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THE first edition of King Lear, in Quarto (Q), was printed in 1608, and has the following title-page :—
M. William Shak-speare: | HIS | True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King LEAR and his three | Daughters. | With the unfortunate 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 upon | S. Stephans night in Christmas Hollidayes. By his Maiesties seruants playing usually 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.
Below the title is a device, identical with one used by the Frankfurt printers, Wechelum.
The bibliography of this edition is complicated by the fact that it was hastily made up of sheets which had, and of others which had not, been corrected, all the six extant copies containing from one to four uncorrected sheets, and being in only two cases alike.1 The corrections' are merely
those of a somewhat incompetent printer.
1 Thus one of the two British Museum copies and one of the two Bodleian copies contain only
uncorrected sheet; the Devonshire copy, three.
In the same year a second Quarto (Q2) appeared, with a different device, and omitting the name of the place of sale. The text of Q2 follows now the corrected, now the uncorrected copies of Q1, frequently, however, perverting both with new corrections of its own, all unauthentic and, with three or four possible exceptions, all wrong. They are of no interest for the student of Shakespeare.1 A third Quarto was carelessly printed in 1655 from Q2.
A graver problem concerns the relation of the Quartos to the First Folio. The circumstances resemble those of Richard III. The text swarms with variations in word and phrase, and each version omits considerable passages which the other supplies. Of the variants a large number are purely indifferent, -substitutions of metrically equivalent synonyms. In a number of others the Folio corrects the palpable blunders of the Qq, many of which, however, it retains. In a third, smaller, group the Qq seem to give the genuine version, the Ff a diffuse perversion of it which had gained a vogue on the stage.2 About 50 lines occur in
1 Of considerable interest, however, for the student of Shakespeare's public. A pithy phrase of Goneril's (iv. 2. 28), e.g., underwent the following transformations :
(1) Q (with sheet H uncorrected):
My foote usurpes my body. (2) Q (with sheet H corrected):
A foole usurpes my bed.
My foote usurps my head.
The Folio first gave the accepted text:
Folio for the first
My foole usurpes my body.
Prætorius: Facsimiles of
Q1 and Q, Introduction. Equally curious was the fate of Kent's Nothing almost sees miracles but miserie' (ii. 2. 172). In the uncorrected Q1 this is given as Nothing almost sees my rackles but,' 'corrected' Q1 amends rackles' to 'my wracke,' and this is followed by Q2.
2 Thus, in ii. 2. 152: (of Kent in the stocks) Qq 'the king must take it ill,'-is expanded in Ff (against metre) to 'the king his master needs must take it ill.'
time. On the other hand, the Ff omit some 220 lines found in Qq.2 Of the authenticity of all the passages peculiar to either text there cannot be a doubt, and there is a strong prima facie probability that all are derived from the same original version, so long a play being inevitably curtailed in performance. The omissions in Ff are certainly due to such curtailment, whether this be ascribed to Shakespeare himself, with Koppel, or, with Delius, to irresponsible actors.5 The additions in the Ff are more difficult to judge. Some of them may be referred, as Delius would refer all, to the palpably careless printer. Others
1 The chief of these are: ii. 4. 142-147 (Say... blame); iii. 2. 79-95 (This time); iv. 1. 6-9 (Welcome blasts). 2 The chief of these are: i. 3. 16-20 (Not to be... abused); i. 4. 154-169 (That lord. snatching); 252-256 (I would learn father); ii. 2. 148152 (His fault. .. are punish'd with); iii. 1. 7-15 (tears . take all); 30-42 (But, true. to you); iii. 6. 17-59 (The foul 'scape); iv. 2. 31-50 (I fear deep); iv. 3.; v. I. 23-28 (Where I... nobly); v. 3. 54-59 (At this time ... place); 204-221 (This . . . slave).
3 Text-kritische Studien über Richard III. u. King Lear (1877).
4 Ueber den ursprünglichen Text des King Lear (Jahrbuch 50 f.). Delius replied to Koppel in Anglia i. (chiefly with reference to Richard III.).
5 Some of the passages excised are necessary for comprehension, e.g. iii. 1. 30-42 (the account of the French invasion); or for the consistency of the context, e.g. iv. 2. 31-50 (Albany's reproof
of Goneril); in Ff her Milkliver'd man,' v. 50, appears unprovoked; others belong to the high poetry of the play rather than to its dramatic mechanism. It is hard to believe that Shakespeare could have cut out the trial of Goneril (iii. 6. 17-59).
6 Thus in ii. 4. 22 (the rapid colloquy of Lear with Kent in the stocks)
L. By Jupiter, I swear, no.
L. They durst not do 't-
Thus, in the dialogue of the Fool with Lear in iii. 6. 1of., Qq give the Fool's question: 'Prithee, nuncle, tell me whether a madman be a gentleman or a yeoman?' and Lear's wonderful: A king, a king!' but omit the Fool's comment: 'No, he's a yeoman that has a gentleman to his son,' etc.
may be passages hastily cut out in the early acting version, but afterwards restored. The theory of a subsequent Shakespearean revision cannot be absolutely dismissed. If Shakespeare in his ripest maturity patched King Lear, his art was probably quite a match for our tests, as it hardly is in the patching of Love's Labour's Lost. But a study of the variants rather suggests that they can be wholly explained from the twofold operation of blundering printers (in Qq) and semi-intelligent actors (in Ff). Doubtless they have sometimes co-operated to deprive us of Shakespeare's phrases altogether. No dogmatic opinion can be pronounced; but the hypothesis, on the whole, works well, that the play was first badly printed (in Qq) from a MS. slightly abridged for the performance at Court; subsequently well printed (in the Folio) from a copy of Q2 rather carelessly corrected by the more severely abridged and amended stage MS.
The date of King Lear may be fixed with some certainty in 1605-6. An entry in the Stationers' Register, under Nov. 26, 1607, shows that it was 'played before the Kings Majesty at Whitehall upon S. Stephens night at Christmas last,' i.e. on Dec. 26, 1606. Phenomenal events had marked the autumn of the previous year: in October, a great eclipse of the sun; in November, the appalling plot of Guy Fawkes. Gloster's faith that 'these eclipses do portend these divisions,' and Edmund's ridicule of it, can hardly be detached from circumstances in which this 'excellent foppery of the world' must have been peculiarly rife. In no case can the drama have been written before 1603, the names of Edgar's fiends being taken from Harsnett's Declaration of Popish Impostures, published in that year.
Lear (Leir, Llyr), tenth king of Britain 'in the
year of the world 3105, at what time Joas reigned in Juda,' was a familiar name to the Elizabethans. As undisputed history his legend had been transcribed by successive chroniclers, in prose and verse, from Layamon to Holinshed (1577); as a dramatic story, with a telling moral, it had attracted the compilers of the Gesta Romanorum and of the Mirror for Magistrates. In Higgins' supplementary First Part of that popular repertory of tragic tales (1574) 'Queen Cordila' told her father's fate and her own. Spenser, a little later, epitomised the story in half a dozen stanzas of the Faerie Queene (bk. ii. c. x. 27-32). Finally, in 1592-3, an unknown hand dramatised it as 'The Chronicle Historie of King Leir and his Three Daughters.' The play was entered in the Stationers' Register, 1594, but first printed in 1605, with a title-page calculated to identify it with the great tragedy then in the first splendour of its fame. The ultimate source of all these versions is Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Britonum, founded professedly upon an old Welsh chronicle. The motive of the Love-test and the Threefold division has farreaching affinities and parallels in folklore. Camden tells it of the West Saxon king Ina. The legend, as told in all these versions, consists of three groups of incidents. In the first, Lear puts his three daughters to the love-test, and disinherits the youngest, who fails to satisfy it. In the second, the two favoured daughters maltreat him in various ways. In the third, the disgraced daughter rescues and restores him.
The first group of incidents is evidently the kernel of the whole, but its fantastic extravagance favoured variation, and three distinct versions were current among the Elizabethans. According to the first (that of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Mirror for Magis