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1. LITERARY HISTORY OF THE PLAY
Two quarto editions of King Lear bear the date 1608. Their relationship and order of publication were long doubtful, but it is now certain that the earlier is that which bears the following titlepage:
M. William Shak-speare: | His | True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear and his three | Daughters. | With the vnfortunate life of Edgar, sonne | and heire to the Earle of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humor of | Tom of Bedlam: | As it was played before the Kings Maiestie at Whitehall vpon | S. Stephans night in Christmas Hollidayes. | By his Maiesties seruants playing vsually at the Gloabe on the Bancke-side, | London. | Printed for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls | Churchyard at the signe of the Pide Bull neere | St. Austins Gate. 1608.
This edition was, as usual, authorized neither by Shakespeare nor by the theatrical company for which he wrote. Probably it was based upon a surreptitious stenographic report of a performance; and it is to be regarded as a carelessly printed issue of King Lear in approximately the form in which the play was at first acted.
The Second Quarto has the same title, except that it omits the words from "and are to be sold" to "St. Austins Gate." The date 1608 is fraudulent, for this edition was not issued until 1619. It was based upon the First Quarto, many of the faults of which it reproduced and aggravated; and it is useless in determining the true text of King Lear.1
The next edition of the play was that in the Folio of 1623. It is the most valuable, for it appears to have been taken from an acting copy preserved at the theatre. The independent origin of 1 The relationship of the Quartos was first established by the Cambridge ors, though the editor of King Lear. collated with the old and modern 18, published in 1770, had already concluded that the so-called Pide edition was the first. See also Mr. P. A. Daniel's introduction to the Zacsimile reprints of the two Quartos (1885). Mr. A. W. Pollard and M W. W. Greg have shown that the Second Quarto was issued in 1619. Another Quarto, a careless reprint of the second, was "printed by Jane Bell" 655.
the Folio and Quarto texts gives rise to marked divergences. Apart from verbal variations, there is considerable difference in the length of the versions. The Quartos contain about three hundred lines that are not given in the Folio, and on the other hand about a hundred and ten lines in the Folio are omitted in the Quartos.1 These omissions cannot definitely be explained; but it is probable that the divergences are due to the actors and printers. The First Quarto may follow a slightly condensed copy used in the performance at court in 1606, while the Folio gives the more abridged acting copy of the theatre. The bibliographical difficulties are further complicated by the fact that, though the two editions are based on different texts, the Folio reproduces some of the errors of the Quartos. The explanation of this would seem to be that the printer of the Folio did not work directly on the acting copy, but employed an edition of the First Quarto that had been corrected roughly in accordance with the manuscript. The modern text is considerably longer than that of the original editions by the inclusion of all the passages that occur only in one or the other of them. On the assumption that Shakespeare took no further care of the play after he had given it to the actors, the King Lear which we now have is a nearer approach to what it was when it left his hands.
King Lear is one of the Shakespearean plays which were mangled at the Restoration. It appears to have been acted “as Shakespeare wrote it” between 1662 and 1665, and again in 1671 or 1672,2 but it was more popular in the adapted version of Nahum Tate, which was produced and published in 1681.3 Tate considered the play “a heap of jewels, unstrung and unpolished,” and he set himself to give it what Restoration taste demanded. “'Twas my good fortune,” he says, “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 Cordelia, that never changed word with each other in the original. This renders Cordelia's indifference and her father's passion in the first scene prob
1 The chief passages omitted in the Quartos are: i. 1. 41-46; i. 2. 118-124, 181-187; i. 4. 345–356; ii. 4. 46-55, 142–147; iii. 1. 22-29; ii. 2. 80–95; iii. 6. 13-15; iv. 1. 6–9; iv. 6. 169-174. The chief passages omitted in the Folios are: i. 2. 156-163; i. 3. 16-20; i. 4. 154–169; ii. 2. 148–152; iii. 1. 7-15, 30-42; iii. 6. 18-58, 103-122; iii. 7. 99-107; iv. 2. 31-50, 53-59, 62-69; iv. 3. (the whole scene); iv. 7. 85-97; v. 3. 204-221. It is sometimes stated erroneously that only about fifty lines are omitted in the Quartos, and about two hundred and twenty in the Folios.
2 See Downes, Roscius Anglicanus (ed. Davies, 1789), pp. 36 and 43.
3 The History of King Lear. Acted at the Duke's Theatre. Reviv'd with Alterations. By N. Tate. London, 1681. Reprinted 1771.
able. It likewise gives countenance to Edgar's disguise, making that a generous design that was before a poor shift to save his life. The distress of the story is evidently heightened by it; and it particularly gave occasion of a new scene or two, of more success (perhaps) than merit. This method necessarily threw me on making the tale conclude in a success to the innocent distrest Persons.
Yet I was wracked with no small fears for so bold a change, till I found it well received by my audience.”
The love-making and betrothal of Edgar and Cordelia, the restoration of Lear to his kingdom, the enforced moral that “truth and virtue shall at last succeed,” the interpolated scenes, and the entire omission of the Fool, make this version a perfect botch of the original. But it held the stage unchallenged till the time of Garrick, and its tinkerings were not totally discarded until well on in the nineteenth century. Garrick's version, which was produced in 1756, was generally accepted for about fifty years. With all his enthusiasm for Shakespeare, Garrick showed little regard for the plays as Shakespeare left them, and of none did he represent a more garbled version than of King Lear. It may not unfitly be described as an adaptation of Tate's. He restored certain passages and omitted many of Tate's additions, but he retained the love scenes and the happy ending, and after serious consideration decided that he could not include the Fool. The version that Colman produced in 1768 was a decided improvement. He endeavored in it, he says, “to purge the tragedy of Lear of the alloy of Tate, which has so long been suffered to debase it.” He had the taste to recognize that the love scenes between Edgar and Cordelia were entirely out of place, and that, far from heightening the distress of the story, as Tate had asserted, they diffused a languor over all the scenes from which Lear is absent. But he did not condemn Tate entirely. “To reconcile,” he says, “the catastrophe of Tate to the original story was the first grand object which I proposed to myself in this alteration.” He thus expelled Tate from the first four acts, but retained him in the fifth; but, like Tate and Garrick, he would have none of the Fool, being “convinced that such a character in a tragedy would not be endured on the modern stage.” Colman's version, however, was not popular because of the absence of the love scenes, and Garrick's or Tate's kept possession of the stage.?
1 The version of 1756 was not printed, but it is presumably the same as that published by Bell in 1772 or 1773.
2 See Genest, English Stage, iv. 475; v. 191-203; viii. 131. Another version was produced by Kemble in 1809, but it was worse than Garrick's, for Kemble restored passages from Tate that Garrick had omitted.
Throughout the eighteenth century the happy ending, though invariably adopted by the actors, was a moot point of the critics. Addison condemned it and the “ridiculous doctrine ” of poetical justice urged in its defense. “King Lear is an admirable tragedy,"
"as Shakespeare wrote it; but as it is reformed according to the chimerical notion of poetical justice, in my humble opinion it has lost half its beauty.”1 Johnson was of the opposite opinion, and represents the prevailing taste of the time when he states with evident satisfaction that “Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity.”
The new school of Shakespearean critics at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and particularly Lamb and Hazlitt, induced Kean to abandon the inartistic conclusion that had been in vogue for over a hundred and forty years. In 1820 he had followed Tate's version, but he had declared that “the London audience have no notion what I can do until they see me over the dead body of Cordelia,” and in 1823, in obedience to his dramatic instincts and “the suggestion of men of literary eminence from the time of Addison,” he gave the last act as originally written by Shakespeare. But even Kean did not restore the true version in the rest of the play, for Tate's love scenes were retained and the Fool was still excluded. Not till Macready's performance of the play in 1838 was the Fool again permitted to appear. But even in making this restoration Macready had considerable misgivings. “My opinion of the introduction of the Fool,” he wrote in his diary, “is that, like many such terrible contrasts in poetry and painting, in acting-representation it will fail in effect; it will either weary, or annoy, or distract the spectator. I have no hope of it, and think that at the last we shall be obliged to dispense with it.' Though he doubted the propriety of this part, he has the credit of restoring to the stage the true King Lear.
2. THE DATE OF THE PLAY
The date of King Lear is not definitely known; but it is certain that the play was written between 1603 and 1606. The later limit is fixed by external evidence. The First Quarto was entered in the Stationers' Registers under the date November 26, 1607, as "A Booke called Master William Shakespeare his ‘historye of Kinge Lear'as yt was played before the kinges maiestie at Whitehall vppon Sainct Stephens night at Christmas Last. The performance at
1 Spectator, No. 40.