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LEAR, King of Britain.
A Doctor. KING OF FRANCE.
A Fool. DUKE OF BURGUNDY.
OSWALD, Steward to Goneril. DUKE OF ALBANY.
An Officer employed by Edmund. DUKE OF CORNWALL,
A Gentleman, attendant on Cordelia. EARL OF KENT.
Servants to Cornwall.
REGAN, Daughters to Lear.
SCENE. - Britain.
SCENE I. - A Room of State in King LEAR's Palace.
Enter KENT, GLOSTER, and EDMUND.
Kent. I thought the King had more affected 1 the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.
Glos. It did always seem so to us : but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he
1 To affect a thing, as the word is here used, is to take to it, to have an inclination towards it. See vol. xii, page 165, note to.
values most; for equalities are so weigh'd, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.3
Kent. Is not this your son, my lord ?
Glos. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge : I have so often blush'd to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to't.
Kent. I cannot conceive you.
Glos. Sir, this young fellow's mother could ; whereupon she grew round-womb'd, and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.
Gloș. But I have a son, sir, by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: though this knave came something saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair ; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged. — Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ?
Edm. No, my lord.
Glos. My Lord of Kent: remember him hereafter as my honourable friend.
Edm. My services to your lordship.
2 That is, the portions are weighed out or arranged so equally, or in such equality. A proleptical mode of speech, like many others.
3 Moiety properly means half, but was used for any part or portion.Curiosity is close scrutiny, or scrupulous exactness. — This speech goes far to interpret Lear's subsequent action, as it shows that the division of the kingdom has already been concluded, and the several portions allotted, and so infers the trial of professions to be a sort of pet device with the old King, a thing that has no purpose but to gratify a childish whim. The opening thus forecasts Lear's madness.
4 Here, as usual in Shakespeare, proper is handsome, or fine-looking.
Glos. He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again.5 — [Sennet within.] The King is coming. Enter LEAR, ALBANY, CORNWALL, GONERIL, REGAN, CORDELIA,
and Attendants. Lear. Attend the Lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster. Glos. I shall, my liege. [Exeunt GLOSTER and EDMUND.
Lear. Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.6 Give me the map there. Know that we've divided In three our kingdom ; and 'tis our fast intent To shake all cares and business from our age, Conferring them on younger strengths, while we Unburden'd crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall, And you, our no less loving son of Albany, We have this hour a constant will? to publish Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife May be prevented now.8 The princes, France and Burgundy, Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, Long in our Court have made their amorous sojourn, And here are to be answer’d. — Tell me, my daughters, Since now we will divest us both of rule, Interest of territory, cares of State, Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
5 As Edmund's villainy is a leading force in the dramatic action, an intimation of the causes which have been at work preparing him for crime is judiciously given here in the outset of the play. — Gloster's meaning in this last speech clearly is, that he has kept Edmund away from home nine years, and intends sending him away again, in order to avoid the shame of his presence, or because he has so “ often blush'd to acknowledge him." We may suppose Edmund's absence to have been spent in travelling abroad, or in pursuing his studies, or in some kind of foreign service. And this accounts for his not being acquainted with Kent.
6 Lear's “ darker purpose" is probably that of surprising his daughters into a rivalry of affection. This he has hitherto kept dark about; though his scheme of dividing the kingdom was known, at least in the Court.
7 " Constant will” is fixed or determined will; the same as “ fast intent." 8 "That future strife may be prevented by what we now do."
That we our largest bounty may extend
9 Nature is put for natural affection, and with merit is used adverbially: “That I may extend my largest bounty where natural affection justly, or meritoriously, challenges it"; that is, claims it as due.
10 “My love is a matter so weighty that words cannot express or sustain it."
11 Beyond all assignable quantity. "I love you so much that there is no possibility of telling how much.".
12 Rich'd for enriched. — Champains are plains; hence fertile.
13 The lord of a thing is, strictly speaking, the owner of it. And lady is here used as the counterpart of lord in this sense. So that to make one the lady of a thing is to make her the owner or possessor of it.
14 The Poet often uses self with the sense of self-same. 15 “She comes short of me in this, that I profess," &c.
Myself an enemy to all other joys,
possesses ; And find I am alone felicitate 17 In your dear Highness' love. Cord. [Aside.]
Cordelia ! And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love's More richer than my tongue.
Lear. To thee and thine hereditary ever
Cord. Nothing, my lord.
Cord. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
16 By square of sense I understand fulness of sensibility or capacity of joy. So that the meaning seems to be, " Which the finest susceptibility of happiness is capable of.” Some have stumbled at the word square here. But why not" square of sense" as well as circle of the senses ? which would be a very intelligible expression.
17 Felicitate, a shortened form of felicitated, is fortunate or made happy. The Poet has many preterites so shortened; as consecrate, suffocate, &c.
18 Validity for value or worth. Repeatedly so.
19 To interest and to interesse are not, perhaps, different spellings of the same verb, but two distinct words, though of the same import; the one being derived from the Latin, the other from the French interesser.
20 We have the same thought well expressed in The Maid's Tragedy of Beaumont and Fletcher, i. I: “My mouth is much too narrow for my heart."
21 Bond was used of any thing that binds or obliges; that is, duty.