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The first edition of King Lear, in Quarto (Qı), was Texts printed in 1608, and has the following title-page : Quartos.
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. 1, 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 un corrected 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 one uncorrected sheet ; the Museum copies and one of the Devonshire copy, three. two Bodleian copies contain only
In the same year a second Quarto (2) 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 Qv, 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. A third Quarto was carelessly printed in 1655 from Qz.
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 the Folio for the first
1 Of considerable interest, My foole usurpes my body. however, for the student of Prætorius: Facsimiles of Shakespeare's public. A pithy
Qı and Q2, Introduction. phrase of Goneril's (iv. 2. 28), Equally curious was the fate of e.g., underwent the following Kent's Nothing almost sees transformations :
miracles but miserie' (ii. 2. 172). (1) Qi (with sheet H uncor- In the uncorrected Q. this is rected):
given as : ‘Nothing almost sees
The My foote usurpes my body.
my rackles but,' etc.
'corrected' Qi amends 'my (2) Qı (with sheet H cor
rackles' to 'my wracke,' and rected) :
this is followed by Q2. A foole usurpes my
2 Thus, in ii. 2. 152: (of (3) Q2:
Kent in the stocks) Qq 'the
king must take it ill,'—is exMy foote usurps my head.
panded in Ff (against metre) to The Folio first gave the ac- 'the king his master needs cepted text :
must take it ill.'
time. On the other hand, the Ff omit some 220 lines found in Qq. 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. of Goneril); in Ff her · Milk4. 142-147 (Say. blame); iii. liver'd man,' v. 50, appears 2. 79-95 (This . time); iv. unprovoked ; others belong to 1. 6-9 (Welcome . blasts). the high poetry of the play
2 The chief of these are : i. rather than its dramatic 3. 16-20 (Not to be ... abused); mechanism. It is hard to bei. 4. 154-169 (That lord . lieve that Shakespeare could snatching); 252-256 (I would have cut out the trial of Goneril learn. father); ii. 2. 148- (iii. 6. 17-59). 152 (His fault ... are punish'd 6 Thus in ii. 4. 22 (the rapid with); iii. 1. 7-15 (tears . colloquy of Lear with Kent in take all); 30-42 (But, true . the stocks) — to you); iii. 6. 17-59 (The foul
L. By Jupiter, I swear, no. 'scape) ; iv. 2. 31-50 (I K. By Juno, I swear, ay (omitted fear .. deep); iv. 3. ; v. I.
in Q9). 23-28 (Where I... nobly); v. 3.
L. They durst not do 't54-59 (At this time.
place) ; the compositor's eye seems to 204-221 (This . . . slave). have been misled by the simi
3 Text-kritische Studien über larity of Kent's speech to Lear's. Richard III. u. King Lear In other cases a longer but still (1877).
necessary speech has 4 Ueber den ursprünglichen clearly dropped out. Text des King Lear (Jahrbuch Thus, in the dialogue of the x. 50 f.). Delius replied to
Fool with Lear in iii. 6. Iof., Koppel in Anglia i. (chiefly Qq give the Fool's question : with reference to Richard III.). * Prithee, nuncle, tell me whether
5 Some of the passages excised a madman be a gentleman or are necessary for comprehension, a yeoman?' and Lear's wondere.g. iii. 1. 30-42 (the account of ful: 'A king, a king !' but the French invasion); or for the omit the Fool's comment: No, consistency of the context, e.g. he's a yeoman that has a gentleiv. 2. 31-50 (Albany's reproof man 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 Q9) 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 Q, rather carelessly corrected by the more severely abridged and amended
Date of Composition.
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 The Loveof the whole, but its fantastic extravagance favoured vision of the variation, and three distinct versions were current
Kingdom. among the Elizabethans. According to the first (that of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Mirror for Magis
trial and Di