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Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
PAGE 326

her. The extremity of the disproportion between prosperity and goodness first shocks us, and then flashes on us the conviction that our whole attitude in asking or expecting that goodness should be prosperous is wrong; that, if only we could see things as they are, we should see that the outward is nothing and the inward is all.

     And some such thought as this (which, to bring it clearly out, I have stated, and still state, in a form both exaggerated and much too explicit) is really present through the whole play. Whether Shakespeare knew it or not, it is present. I might almost say that the 'moral' of King Lear is presented in the irony of this collocation:

   Albany.  The gods defend her!
Enter Lear with Cordelia dead in his arms.

The 'gods,' it seems, do not show their approval by 'defending' their own from adversity or death, or by giving them power and prosperity. These, on the contrary, are worthless, or worse; it is not on them, but on the renunciation of them, that the gods throw incense. They breed lust, pride, hardness of heart, the insolence of office, cruelty, scorn, hypocrisy, contention, war, murder, self-destruction. The whole story beats this indictment of prosperity into the brain. Lear's great speeches in his madness proclaim it like the curses of Timon on life and man. But here, as in Timon, the poor and humble are, almost without exception, sound and sweet at heart, faithful and pitiful.1 And here

   1E.g. in King Lear the servants, and the old man who succours Gloster and brings to the naked beggar 'the best 'parel that he has, come on't what will,' i.e. whatever vengeance Regan can inflict. Cf. the Steward and the Servants in Timon. Cf. there also (V. i. 23), 'Promising is the very air o' the time . . . performance is ever the duller for his act; and, but in the plainer and simpler kind of people, the deed of saying [performance of promises] is quite out of use.' Shakespeare's feeling on this subject, though apparently specially keen at this time of his life, is much the same throughout (cf. Adam in As You Like It). He has no respect for the plainer and simpler kind of people as politicians, but a great respect and regard for their hearts.

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