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I am inclined to think that reverse thy doom was Shakespeare's first reading, as more apposite to the present occasion, and that he changed it afterwards to reserve thy state, which conduces more to the progress of the action.
Act I. SCENE Ü. (1. i. 174-5.)
Which nor our nature, nor our place can beat,
Our potency made good. Lear, who is characterized as hot, heady and violent, is, with very just observation of life, made to entangle himself with vows, upon any sudden provocation to vow revenge, and then to plead the obligation of a vow in defence of implacability. Act I SCENE ii. (1. i. 181.) By Jupiter.)
Shakespeare makes his Lear too much a mythologist : he had Hecate and Apollo before. Act I. SCENE viü. (1. ii. 132 foll.)
EDMUND. This is the excellent foppery of the world, &c.
In Shakespeare's best plays, besides the vices that arise from the subject, there is generally some peculiar prevailing folly, principally ridiculed, that runs thro' the whole piece. Thus, in the Tempest, the lying disposition of travellers, and in As you like it, the fantastick humour of courtiers, is exposed and satirised with infinite pleasantry. In like manner, in his play of Lear, the dotages of judicial astrology are severely ridiculed. I fancy, was the date of its first performance well considered, it would be found that something or other happened at that time which gave a more than ordinary run to this deceit, as these words seem to intimate, I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read this other day, what should follow these eclipses. However this be, an impious cheat, which had so little
foundation in nature or reason, so detestable and original, and such fatal consequences on the manners of the people, who were at that time strangely besotted with it, certainly deserved the severest lash of satire. It was a fundamental in this noble science, that whatever seeds of good dispositions the infant unborn might be endowed with, either from nature, or traductively from its parents, yet if, at the time of its birth, the delivery was by any casualty so accelerated or retarded, as to fall in with the predominancy of a malignant constellation, that momentary influence would entirely change its nature, and bias it to all the contrary ill qualities. So wretched and monstrous an opinion did it set out with. But the Italians, to whom we owe this, as well as most other unnatural crimes and follies of these latter ages, fomented its original impiety to the most detestable height of extravagance. Petrus A ponensis, an Italian physician of the XIIIth century, assures us that those prayers which are made to God when the moon is in conjunction with Jupiter in the Dragon's tail, are infallibly heard. The great Milton with a just indignation of this impiety, hath, in his Paradise Regained, satirized it in a very beautiful manner, by putting these reveries into the mouth of the Devil. Nor could the licentious Rabelais himself forbear to ridicule this impious dotage, which he does with exquisite address and humour, where, in the fable which he so agreeably tells from Æsop, of the man who applied to Jupiter for the loss of his hatchet, he makes those, who, on the poor man's good success, had projected to trick Jupiter by the same petition, a kind of astrologick atheists, who ascribed this good fortune, that they imagined they were now all going to partake of, to the influence of some rare conjunction and configuration of the stars. Hen, hen, disent ils-Et doncques, telle est au temps present la revolution des Cieulx, la constellation des Astres, & aspect des Planetes, que quiconque Coignée perdra, soubdain deviendra ainsi riche?
-Nou. Prol. du IV. Livre. But to return to Shakespear. So blasphemous a delusion, therefore, it became the honesty of our poet to expose. But it was a tender point, and required managing. For this impious juggle had in his time a kind of religious reverence paid to it. It was therefore to be done obliquely; and the circumstances of the scene furnished him with as good an opportunity as he could wish.
The persons in the drama are all pagans, so that as, in compliance to custom, his good characters were not to speak ill of judicial Astrology, they could on account of their religion give no reputation to it. But in order to expose it the more, he, with great judgment, makes these pagans Fatalists; as appears by these words of Lear,
By all the operations of the orbs,
From whom we do exist and cease to be. For the doctrine of fate is the true foundation of judicial Astrology. Having thus discredited it by the very commendations given to it, he was in no danger of having his direct satire against it mistaken, by its being put (as he was obliged, both in paying regard to custom, and in following nature) into the mouth of the villain and atheist, especially when he has added such force of reason to his ridicule, in the words referred to in the beginning of the note.
Act III. SCENE IX. (111. vi. 20-1.)
He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a borse's bealth, &c.
Shakespeare is here speaking not of things maliciously treacherous, but of things uncertain and not durable. A horse is above all other animals subject to diseases.
Act IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 68–9.)
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,
That slaves your ordinance. The language of Shakespeare is very licentious, and his words have often meanings remote from the proper and original use. To slave or beslave another is to treat him with terms of indignity ; in a kindred sense, to slave the ordinance, may be, to slight or ridicule it.
Act IV. SCENE V. (IV. V. 22.)
REGAN. Let me unseal the letter. I know not well why Shakespeare gives the Steward, who is a mere factor of wickedness, so much fidelity. He now refuses the letter, and afterwards, when he is dying, thinks only how it may be safely delivered.
Act IV. SCENE vi. (1v. vi.) Enter Glo'ster and Edgar.
This scene and the stratagem by which Glo'ster is cured of his desperation, are wholly borrowed from Sidney's Arcadia.
Act IV. SCENE Vi. (iv. vi. 12 foll.)
How fearful And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low ! This description has been much admired since the time of Addison, who has remarked, with a poor attempt at pleasantry, that he who can read it without being giddy has a very good head, or a very bad one.
The description is certainly not mean, but I am far from thinking it wrought to the utmost excellence of poetry. He that looks from a precipice finds himself assailed by one great and dreadful image of irresistible destruction. But this overwhelming idea is dissipated and enfeebled from the instant that the mind can restore itself to the observation of particulars, and diffuse its
attention to distinct objects. The enumeration of the choughs and crows, the samphire-man and the fishers, counteracts the great effect of the prospect, as it peoples the desert of intermediate vacuity, and stops the mind in the rapidity of its descent through emptiness and horrour. ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi. 81.)
Bear free and patient thoughts. To be melancholy is to have the mind chained down to one painful idea, there is therefore great propriety in exhorting Gloʻster to free thoughts, to an emancipation of his soul from grief and despair. Act IV. SCENE vii. (iv. vi. 8-9.)
That fellow bandles bis Bow like a Crow-keeper. This crow-keeper was so common in the authour's time, that it is one of the few peculiarities mentioned by Ortelius in his account of our island. Act V. SCENE viü. (v. üü. 168.)
EDGAR. Let's exchange cbarity. Our authour by negligence gives his heathens the sentiments and practices of christianity. In Hamlet there is the same solemn act of final reconciliation, but with exact propriety, for the personages are Christians.
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet, &c. · The Tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakespeare. There is perhaps no play which keeps the attention so strongly fixed; which so much agitates our passions and interests our curiosity. The artful involutions of distinct interests, the striking opposition of contrary characters, the sudden changes of fortune, and the quick succession of events,-fill the mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity, and