Do-It-Yourself Lear

The Complete King Lear, 1608–1623 (1623), 149

by William Shakespeare, prepared by Michael Warren
University of California Press, Part 4: The First Folio (1623) in photographic facsimile, 54 pp., Part 1 available separately, $45.00

At the World Shakespeare Congress held in Washington, DC in April 1976, Michael Warren read a short paper on “Quarto and Folio King Lear and the Interpretation of Albany and Edgar”—a paper hailed by some as the start of a new era in textual studies and deplored by others as a will-o’-the-wisp that would lure the weak-minded to their destruction. Mr. Warren, a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Cruz, took issue with the traditional view “that there is one primal lost text, an ‘ideal King Lear‘ that Shakespeare wrote, and that we have two corrupt copies of it,” the Quarto and Folio versions (hereafter Q or Q1 and F). Instead he proposed that Shakespeare had revised King Lear, and that this explains most of the differences between Q and F. So many words and longer passages differ in the two texts, he maintained, that Q and F should not be conflated (or jumbled together), as hitherto, but “should be treated as two versions of a single play, both having authority.” If accepted, this theory has momentous implications for Shakespeare’s editors.

Mr. Warren’s prize exhibits were Albany and Edgar, whose roles differ so much in the two texts that “one is obliged to interpret their characters differently in each.” Both Albany and Edgar lose and gain speeches in F (which is thought to be the later version), and some of the speeches are switched from one to the other, notably the play’s last one:

Edg. The waight of this sad time we must obey,
Speake what we feele, not what we ought to say:
The oldest hath borne most, we that are yong,
Shall neuer see so much, nor liue so long. (V.iii. 324–327, F)

Q assigns this speech to Albany. In the past editors have assumed that one of the texts is corrupt, whereas Mr. Warren argues that Shakespeare changed his mind, and that other changes affecting Albany and/or Edgar show that “a substantial and consistent recasting of certain aspects of the play has taken place.” Edgar, “a young man over-whelmed by his experience” in Q, becomes in F “a young man who has learned a great deal, and who is emerging as the new leader of the ravaged society.”

One might have expected that Mr. Warren’s theory would give him no peace until he had brought out an edition of each of the two texts of King Lear. The Complete King Lear turns out to be both more and less ambitious. It offers not two but four texts—parallel texts of Q1 (1608) and F (1623) (Part 1); and also photographic facsimiles of the First Quarto (2); the Second Quarto (1619) (3); and the First Folio (4). Mr. Warren therefore publishes “the ‘textual raw material’ for the study of the problems of King Lear” (perhaps we should say photographic reproductions of the raw material?), a do-it-yourself kit rather than editions, as usually understood, of the …

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Letters

She Got Lear Right January 17, 1991