may be warranted in saying that a little logical thought was expected to make the case plain.

The “clearest” gods are, and always have been, those that perform miracles. As man's conception of deity is liable to be vague, abstract and uncertain, the god that deals definitely with us by performing a miracle makes himself clearest to the mind. A miracle is in the nature of proof.

The trouble here is that critics do not grasp the one great thing which Shakespeare has done with Gloucester in the course of the play.

Gloucester, by being made to suffer to the limit of human endurance, and for no just reason that he can see, loses his faith in an over

ruling providence. There is no divine caretaking; no higher power whose deeper wisdom we may depend upon. Nay worse:

As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods,

They kill us for their sport. This was Gloucester's view; and the best thing to do in such a world was to take your life in your own hands and die.

This is in Act 3. In Act 4 a great change has come over him; we hear him say:

You ever gentle gods, take my breath from me;
Let not my worser spirit tempt me again

To die before you please. And a little later we see this same man standing under a tree, blind and helpless, with worse fortunes still piling in around him. But nothing can move him to impatience now; he is as passive as the tree itself.

What was it that made such a change in him? It was what he saw in a moment when this remark about “the clearest gods” was made to him. Right at that instant the great transformation in his soul was wrought, and by those few words. If we do not understand the cliff scene as leading up to the climax in these words we have missed a whole section of the play.

Edgar led his blind father to a place on the flat plain and made him believe he was standing on the very edge of Dover cliff. Then he pretended to go away, knowing that the aged and life-weary man would take the leap from

what he supposed to be an awful height. Edgar did this because the deep eye of love showed him what had happened to his father more serious than even the loss of his eyes. Gloucester had lost his faith. And the only way this could be at once restored was by a miracle. Accordingly, when Gloucester took the leap and fell flatlong, Edgar ran to him and in altered voice made him believe that he had really fallen from that dizzy height but had been made to come off without injury. The watchful gods had done it; they had interposed to save him by a miracle. From that moment to the end of the tragedy no suffering is too great for Gloucester patiently to endure. He had lost his bodily vision, but the eyesight of his soul had been restored. He believed; and the deep inner havoc was mended. There is not in all literature - there could not be — a scene so beautiful as this cliff episode when we understand it. The son, with deep insight of the state of affairs, contrives to heal his father's maimed soul. He has given him back his faith.

Nothing but a miracle could save a man who jumped off the edge of Dover cliff; and none but the gods can perform a miracle:

therefore, thou happy father Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours

Of men's impossibilities, have preserved thee. The watchful gods, in whom Gloucester had ceased to believe, are thus made clear to him.

And Edgar calls him “happy” because he feels that though worldly losses may not be righted, the man has been given something worth having.

The “clearest gods” are simply those gods “who make them honours of men's impossibilities,” or in other words those who perform miracles for human edification. Shakespeare has defined the word himself; the two phrases are synonymous. This pronouncement is the climax of the whole episode; and, as I have repeatedly shown, Shakespeare is careful to define by reiteration the meanings that are of great import. In fact, a large proportion of these so-called cruxes, where typographical error is suspected, are simply climactic passages; and because they are the high points of an inner tragedy - of happenings to the mind and soul themselves — they involve a point of view. It is because they involve a point of view that Shakespeare expresses them, not in commonplace and worn phrases, but in words fundamentally selected to force the point of view upon

A miracle, fundamentally, is to make god clear to those who do not believe. If we miss what is being said here we miss a whole important section of the play.

It will now be worth a few moments' time to observe a certain point of art in the handling of this whole episode. From the time Edgar takes his father's arm, at the end of Scene 1, Act iv, and starts out for the cliff, we are not given the least hint of what his intentions are.

us.

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