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Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
PAGE 328

appearance of it which tragedy cannot dissolve without dissolving itself, is illusive. And its tendency towards this idea is traceable in King Lear, in the shape of the notion that this 'great world' is transitory, or 'will wear out to nought' like the little world called 'man' (IV. vi. 137), or that humanity will destroy itself.1 In later days, in the drama that was probably Shakespeare's last complete work, the Tempest, this notion of the transitoriness of things appears, side by side with the simpler feeling that man's life is an illusion or dream, in some of the most famous lines he ever wrote:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

These lines, detached from their context, are familiar to everyone; but, in the Tempest, they are dramatic as well as poetical. The sudden emergence of the thought expressed in them has a specific and most significant cause; and as I have not seen it remarked I will point it out.

     Prospero, by means of his spirits, has been exhibiting to Ferdinand and Miranda a masque

   1Biblical ideas seem to have been floating in Shakespeare's mind. Cf. the words of Kent, when Lear enters with Cordelia's body, 'Is this the promised end?' and Edgar's answer, 'Or image of that horror?' The 'promised end' is certainly the end of the world (cf. with 'image' 'the great doom's image,' Macbeth, II. iii. 83); and the next words, Albany's 'Fall and cease,' may be addressed to the heavens or stars, not to Lear. It seems probable that in writing Gloster's speech about the predicted horrors to follow 'these late eclipses' Shakespeare had a vague recollection of the passage in Matthew xxiv., or of that in Mark xiii, about the tribulations which were to be the sign of 'the end of the world.' (I do not mean, of course, that the 'prediction' of I. ii. 119 is the prediction to be found in one of these passages.)

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