Textual and Editorial Problems in Shakespeare's King Lear

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

31 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Fran Spring (Author)



1. Introduction

2. The Texts of King Lear
2.1 The Quarto No° 1
2.2 The Quarto No° 2
2.3 The Folio No° 1

3. Significant Differences
3.1 The Missing Mock Trial
3.2 Albany vs. Edgar
3.2.1 Albany
3.2.2 Edgar
3.3 Cordelia
3.3.1 doue loue vs. speake loue
3.3.2 Cordelia Rising
3.3.3 The Missing 4.3

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

One of the most interesting texts of William Shakespeare that brings a controversy discussion with it over its textual integrity, is King Lear. There are apparently two texts of King Lear that do not derive from one manuscript, and therefore have caused an editorial and critical problem for many scholars, which then led to a conflict of interest concerning the debate whether Shakespeare himself has revised the play or someone else did. (cf. Halio, 1) A very controversy discussion over the aim to get as close to Shakespeare's intention, when writing King Lear, has arisen since the publication of the first Folio in 1623, because scholars then found out that the Folio differs substantially from King Lear in Quarto that was printed in 1608.

The textual history of King Lear and its historical development leaves scholars behind with a fascinating, but also very complex problem that probably will never be solved, unless Shakespeare himself returns with his own handwritten manuscript in his hands. Until then it is the hard work of scholars to sift through the mass of evidence, they have collected throughout many years, and reconstruct a textual and editorial explanation for the apparently two texts of King Lear. Other critics argue against the “two-text-theory”, because the plot of the play never changes.

Some critics even say that King Lear was never meant to be complete and finished, which is why Nahum Tate and Nicholas Rowe revised and reconstructed the story of King Lear. But even this idea is not to take for granted, since we are not able to recover the lost origin of the play that causes that huge a debate. However, they give us a possible idea of the developmental history of the play and its possibility of creative transformation, whether Shakespeare would have acknowledged this kind of transformation or not.

It seems as if the plot of the play became somehow irrelevant to scholars, who now try to restore what is not possible to do, since the original manuscript of Shakespeare's King Lear is lost. Few scholars even consider the fact that Shakespeare was not the person we think he was, but someone else who wrote what we nowadays call works of William Shakespeare. Hence there is a possibility that there had never been a script at all, which would nullify most of the scholars work. However, this term paper will not deal with the question of Shakespeare's life and the question of whether he lived or not, but with the question of the apparent controversy in King Lear's editorial and textual development.

For that reason, this term paper will first of all take a look at the different prints we have of Shakespeare's King Lear, and at the reasons for the discussion over the editorial and textual concept of the play. Therefore it presents some of the scholars opinion towards this debate. The second part analyses three passages from the Quarto and the Folio1 version, which differ from each other, and the last part of this paper will try to give a solution towards the discussion upon the treatment of King Lear.

2. Texts of King Lear

This part of the term paper explains the various prints we have of the play, and the entailing editorial problems that come with them. Since there are several copies of the Quarto and the Folio2 of King Lear, and the one primal text is lost, we are not able to reconstruct one text that gets close to Shakespeare's original manuscript. However, critics say that the alterations in Q and F may derive from Shakespeare himself, but others say there was someone else, who revised and edited it. Evidence is given by Q1, which is longer than F1, because ”[...] the Folio omits about 300 lines found in the Quarto, while the Quarto omits only about 100 lines found in the Folio.” (Smidt, 150) Moreover, there are several speeches differently designed and about 900 verbal variants, of which some are obviously the corrected version of the errors in the Quarto, others are just an alternative to the former error. (cf. Wells, 6) For this reason, we can assume that scholars are very interested and concerned with the integrity, and reliability of the existing texts.

Therefore, the next passage presents scholars various ideas upon the heritage of Q1 and F1, and it explains the difference between a good quarto and a bad quarto. The second part has a look at the significant differences between Q1 and F1, concerning alterations and flaws. But foremost, we always have to keep in mind that there is no evidential copy that was used to print Shakespeare's King Lear.

2.1 The Quarto No°1

There are twelve known copies of Q1, and each one has its own corrected and uncorrected forms, of which nobody knows who was responsible for the changes. Many scholars argue about the reasons for the large number or errors and changes between Q1 and the other texts, Q2 or F1 for instance.

The first Quarto was printed by two compositors in 1608, one of them was Nicholas Okes, who had probably never before printed a book, and the other an inexperienced apprentice. For that reason, Peter Blayney, names the first Q to be the worst printed book ever because it is very much blotted, illegible and has many errors and muddles, caused by the bad printing, e.g.: There are passages where the Q prints verse in prose and prose in verse. (in Foakes, Arden, 111)

Halio comes forward with the idea that Okes “[...] printed Q directly from Shakespeare's rough draft of the play, and that this was often illegible or nearly so [...] difficult to decipher and partly because it was full of revised and rewritten passages.” (4) In this case, Q1 could be a good quarto, which is a trustworthy manuscript or draft of the play, which was printed with the permission of the acting company, hence it may be very close to Shakespeare's original script. Halio, however, also explains that there is much resistance towards this opinion, because former scholars praise Shakespeare's mastermind, and they argue that the author's “[...] mind and hand went together: And what he thought, he vttered with that easinesse, that wee haue scarse receiued from him a blot in his papers.” (in Halio, 4) Critics, who literally insist in Shakespeare's remarkable integrity, do not want to believe that he reworked his plays, even though there is evidence for it. Grace Ioppolo is one of the scholars, who strongly represents the idea that Shakespeare himself revised his work and considered modification his personal duty before he handed the script over to the performing players. (cf. 47) It is also important to mention that a play develops throughout its staging history because plays, unlike other literary works, evolve “[...] as the author's initial draft is appraised by a theater company, tried out in rehearsals, shaped into a promptbook, performed in public, and modified in changing theatrical circumstances3.” (Jackson, in Ioppolo, 47) Considering the fact that a play from its first word until the final press is dynamic and evolving, gives rise to the possibility that an author never intends to produce a definite text for readers, scholars, students or the actors.

Other scholars, such as Wells, Walker or Doran, argue that Q1 may be a reported text, hence a corrupt version, that was written down, either during a play, or by memorizing the play, and writing it down afterwards. This could explain errors, such as misspelling, mislineation or inadequate punctuation, since one play took about two to three hours, and one person is not capable of memorizing a play that long by heart. However, there was always the opportunity to listen to a play more than one time, and more people could have been set on to this act of piracy. The manuscripts, which are based upon memory are also called bad quartos, because they were written down and printed without the author's or the acting company's permission. (cf. Foakes, 121f.)

Madeleine Doran also supports Halio's idea that Q1 was printed from Shakespeare's manuscript, not from a corrupted version, because Shakespeare himself was “[...] an actor and with his ear trained in the theater, wrote the lines pretty much as they stand in the first quarto.” (126) In this case we can account the contradicting errors, such as verse written in prose and vice versa, to Shakespeare's fallible ear, as Halio puts it. (5) On this account, it seems as if Shakespeare was responsible for all the errors, because he himself was revising the play, while the player on stage were rehearsing it.

As we can see, there are plenty of reasons why Q1 could be the version we can rely on and why there is also doubt in its reliability. Most importantly the errors are sometimes contradicting in case of their appearance, also in later versions, because some errors were corrected but others were not. The explanation for the ambiguous treatment of the play may account for several reasons that involve Shakespeare as a flawed revisor, his acting company as painstaking elaborators, and Okes's substantial alterations, leave alone the people who tried to memorize the entire play. There are many ideas upon the first Quarto's mystery, but the question concerning its heritage and originality will never be solved, because the author's script is lost.

2.2 The Quarto No° 2

The second Quarto was printed in 1619, on the basis of the First Quarto, in the same shop in, which was later printed the First Folio. Only few changes were made in Q2, however, it also introduces new errors, and has continuing errors that derive from the earlier version, namely Q1. On the basis of this information, we can say that there is no sign that the printer4 referred to any other source for correction, but Q1. (cf. Urkowitz, 11) Concerning this term paper, Q2 is only interesting so far as F1 may be a product of a conflated version of Q2 and the promptbook5.

2.3 The Folio No° 1

F1 was printed in 1623 and presumably derives from a Q1 or Q2 copy that had probably been collated with the promptbook. The first Folio contains a set of Shakespeare's comedies, histories and tragedies, in which as well King Lear can be found, embedded in Hamlet and Othello. F1 is in a much better shape than any other Quarto, and critics claim that F1 is a more readable version than any copy of Q1 or Q2. (cf. Smidt, 154) However, it is also possible that F1 is just a reproduction of all the errors in Q1 and Q2, because each copy has its own mixture of errors, which necessarily causes doubt in the reliability of F1 as “Shakespeare's-almost-script”. (cf. Walker, 38)

F1 was edited by Heminge and Condell and published in 1623 known as Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. It was followed by three other editions of the Folio that were printed in 1632 (F2), 1663 - 4 (F3), and 1685 (F4). According to Wells F1 is better printed than the Quarto, even though Greg argues that it has errors and problematical reading passages.

The Folio offers a far better-printed text, more regular and consistent in spelling and punctuation, more accurate in distinguishing between verse and prose, better in its alignment of verse, and fuller in its stage directions. It divides the play carefully into acts and scenes. (The Quarto's failure to do this is, of course, quite normal: there are no such divisions in any of the early quartos of Shakespeare's plays.) (6)

Since F1 seems to be a better version of the text, we could assume that F1 is a different text than Q1, which undermines the 'two-text-theory' of some scholars, but on the other hand a corrected version of Q1 might have played a part in the composition of F1. Q1 has already been designated to be a good quarto, because it presumably relates to Shakespeare's manuscript, however it is much longer than F1. Scholars are confronted with the question, why F1 is considerably longer than Q1, and there are several answers for why the Folio is longer than its predecessor. First of all, the Folio may have been a victim to the editors right to be eclectic. They chose to correct the accidentals of Okes's print, which in the end led to a more readable version of F1, and second of all it is said that F1 then was conflated with the promptbook. Since F1 may be related to the promptbook and Q1, which is said to be printed from Shakespeare's manuscript, it may be more authoritative than any other text, and very close to what Shakespeare's had intended when writing King Lear.

Despite its praise, the first Folio also introduces new errors and passages, because “[...] the Folio had been extensively annotated and supplemented by comparison with a manuscript different from that lying behind the original Quarto.” (Wells, 9) There are various reasons for the extensive work on F1. One is that a collator was careless or inattentive when working on the play. Also, there evidence that the bookkeeper6 of the playhouse tampered with the text, or forged it, which caused the many additional and variant stage directions of the Folio, hence theatrical corruption is one possibility. (cf. Wells, 9) This would explain, however, why F1 derives from a conflation of Q1 and the promptbook, but still is so different from the first Quarto.

Other critics, such as Ioppolo und Urkowitz claim that no one else but Shakespeare revised the Folio, which makes the print in F1 his final draft, because no one other than Shakespeare himself could have revised the Quarto. (cf. Urkowitz, 3/ 147) If we knew for sure that Shakespeare himself revised King Lear in the Folio than there would be no need for more speculations about its originality, however, as already mentioned before, the handwritten manuscripts from Shakespeare are lost, so we can not know at all, whether the alterations in both versions are authorial in origin or not.

3. Significant Differences

The first Folio and the first Quarto differ about 400 lines from each other which leads to the possibility of certain variants of reading, shifts of emphasis, and change of meaning, and also changes the outcome on stage. In the two versions of King Lear, “[...] lines [were] added, cut or altered that may seem to make only slight literary difference can, however, signal radical changes in performance.” (Urkowitz, 16) The following part will have a look at three of the most significant differences in both, Q1 and F1, King Lear versions. One is the the omission of the mock trial in F1, the difference between the role of Edgar and Albany, and also the different treatment and representation of Cordelia. These examples give a deeper insight to the textual problems, scholars are still facing.

3.1 The Missing Mock Trial

The mock trial consists of about 100 lines that are only printed in the Quarto. The Folio version keeps only half of the lines that are in Q, combines other speeches from the Quarto into one, and adds some new material to where the original text from Q1 was cut out. The cut in F1 causes a scene that is very short and ends as quickly as it originally began. (cf. Urkowitz 17)

The event that lead to the mock trial starts off in 3.4 with Kent who leads King Lear and the Fool through a storm. They are looking for shelter and find a house in which they find Edgar in disguise as the mad babbling beggar Tom O'Bedlam7. In Act three, scene four Lear appears madly lucid, because his “two daughters” (3.4.48)8 are unkind traitors, whom Lear denounces in an act of madness.

The mock trial, however, is not held until 3.6, when Lear, still mad and lucid, arraigns the imaginary Goneril and Regan before the court, which is played by Edgar, Kent and the Fool. It is questionable, whether the audience understood the essence of this scene, because it can be seen as very ironic due to the powerful representatives of justice: a naked beggar (Edgar in disguise), a fool (the king's Fool) and a serving-man (the exiled Kent). This may be one reason why it was omitted from F1: Because the audience laughed at it during the performance. (cf. Warren, Division, 47) The scene is very difficult to play, because the audience does not pay attention to the what the characters actually say in detail, because several people on stage go mad, which makes the audience think that nothing should be taken too serious. This argument is supported by Edgar and the Fool, who both mock the imaginary trial, but are given important roles in the entire scene, e.g. the Fool is raised to a 'sapient sir' (3.6.22), but sabotages everything by singing like a 'nightingale' (3.6.30), and Edgar is raised into the position of a 'most learned justice'. (3.6.21) Lear tries to follow his judicial process, yet he is constantly cut off by Edgar, as soon as he starts to arraign his imaginary present daughters. Edgar and the Fool start to sing a song that not only distracts Lear, but also distracts one another. The disguised Edgar nags about “The foul fiend haunts Poor Tom in the voice of a / nightingale. Hoppedance cries in Tom's belly for two/ white herring. Croak not, black angel, I have no good food for thee.” (3.6.29-31), which leads Lear to an attempt to bring the court in order by reordering the judges and diminishing their position. Edgar is not the sophisticated judge anymore, but a 'robed man of justice' (3.6.34), and the Fool is downgraded to a 'yoke-fellow of equity' (3.6.35). But still, Lear's attempt to calm down the 'judges' fidgety behavior, to bring forward his evidence against Goneril and Regan, ends in Edgar continuing his song, and the Fool going insane about a joke that blows up the imaginary courtroom, And this leads to Lear to imagine his court broken up in confusion at Regan's escape. The total effect of this scene is that Lear's attempt to express his obsession with the injustice of his daughters by establishing the processes of a trial is sabotaged by the 'judges', who lapse from their 'judicial' roles to the other roles which they habitually play - Edgar to the bedlam beggar obsessed by devils, the Fool to his songs and jibes which bring everything down to earth. (Warren, Division, 46)

Considering these facts and impressions about the characters, we can imagine that the staging of this scene is rather difficult, because the audience will inevitably laugh at the Fool's and Edgar's madness that consequently results in a shift of emphasis, namely from Lear's mock trial to a comically strange performance. The people in the playhouse will not grasp the idea of Lear's attempt to express his obsession with the injustice done by his daughters, because, according to Warren the audience is beginning to tire away anyway, at the half-way point of the play. So it is understandable that Lear's explanation for his need for justice in his 'mad' state of mind is not easily to grasp. (cf. Warren, Division, 47) “[...] Lear has to take them [the audience] step-by-step with him into his madness, and to retain their attention upon the details of what he says in order to make them comprehend his 'mad' view of the 'sane' world - that what appears a distorted image is in fact a true reflection.” (47) It is possible that Shakespeare cut the mock trial from F1, because he did not want the audience to be left behind confused.


1 Quarto and Folio are book formats, and signify the page size, shape and other physical features of a book. “The printer begins with a large “shee”; if the sheet is folded once so as to form two “leaves” of four pages, the book is a folio (the latin word for “leaf). When we refer to “the Shakespeare folio,” for example, we mean a volume published in 1623, the leaves of which were made by a single folding of the printer's sheets. A sheet folded twice into four leaves makes a quarto.” (Abrams, Literary Terms, 32)

2 In the following text, Quarto and Folio will be abbreviated as Q and F.

3 Theatrical circumstances imply changes that were made on the actor's side, by means of adjusting the script to his own working conditions: theatrical adding or cutting of passages. (Jenkins, in Foakes Arden, 121)

4 According to Urkowitz the printers name was Jaggard Compositor B, who later set a large part of King Lear in Folio. (11)

5 A promptbook is the master copy of a play script that contains all the cues and stage directions, and is used by a prompter to help actors who forget their lines during performance.“ (Auger, Anthem Dictionary, 242)

6 The bookkeeper's responsibility was to keep care of the valuable approved copy of the play (approved by the Revels Office), but also to make a "fair copy" of the play (a corrected or amended version of the play) from the author's "foul papers" (the uncorrected manuscript), and to make the various actors' copies.

7 Tom O'Bedlam is a name mostly common taken by a beggar who claimed to have come from Bedlam, or Bethlehem Hospital for the insane in London. The Bethlehem Hospital was a place to hold the insane. (cf. Foakes, 187/237)

8 Every expample that is listed in this paper derives from the The Arden Shakespeare - King Lear, edited by R. A. Foakes. If not, it will be listed in the bibliography, as well as in the text.

Excerpt out of 31 pages


Textual and Editorial Problems in Shakespeare's King Lear
University of Wuppertal
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Shakespeare, King Lear, Albany, Edgar, Cordelia, two text theory, print, text problems, shakespeare identity, quarto, folio, Nicholas Okes
Quote paper
Fran Spring (Author), 2011, Textual and Editorial Problems in Shakespeare's King Lear, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1024752


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