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HE Tragedy of Lear is deservedly
celebrated among the dramas of Shakespeare. There is, perhaps, no play “ which keeps the attention so itrongly - fixed; which so much agitates our passi
ons, and interests our curiosity. The art« ful 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 hope. There is no scene which “ does not contribute to the aggravation of " the distress, or conduct of the action ; « and scarce a line which does not conduce “ to the progress of the scene. So power“ ful is the current of the poet's imagina" tion, that the mind, which once ventures “ within it, is hurried irresistibly along."
Such is the decision of Dr. Johnson on the Lear of Shakespeare. Yet Tate, with all this treasure before him, considered it as “'a heap of jewels unstrung, and unpo“ lished," and resolved, “out of zeal for " all the remains of Shakespeare,” to newinodel the story. Having formed this refolution, “ it was my good fortune (says he) to
light on one expedient to rectify what “ was wanting in the regularity and proba
bility of the tale; which was to run through the whole, e love betwixt Edgar
" and Cordelia, that never changed word “ with each other in the original. This “ renders Cordelia's indifference, and her “ father's passion, in the first scene, proba“ ble. It likewise gives countenance to
Edgar's disguise, making that a generous
design, that was before a poor shift to “ save his life. The distress of the story is
evidently heightened by it; and it parti
çularly gave occasion to a new scene or is
two, of more success perhaps than merit.”.
Now this very expedient of a love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia, on which Tate felicitates himself, seemed to me to be one of the capital objections to his alteration : for even supposing that it rendered Cordelia's indifference to her father more probable (an indifference which Shakespeare has no where implied), it affigns a very poor motive for it; so that what Edgar gains on the side of romantick generosity, Cordelia loses on that of real virtue. The distress of the story is so far from being heightened by it, that it has diffused a languor and insipidity over all the scenes of the play from which Lear is absent; for which I appeal to the sensations of the numerous audiences, with which the play has been honoured; and had the scenes been affectingly written, they would at least have divided our feelings, which Shakeipeare has attached almost entirely to Lear and Cordelia, in their parental and filial capacities; thereby producing passages infinitely more tragick than the embraces of
Cordelia and the ragged Edgar, which would have appeared too ridiculous for representation, had they not been mixed and incorporated with some of the finest scenes of Shakefpeare.
Tate, in whose days love was the foul of Tragedy as well as Comedy, was, however, so devoted to intrigue, that he has not only given Edmund a passion for Cordelia, but has injudiciously amplified on his criminal commerce with Gonerill and Regan, which is the most disgusting part of the original. The Rev. Dr. Warton has doubted, “ whether the cruelty of the daughters is “ not painted with circumstances too fa
vage and unnatural *,” even by Shakespeare. Still, however, in Shakespeare, fomne motives for their conduct are assigned; but as Tate has conducted that part of the fable, they are equally cruel and unnatural, without the poet's assigning any motive at all.
In all these circumstances, it is generally agreed, that Tate's alteration is for the worse ; and his King Lear would probably have quitted the stage long ago, had not the poet made “ the tale conclude in a fuc“cess to the innocent distressed persons.” Even in the catastrophe he has incurred the censure of Addison : but “ in the present