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Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
PAGE 253

It is not even satisfactorily motivated.1 In fact it seems expressly designed to fall suddenly like a bolt from a sky cleared by the vanished storm. And although from a wider point of view one may fully recognize the value of this effect, and may even reject with horror the wish for a 'happy ending,' this wider point of view, I must maintain, is not strictly dramatic or tragic.

     Of course this is a heresy and all the best authority is against it. But then the best authority, it seems to me, is either influenced unconsciously by disgust at Tate's sentimentalism or unconsciously takes that wider point of view. When Lamb -- there is no higher authority -- writes, 'A happy ending! -- as if the living martyrdom that

   1I mean that no sufficiently clear reason is supplied for Edmund's delay in attempting to save Cordelia and Lear. The matter stands thus. Edmund, after the defeat of the opposing army, sends Lear and Cordelia to prison. Then, in accordance with a plan agreed on between himself and Goneril, he despatches a captain with secret orders to put them both to death instantly (V. iii. 26-37, 244, 252). He then has to fight with the disguised Edgar. He is mortally wounded, and, as he lies dying, he says to Edgar (at line 162, more than a hundred lines after he gave that commission to the captain):
What you have charged me with, that have I done;
And more, much more; the time will bring it out;
'Tis past, and so am I.

In 'more, much more' he seems to be thinking of the order for the deaths of Lear and Cordelia (what else remained undisclosed?); yet he says nothing about it. A few lines later he recognizes the justice of his fate, yet still says nothing. Then he hears the story of his father's death, says it has moved him and 'shall perchance do good' (what good except saving his victims?); yet he still says nothing. Even when he hears that Goneril is dead and Regan poisoned, he still says nothing. It is only when directly questioned about Lear and Cordelia that he tries to save the victims who were to be killed 'instantly' (242). How can we explain his delay? Perhaps, thinking the deaths of Lear and Cordelia would be of use to Goneril and Regan, he will not speak till he is sure that both the sisters are dead. Or perhaps, though he can recognize the justice of his fate and can be touched by the account of his father's death, he is still too self-absorbed to rise to the active effort to 'do some good, despite of his own nature.' But, while either of these conjectures is possible, it is surely far from satisfactory that we should be left to mere conjecture as to the cause of the delay which permits the catastrophe to take place. The real cause lies outside the dramatic nexus. It is Shakespeare's wish to deliver a sudden and crushing blow to the hopes which he has excited.

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