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The Riverside Literature Series
FROM THE CAMBRIDGE EDITION EDITED BY
WILLIAM ALLAN NEILSON
WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND ADDITIONAL NOTES BY
ASHLEY H. THORNDIKE
COPYRIGHT, 1906, BY WILLIAM ALLAN NEILSON
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
DAN YARD ***11*3 MAY
LIBRARY CF THE
King Lear was probably first acted in the year 1605. . Written when Shakespeare was about forty years old, it belongs to the period, extending from 1600 to 1608, when he was mainly occupied in writing tragedies; and it was preceded by Julius Cæsar, Ham- Date of the let, and Othello, and followed by Macbeth, Play. Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. The play was first printed in 1608, appearing in two small paper editions called Quartos, the usual form for Elizabethan plays. It was not reprinted until seven years after Shakespeare's death, when all his plays were collected in a large volume, the Folio of 1623. The text as now printed is based solely on these early editions, and to some extent is a composite of Quartos and Folio. The Quartos are full of mistakes due to copyist or printer, and offer many differences from the Folio. They include some three hundred lines not in the Folio at all, while the Folio contains the Text. one hundred lines not in the Quartos. The Quartos probably represent in an uncorrected and unauthorized fashion the play as it was first acted; the Folio apparently represents a later revision of the play, cut down in some instances for stage presentation, but in other cases competently revised, perhaps by Shakespeare himself. The Folio is therefore the main authority for the text, but in some cases the Quarto readings seem preferable, and of course the passages found in the Quartos but not in the Folio are retained. In the present edition
Sources of the Plot.
these are inclosed in brackets, and some of the most important differences between Quartos and Folio are noted in the footnotes.
In choosing the subject for the play, Shakespeare followed a practice then usual among dramatists and selected an old story. The kernel of this story — the father who tests the love of his daughters and receives an unsatisfactory answer from the youngest, who is
disinherited but finally proves her worth
has a place in the folk-lore of many nations. It was first introduced into English literature in connection with the legendary history of King Lear, in the Historia Regum Britannice, a famous work of the twelfth century, by Geoffrey of Monmouth. His account, in which Cordelia commits suicide five years after the death of Lear, was handed down through a long line of chroniclers, and story-tellers, and repeated in Holinshed's Chronicle of English history, a sixteenthcentury publication, which was the source of all of Shakespeare's English historical plays. Holinshed's long narrative in prose was Shakespeare's main guide, but the Lear story had also been given poetical treatment in three of the most popular poems of Shakespeare's time, the Mirrour for Magistrates, Warner's Albion's England, and Spenser's Faery Queen. Shakespeare doubtless knew these, but he derived less from them than from still another version, an old play written and acted a dozen years earlier, but perhaps revived about the time that Shakespeare was preparing his play for the stage. This old King Leir is a comedy, ending happily, but it gave Shakespeare many hints for effective dramatization and even for the characters
of Kent and Cordelia. To the Lear story of a father and his daughters, Shakespeare added a second story similar in theme, that of Gloucester and his two sons, which he framed on the story of the blind King of Paphlagonia in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia.
If we compare Shakespeare's play with these various sources, we find that in many ways they conditioned and directed his invention. Some incidents, indeed, he discarded; as the suicide of Cordelia in Holinshed, or the happy ending of the old play. On the other hand, he retained some of the most improbable parts of the old stories. The story of Gloucester's attempt at suicide and Edgars trick to prevent it involves a series of im- ; probabilities, but Shakespeare kept them all. Lear's trial of his daughters' affection is improbable, but it is essential to the play, and Shakespeare retained it. He makes it, to be sure, of as little importance as possible, confining it to the first scene, and he renders it as plausible as possible by representing Lear as old and already almost unbalanced in mind, and by Shakerepresenting Cordelia as reticent of tempera- Treatment of ment, surprised by her father's demand, and overborne by her sister's effrontery. If Shakespeare kept much that had belonged to the story for centuries, he also added much that was new. His additions include the tragic catastrophe, the madness of Lear, the banishment and disguise of Kent, the whole account of the Fool, the pretended madness of Edgar, the loves of the wicked daughters for Edmund, and of course all the incidents which link together the two stories of Lear and Gloucester. What resulted, even if we look at it merely as a story and not as a drama or poem,