The Idler, Volume III., Issue XIII., February 1893 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 138 pages of information about The Idler, Volume III., Issue XIII., February 1893.
rank Nature above Art:  each may be highest in its own way, yet the one may have a charm which the other cannot boast.  Mr. Irving’s tragedy sometimes requires working up, but his comedy is spontaneous and immediate.  The needful working up of tragedy is no fault of the actor.  Tragedy should hardly ever begin at once.  The murder may come too soon.  Premature rage is followed by untimely laughter. Digby Grant begins at once, and can be his best self in the very first sentence, but Macbeth must move towards his passion by finely-graded ascents.  In Mr. Irving’s exquisite representation, Macbeth’s anxieties and perturbations, his rapid alternations of courage and cowardice, make delicate but obvious record of themselves in deepening the grey of his hair, and ploughing more deeply the lines of his face.  A comedy may be judged scene by scene, almost sentence by sentence, but a tragedy can be truly estimated only when viewed in final perspective.


Judged by this test, I have no hesitation in regarding Mr. Irving’s King Lear as the finest creation of his genius.  This is an instance in which the actor creates the piece.  Shakespeare is, as a poet and playwright, at his worst in “King Lear.”  Yet his accessories are wonderful in variety and suggestiveness.  Only Shakespeare could have created the heath, and have so ordered the old King’s passion, as to make his madness part of the very thunder and lightning.  That was Shakespeare’s magnificent conception, and Mr. Irving’s rendering is worthy of its tempestuous grandeur.  How to talk up to the storm, how to pierce the tumult with the cries of human distress, how to escape the ridiculous and the incongruous, how to be a King on the desolate heath, and to make the royalty gleam through the angry darkness, were the problems, and Mr. Irving solved them one and all, even with redundance of faculty and skill.  At the end of the heath scene the man is more remembered than the storm.  It has been objected that in the first scene Mr. Irving’s Lear is too old and feeble.  I venture to think otherwise.  I further venture to think that the King’s age and the King’s imbecility have both been accurately appreciated.  A man at eighty, a man athirst for flattery, a man who would pay a kingdom in exchange for adulation, must have outlived all that is best and strongest in human nature.  He comes upon the stage as a wreck.  His vanity has eaten up his sagacity, so that she, Goneril or Regan, who can flatter most, can lie most, and can play the devil best, shall fare most lavishly at his hands.  Is it not well partly to excuse these excesses of self-valuation by such mitigations as can be found in the infirmity of old age?  Even in an elderly man they would have been treated with contempt; they could only be endured in one whose eighty years had been doubled by the hardness of his life lot.

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The Idler, Volume III., Issue XIII., February 1893 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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