The perception of this connection, if it is not lost as the play advances, does not at all diminish our pity for Lear, but it makes it impossible for us permanently to regard the world displayed in this tragedy as subject to a mere arbitrary or malicious power. In place of all these, Bradley proposes that Hamlet delays because of melancholy. This repetition does not simply double the pain with which the tragedy is witnessed: it startles and terrifies by suggesting that the folly of Lear and the ingratitude of his daughters are no accidents or merely individual aberrations, but that in that dark cold world some fateful malignant influence is abroad, turning the hearts of the fathers against their children and of the children against their fathers, smiting the earth with a curse, so that the brother gives the brother to death and the father the son, blinding the eyes, maddening the brain, freezing the springs of pity, numbing all powers except the nerves of anguish and the dull lust of life. Nor does he merely love his master passionately, as Cordelia loves her father. Bradley and His Influence in Twentieth-Century Shakespeare Criticism. Swinburne,—so admirably described that I am tempted merely to read and illustrate these two criticisms. There is something mysterious in his descent from men of royal siege; in his wanderings in vast deserts and among marvellous peoples; in his tales of magic handkerchiefs and prophetic Sibyls; in the sudden vague glimpses we get of numberless battles and sieges in which he has played the hero and has borne a charmed life; even in chance references to his baptism, his being sold to slavery, his sojourn in Aleppo.
The contrast between Emilia and Desdemona in their conversation about the infidelity of wives iv. In both plays occur repeated comparisons between man and the beasts; the idea that 'the strain of man's bred out into baboon,' wolf, tiger, fox; the idea that this bestial degradation will end in a furious struggle of all with all, in which the race will perish. It is of himself he is speaking, perhaps, when he murmurs, as his master dies, 'Break, heart, I prithee, break! We think of her as unable to speak for herself. What is meant by this is back in Shakespeare's time plays were intended to the certain regime. It has, as we shall presently see, its importance in the play.
The very first words of the drama, as Coleridge pointed out, tell us that the division of the kingdom is already settled in all its details, so that only the public announcement of it remains. The King was surrounded not merely by courtiers but by a Swiss bodyguard; how was Hamlet to get at him? O fool, I shall go mad. His very irritation at goodness, again, is a sign that his faith in his creed is not entirely firm; and it is not entirely firm because he himself has a perception, however dim, of the goodness of goodness. In 1823 Kean, 'stimulated by Hazlitt's remonstrances and Charles Lamb's essays,' restored the original tragic ending. I am here merely recording a general impression. He forces it from the unwilling witness, and hears the maddening tale of Cassio's dream.
Anticipating the probability that Iago has spared him the whole truth, he feels that in that case his life is over and his 'occupation gone' with all its glories. Here at any rate Shakespeare put a good deal of himself into Iago. A thorough index makes back reference easy and provides an outline to each. The occasional recurrence, during his madness, of autocratic impatience or of desire for revenge serves only to heighten this effect, and the moments when his insanity becomes merely infinitely piteous do not weaken it. It is applied to him some fifteen times in the play, not to mention some half-dozen where he employs it, in derision, of himself. This world is dim to us, partly from its immensity, and partly because it is filled with gloom; and in the gloom shapes approach and recede, whose half-seen faces and motions touch us with dread, horror, or the most painful pity,—sympathies and antipathies which we seem to be feeling not only for them but for the whole race. But in King Lear, because the plot is double, we have present in the last scene no less than five persons who are technically of the first importance—Lear, his three daughters and Edmund; not to speak of Kent and Edgar, of whom the latter at any rate is technically quite as important as Laertes.
Imagine the tragedy without him, and you hardly know it. As soon as we turn to this question we recognise, not merely that King Lear possesses purely dramatic qualities which far outweigh its defects, but that its greatness consists partly in imaginative effects of a wider kind. This seems a fair deserving, and must draw me That which my father loses; no less than all: The younger rises when the old doth fall: he meditates, as if he were considering a problem in mechanics. His fall is never complete, but he is much changed. He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven, And fire us hence like foxes. Yet this tragedy is certainly the least popular of the famous four. There is nothing stifled or academic in his approach; all technical matters are reserved for footnotes and endnotes.
He was often hearty, and could be thoroughly jovial; but he was not seldom rather rough and caustic of speech, and he was given to making remarks somewhat disparaging to human nature. He came down from the Morality plays, and was beloved of the groundlings. As a boy, too, he would be more strongly contrasted in the Storm-scenes with Edgar as well as with Lear; his faithfulness and courage would be even more heroic and touching; his devotion to Cordelia, and the consequent bitterness of some of his speeches to Lear, would be even more natural. His childishness comes home to us when he runs out of the hovel, terrified by the madman and crying out to the King 'Help me, help me,' and the good Kent takes him by the hand and draws him to his side. Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all,— O, that way madness lies; let me shun that; No more of that.
In such a night To shut me out! Swinburne do not put this question, but the answer I proceed to give to it is in principle theirs. Suddenly, with a cry represented in the oldest text by a four-times repeated 'O,' he exclaims: Do you see this? And the same self-control is strikingly shown where Othello endeavours to elicit some explanation of the fight between Cassio and Montano. The poet who painted Macbeth and Shylock understood his business. For this reason, too, even the best attempts at exposition of King Lear are disappointing; they remind us of attempts to reduce to prose the impalpable spirit of the Tempest. He had consented, merely for the Fool's sake, to seek shelter in the hovel: Come, your hovel. The outline is of course quite clear; anyone could write an 'argument' of the play.
Here then is Shakespeare at his very greatest, but not the mere dramatist Shakespeare. Why did he act as we see him acting in the play? At another moment those habitual miseries of the poor, of which he has taken too little account, seem to him to accuse the gods of injustice: Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them And show the heavens more just; and Gloster has almost the same thought iv. Nor does this idea take any hold of Othello's mind. Shakespeare could not help himself in the Roman play: in King Lear he did not choose to help himself, perhaps deliberately chose to be vague. In this sense their personality becomes their prison. Lear, we see, is also choleric by temperament—the first of Shakespeare's heroes who is so. The first contains views which reduce Shakespeare to common-place.
Even if he confined himself to what was set down for him, he often disturbed the dramatic unity of the piece; and the temptation to 'gag' was too strong for him to resist. When he murmurs, 'Yet Edmund was beloved,' one is almost in danger of forgetting that he had done much more than reject the love of his father and half-brother. Hawkes 1986 as cited in Taylor 2001: 46 Though Bradley has sometimes been criticised for writing of Shakespeare's characters as though they were real people, his book is probably the most influential single work of ever published. He is waiting for one thing alone. Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand For lifting food to't? It makes us feel that this world is so far at least a rational and a moral order, that there holds in it the law, not of proportionate requital, but of strict connection between act and consequence. 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 its tendency towards this idea is traceable in King Lear, in the shape of the notion that this 'great world' is transitory, or 'will wear out to nought' like the little world called 'man' iv.
From the first scene we get this impression, and in the scene with Oswald it is repeatedly confirmed. Let me first set aside a mistaken view. At his worst, misconstrued, contemned, exiled, under sentence of death, 'the lowest and most dejected thing of fortune,' he keeps his head erect. This is good reading for anyone who's interested in a fuller understanding of Shakespeare's works in general but especially the tragedies and, well, especially these four tragedies. Are we to suppose then that the insanity of the third character, the Fool, is, in this respect, a mere repetition of that of the second, the beggar,—that it too is mere pretence? I know you do not love me; for your sisters Have, as I do remember, done me wrong: You have some cause, they have not. He goes out; and the next moment, as the fourth scene opens, we find ourselves in the icy storm with Lear, Kent and the Fool, and yet in the inmost shrine of love.