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As it is performed at
THE THEATRE ROYAL
COVENT GARDE N.
HE Tragedy of Lear is defervedly celebrated among the dramas of Shakespeare. There is, perhaps, no play "which keeps the attention fo strongly "fixed; which fo much agitates our paffi"ons, and interefts our curiofity. The art"ful involutions of diftinct interefts, the
ftriking oppofition of contrary characters, "the fudden changes of fortune, and the quick fucceffion of events, fill the mind "with a perpetual tumult of indignation,
pity, and hope. There is no fcene which "does not contribute to the aggravation of "the diftrefs, or conduct of the action; "and scarce a line which does not conduce "to the progrefs of the fcene. So power
ful is the current of the poet's imagination, that the mind, which once ventures "within it, is hurried irrefiftibly along." . Such is the decifion of Dr. Johnfon on the Lear of Shakespeare. Yet Tate, with all this treasure before him, confidered it as "a heap of jewels unftrung, and unpo
lifhed;" and refolved, "out of zeal for "all the remains of Shakespeare," to newmodel the ftory. Having formed this refolution, "it was my good fortune (fays he) to
light on one expedient to rectify what "was wanting in the regularity and probability of the tale; which was to run through the whole, a love betwixt Edgar "and
"and Cordelia, that never changed word "with each other in the original. This "renders Cordelia's indifference, and her "father's paffion, in the firft fcene, proba"ble. It likewife gives countenance to Edgar's difguife, making that a generous defign, that was before a poor shift to "fave his life. The diftrefs of the story is evidently heightened by it; and it particularly gave occafion to a new scene or two, of more fuccefs perhaps than merit."
Now this very expedient of a love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia, on which Tate felicitates himself, feemed to me to be one of the capital objections to his alteration for even fuppofing 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; fo that what Edgar gains on the fide of romantick generofity, Cordelia lofes on that of real virtue. The diftrefs of the story is fo far from being heightened by it, that it has diffused a languor and infipidity over all the fcenes of the play from which Lear is abfent; for which I appeal to the fenfations of the numerous audiences, with which the play has been honoured; and had the fcenes been affectingly written, they would at least have divided our feelings, which Shakespeare has attached almoft entirely to Lear and Cordelia, in their parental and filial capacities; thereby producing paffages infinitely more tragick than the embraces of Cordelia
Cordelia and the ragged Edgar, which would have appeared too ridiculous for reprefentation, 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 paffion 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 circumftances too fa"vage and unnatural *," even by Shakefpeare. Still, however, in Shakespeare, fome motives for their conduct are affigned; but as Tate has conducted that part of the fable, they are equally cruel and unnatural, without the poet's affigning any motive at all.
In all these circumftances, it is generally agreed, that Tate's alteration is for the worse; and his King Lear would probably have quitted the ftage long ago, had not the poet made " the tale conclude in a fuc"cefs to the innocent diftreffed perfons." Even in the catastrophe he has incurred the cenfure of Addifon: but " in the present
*Alventurer, No. 122.