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She Got Lear Right

In response to:

Do-It-Yourself Lear from the October 25, 1990 issue

To the Editors:

Many years ago I was privileged to be taught Shakespeare by Professor Madeleine Doran of the University of Wisconsin. She was then known among Shakespearians—“notorious” is perhaps nearer the mark—for her The Text of ‘King Lear’ (1931), which heretically proposed that the First Folio version of Lear was in major respects an authorial revision of the Quarto.

From several recent reviews of newer Shakespearian scholarship, such as the review by E.A.J. Honigmann [NYR, October 25, 1990], one gathers that Ms. Doran’s heresy is now becoming orthodoxy. In those same reviews, however, it is saddening to see that this key adumbrator of the new orthodoxy is nowhere mentioned.

Ms. Doran herself, by the way, did not claim that her viewpoint was wholly original, and noted that some elements of it could be found at least as far back as Samuel Johnson.

Ned Polsky
Biography House
New York City

E.A.J Honigmann replies:

Mr. Polsky is right about the importance of Madeleine Doran’s book on the text of King Lear. In my recent review of Michael Warren’s The Complete King Lear I did not mention this earlier book—but referred back (p 59, col. 2) to my review of Taylor and Warren’s The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare’s Two Versions of ‘King Lear’ [NYR February 2, 1984], where Miss Doran’s key role in the debate was explained. Miss Doran “arrived at the wrong time,” and therefore her originality was not appreciated. “Miss Doran’s opponents included E.K. Chambers, W.W. Greg, A.W. Pollard, and Quincy Adams (Oxford, Cambridge, the British Museum, and the Folger Shakespeare Library)—an unequal contest, even if Miss Doran, then a recent graduate, was later to become one of the most admired Renaissance scholars in the United States.”

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