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The Integrity of King Lear

Sidney Thomas, Syracuse University

In a brief article published a decade ago, I ventured to challenge the then relatively new theory of a two-text King Lear, hoping that by calling attention to some of the theory's weaknesses and exaggerations, I could help to prevent it, as I said then, from hardening into 'a new orthodoxy'.1 What I anticipated has now happened: not only, as Jay Halio has recently observed, has 'strong support for a revision hypothesis [ … ] grown among scholars',2 but the new orthodoxy I feared has proved to be even more rigid and uncompromising in its assertion of the absolute truth of its position than any one could have expected, and what I half-jokingly predicted, the metastasis of the two-text theory of King Lear to other plays in the canon, has taken place with a vengeance.

Thus, in the latest and most extensive treatment of the revisionist theory, Grace Ioppolo recommends that 'the Quarto and Folio texts of Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, and other plays should also [in addition to King Lear] be printed in separate versions if scholars are ever to come to terms with all that they offer'.3

The adherents of the revisionist hypothesis have now proclaimed victory. In the approving words of Ioppolo, 'the new revisionists have achieved a coup d'état which offers a new constitution for how scholars read, study, and teach Shakespeare's canon and also redefines the canon itself (p. 3). I am therefore impelled to take up once again the argument for a King Lear conceived and written by Shakespeare as an integral work, and left untouched by him except for minor changes made currente calamo, or in the course of rehearsal or initial staging.

To begin with, there is not a shred of external evidence to support the notion that Shakespeare revised any of his plays after its first performance except, perhaps, to correct an obvious gaffe. Significantly, the very Oxford editors who argue for the hypothesis of Shakespearean revision in one passage of their Textual Companion4 take a very different tack in another passage. Referring to the contention that Shakespeare's plays might have been posthumously revised, they declare:

Most obviously, Shakespeare could not veto or influence any changes imposed upon his plays in the theatre after his death. Fortunately the economics and mechanics of the pre-Restoration repertory system made it impractical to reshape a play every time it was revived; when later adaptation did occur, it usually involved the addition of discrete chunks of material. Therefore the number of changes affected by such intervention should be small. (p. 15)

But if the economics and mechanics of the repertory system made posthumous revision unlikely, did they not also make revision by Shakespeare himself equally unlikely? The very same article cited by the Oxford editors as a basis for their dismissal of the probability of posthumous revision provides strong evidence against the theory of authorial revision. Rosalind Knutson, after a careful and thorough analysis of Henslowe's theatrical records, concludes:

For the last decade of the Elizabethan period, for the one company with a playhouse document that shows patterns of revival and the commercial value of plays in the repertory, the assumption that revision accompanied revival cannot be supported. Furthermore, the assumption that revision was necessary to make old plays profitable cannot be supported. [ …] Only in a few isolated cases is there evidence that the plays being revived were also revised. [ … ] On the basis of evidence in Henslowe's Diary, therefore, revision for the occasion of revival...

(This entire section contains 2695 words.)

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was neither commonplace nor economically necessary.5

But, it may be objected, the evidence of Henslowe 's Diary need not apply to Shakespeare's company or to Shakespeare himself. There is, however, a striking piece of evidence to suggest that for the management of the King's Men, as well as for Henslowe, revival did not necessarily entail revision. In an often-cited 1604 letter from Sir Walter Cope to Robert Cecil, Lord Cranborne, Cope reports his efforts to arrange a theatrical performance for the Queen, and after detailing his frustrations, records his success: 'Burbage ys come, & Sayes ther ys no new playe that the queene hath not seene, but they have Revyved an olde one, Cawled Loves Labore lost, which for wytt and mirthe he sayes will please her excedingly.'6 Surely, if the 'old play' being revived (the most topical of Shakespeare's comedies) had been revised to bring it up to date, Burbage would have mentioned it to Cope, and Cope would have reported it to Cecil. We can be virtually certain, therefore, that the play revived in 1604, was basically identical with the play written and first acted about 1594, and published in 1598. Moreover, if there had been a new version produced in 1604, we would expect the 1623 Folio text to embody that version, rather than the 1598 text, as it essentially does.

Of course, the example of Love's Labour's Lost proves nothing about the text of King Lear. Shakespeare may have chosen not to revise the one, but to revise the other. It does, however, induce us to question Gary Taylor's 'obvious conclusion, that Shakespeare occasionally—perhaps if we could only see it, habitually—revised his work'.7 So far from being obvious, the theory of habitual, or even occasional, Shakespearean revision has nothing to support it. No play in the canon, it is safe to say, more desperately needed revision to make its wealth of topical allusions (many still a mystery to us) meaningful to an audience after the passage of ten years than Love's Labour's Lost. That it seems not to have received such revision should make us cautious about any theory of habitual revision.

What we know, from contemporary references, about Shakespeare's creative processes and relationship to his own work also militates against the theory of authorial revision. Heminge and Condell, who were Shakespeare's close colleagues for many years, provide in their address 'To the great Variety of Readers' (whether written for them by Ben Jonson does not matter) in the 1623 Folio (A3) a picture of a man from whom they never received a blot in his papers, who unfortunately never lived to oversee the publication of his plays, and whose work they were now presenting to the reader in its perfect form, free of the corruptions of previous unauthorized publications. All these statements emphasize one thing: as editors, Heminge and Condell were giving the public what Shakespeare had written once and for all, restored to its initial perfection as it had originally existed. There is no mention, not even a hint, that they were presenting what Shakespeare himself had revised and presumably further 'perfected', certainly an effective selling-point if they could have made it. To claim that what they did say is meaningless hyperbole, not to be taken seriously (though I do not believe this to be so) ignores the fact that a more useful hyperbole was available to them, if the revisionists are right.

If the external evidence for revision is nonexistent or dubiously conjectural, on what, then, do the proponents of the two-text Lear mainly rely? It is the so-called internal evidence of the texts themselves, the revisionists assert, that overwhelmingly supports their theory that the Q and F Lears are two separate plays that must be printed, staged, and studied as independent entities. One of the basic underpinnings of this theory (the argument that the characterization of Edgar and Albany, as well as their relationship to each other, is radically different in F from what it is in Q) was first elaborated by Michael Warren in a pioneering essay some years ago and has remained an article of faith for the revisionists ever since.8 If, therefore, Warren's thesis can be shown to rest on unfounded assertions and assumptions, as I believe it does, the two-text theory of Lear can be seriously questioned. Here is Warren's principal argument in detail:

The elevation of Edgar at the close and relative reduction of Albany that distinguish F from Q can be documented from three other places. At 5.3.229 [V.3.204; TLN 3180] in Q, Edgar says to Albany 'Here comes Kent sir', but 'Here comes Kent' in F. The transfer of the command 'Hast thee for thy life' (5.3.251 [V.3.225; TLN 3209] from Albany in Q to Edgar in F gives Edgar a more active role in the urgent events; indeed, Q may indicate that it is Edgar who is to run. [… ] In Q [… ] Edgar concludes the play stunned to silence by the reality of Lear's death, a very young man who does not even answer Albany's appeal 'Friends of my soule, you twaine / Rule in this Realme' (5.3.319-20) [V.3.293-94; TLN 3294/95]. [… ] This characterization of Edgar is a far cry from the Edgar of F who comes forward as a future ruler when he enables Albany to achieve his objective of not ruling. (pp. 104-05).

I begin with Warren's first piece of documentation, the omission of 'sir' in F. Leaving aside the distinct possibility that the omission of 'sir' in F is a compositorial error, and accepting for the moment the authenticity and intentionality of the F reading, it is still possible to reject it as 'documentation' of the argument that Edgar in F is deliberately made more assertive and less deferential to Albany than he is in Q. For, some fifty lines earlier in the scene (v.3.169; TLN 3141) Edgar has addressed Albany in F (as in Q) as 'Worthy Prince'; and a few lines later in F as 'my Lord' (v.3.172; TLN 3144), and again in F (v.3.223; TLN 3206) as 'my Lord'. Above all, there is Edgar's reference in F (as in Q) to Albany as 'this high illustrious Prince' (v.3.125; TLN 3090). To claim, as against these examples of Edgar's proper deference to Albany, that the absence of 'sir' at the end of a casual observation (incidentally, not directly addressed to Albany in F) is crucial evidence of a change in the relationship between Edgar and Albany in F is making far too much of very little.

Even less convincing is Warren's second piece of documentation. 'The transfer of the command "Hast thee for thy life" (5.3.251) [v.3.225; TLN 3209] from Albany in Q to Edgar in F gives Edgar a more active role in the urgent events; indeed, Q may indicate that it is Edgar who is to run', says Warren. But what Warren neglects to point out is that it is Albany who gives the first decisive command, in F (as in Q) 'Run, run, O run' (v.3.221; TLN 3205) and that Edgar's words merely echo Albany's. Moreover, throughout v.3 it is always Albany who is in command, and directs the necessary action. To claim that 'in F Edgar grows into a potential ruler, a well-intentioned, resolute man in a harsh world, while Albany, a weaker man, abdicates his responsibilities' (p. 105) is to fly in the face of the evidence. Against Warren's sweeping statement may be placed R. A. Foakes's acute and, in my opinion, demonstrably correct comment on 'the new toughness and independence shown by Albany in the later scenes of the play'.9 At the very least, Albany is no weaker a character in F than he is in Q. Again and again in his exchanges with Edmund, Albany shows his resoluteness, his determination to assert his authority and control. At his first entrance in v.3, he makes it clear, in his exchange of words with Edmund, that he will brook no challenge to his own primacy:

Sir, you have shew'd to day your valiant   straine And Fortune led you well: you have the   Captives Who were the opposites of this dayes   strife: I do require them of you so to use them, As we shall find their merites, and our   safety May equally determine.(v.3.394; TLN 2984)

After Edmund's attempt to justify his action in disposing of his prisoners come Albany's curt dismissive words:

           Sir, by your patience I hold you but a subject of this Warre, Not as a brother.(v.3.53; TLN 2997)

Further, to speak of Albany in F as 'a weaker man' who 'abdicates his responsibilities' is manifestly untenable in the light of the ringing accusatory and condemnatory speeches he addresses to Edmund in F (as in Q):

Stay yet, heare reason: Edmund, I arrest   thee On capitali Treason; and in thy arrest, This guilded Serpent: for your claime faire   Sisters I bare it in the interest of my wife, 'Tis she is sub-contracted to this Lord, And I her husband contradict your Banes. If you will marry, make your loves to me, My Lady is bespoke.(v.3.76; TLN 3027)

Continuing after Goneril's contemptuous interjection, 'An enterlude':

          Thou art armed Gloster, Let the Trumpet sound: If none appeare to prove upon thy person, Thy heynous, manifest, and many Treasons, There is my pledge: Ile make it on thy heart Ere I taste bread, thou art in nothing lesse Then I have heere proclaim'd thee.(v.3.84; TLN 3035)

In these two successive speeches, it is not only their content that shows Albany as a strong, self-assured leader. It is their poetic force, the sardonic wit of the first speech, the hammer blows of the second speech, that project a mature and powerful personality, no less so than in Q. If he abdicates his responsibilities in F at the end of the play when he asks Kent and Edgar to 'Rule in this Realme, and the gor'd state sustaine' he does no less in Q in virtually identical words. Nor do I think any significance should be attached to the fact (Warren's third piece of 'documentation') that the final speech, given in Q to 'Duke' or Albany, is given to Edgar in F. I believe that Q is in error here and that the speech with its clear emphasis on 'we that are yong' (in both F and Q) belongs to Edgar, the one survivor of the new generation.

Not only does the attempt to make the Albany of the closing scene of the play in F a differently conceived and developed character from the Albany of Q fail: the similar attempt by Steven Urkowitz to present the Albany of the earlier scenes of the play in F as a morally ambiguous figure, in contrast to the morally assured Albany of Q, is also unsupported by the evidence, as I have argued before.10 But if the case for a major revision of Albany in F collapses, what then is left of the overall argument that the F text of Lear is a substantial authorial reworking of the play embodied in the Q text, and that the two texts represent two independent works that must be printed, studied, and produced as separate entities? For it is the supposed change in the characterization of Albany in F on which the two-text theory of Lear largely rests, since, as Gary Taylor, one of the principal revisionists, concedes, 'the Folio-only passages do not include new narrative material or major, structurally important incidents; they do not consist of new scenes, but of alterations here and there'.11

The argument for supposed changes in characterization between Q and F, while one of the main props of the two-text theory, is not, however, the only one on which the revisionists depend. Equally important to their thesis is the treatment of all substantive differences in wording between Q and F, except for the most obvious compositorial errors, as evidence of authorial revision, designed to change or modify the dramatic impact or significance of a particular speech. In what the General Editors describe as 'the first fully annotated, critical edition of King Lear to appear for forty years' (p. i), Jay Halio gives, in support of 'the revision theory on which this edition is based' (p. 81), the most detailed, well-argued, and lucid account of the presumed evidence for revision found in the linguistic variants between Q and F that has yet appeared.

None the less, I find the case for revision, as he presents it, no more convincing than that earlier made by Warren, Urkowitz, and others.

It is impossible, in this article, to deal with all of the presumed evidence for revision presented by Halio in his textual analysis. I deliberately select his discussion of one of the key speeches in the play, Lear's opening statement:


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LEAR. Attend my Lords of France and   Burgundy, Gloster. GLOST. I shall my Leige. LEAR. Meane time we will expresse our darker   purposes, The map there; know we have divided In three, our kingdome; and tis our first   intent, To shake all cares and busines of our state, Confirming them on yonger yeares, The two great Princes France and Burgundy, Great ryvals in our youngest daughters love, Long in our Court have made their amorous   sojourne, And here are to be answerd, tell me my   daughters, Which of you shall we say doth love us most, That we our largest bountie may extend, Where merit doth most challenge it, Gonorill our eldest borne, speake first?


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LEAR. Attend the Lords of France &   Burgundy, Glouster. GLOU. I shall, my Lord. LEAR. Meane time we shal expresse our darker   purpose. Give me the Map there. Know, that we have   divided In three our Kingdome: and 'tis our fast   intent, To shake all Cares and Businesse from our   Age, Conferring them on yonger strengths, while   we Unburthen'd crawle toward death. Our son ofCornwal, And you our no lesse loving Sonne of Albany: We have this houre a constant will to publish Our daughters severall Dowers, that future   strife May be prevented now. The Princes, France& Burgundy, Great Rivals in our yongest doughters love, Long in our Court, have made their amorous   sojourne, And heere are to be answer'd. Tell me my   daughters (Since now we will divest us both of Rule, Interest of Territory, Cares of State) Which of you shall we say doth love us most, That we, our largest bountie may extend Where Nature doth with merit challenge.Gonerill, Our eldest borne, speake first.

Halio's comments, summarizing arguments made by Thomas Clayton, Urkowitz, and others on what he considers F's 'additions of entirely new material' (p. 72) in the speech deserve to be quoted in full, since they state what not only he but other revisionists consider one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the two-text theory:

The complex effects of this amplification (in F) are essentially threefold: (1) anticipation of Lear's firmness, as in the alteration of Q 'our first intent' to F 'our fast intent' (line 33), and the added 'We have this houre a constant will' (line 38); (2) provision of more detailed and rational-sounding motives for abdication, as in the desire to confer responsibility of the realm on 'yonger strengths' (line 35) and the wish to prevent 'future strife' by immediately publishing the daughters' dowries (lines 38-40); (3) contributions to the patterns of imagery involving clothing and nakedness, as in the announcement that Lear will 'divest' himself of rule, territory and responsibility for the state (lines 44-5). Careful comparison of the entire speech in F with its shorter—and different—form in Q, combined with other changes later in the Folio version of the play that Clayton notes, strongly suggest, though they cannot prove, authorial second thoughts and subsequent revision. (pp. 72-73)

No one has better stated the case for revision than Halio has in the above paragraph. And it must be said that if his analysis of the F 'amplifications' in this speech is correct, then we cannot dispute his conclusion. But the fatal flaw in Halio's discussion of the differences between Q and F here, as elsewhere in the play, is his total disregard of an alternate (and, in my opinion, a more satisfactory) explanation for these differences. In my earlier article, I suggested that the so-called amplifications in F were part of the speech as Shakespeare first wrote it, and that Q's text represents not an earlier state of the speech, but a corrupt and truncated version of it. What we are dealing with are not F's 'authorial second thoughts' but Q's omissions. Shakespeare could never, even in a first draft, have omitted all reference to Cornwall and Albany and their role in the division of the kingdom. That lines 35-40 (beginning 'while we' and ending 'may be prevented now') have simply dropped out of the Q text, thereby creating the false apposition, 'Confirming them on yonger yeares / The two great princes France and Burgundy', is in my opinion a far more likely supposition than that they were added in F. Significantly, as I pointed out in my earlier article, the metrically incomplete Q line, 'Confirming them on yonger yeares', is completed in F by 'while we', the first two words of the omitted passage.

That the difference between Q's 'first intent' and F's 'fast intent' is a Shakespearean amplification designed to create an 'anticipation of Lear's firmness' is a baseless assumption. 'First intent' makes no sense in the context of the speech and the scene, which deals with Lear's fast intent to divest himself of rule and to divide his kingdom. Even Halio, having cited the difference between the two readings, as part of his 'threefold' argument for revision here, admits in a footnote (p. 72) that 'first' may simply be a misprint for 'fast', corrected in F. To even grant the possibility, as Halio does here, that a variant reading in Q may be an error is to violate one of the basic stratagems of the revisionists. For to the adherents of the two-text theory, beginning as they do with the a priori conviction that Shakespeare revised King Lear, every verbal difference between Q and F is seen as evidence of deliberate authorial tinkering, and any other explanation for such differences is dismissed out of hand. Thus, Randall McLeod, commenting on the difference between Q's 'great pallace' and F's 'grac'd Pallace' (I.4.201; TLN 755), concedes that 'one must admit the ease of phonetically or graphically confusing "grac'd" and "great"', but then goes on to assert that 'the issue is whether one need postulate error in either text'.12 But I would maintain that to postulate revision here, or elsewhere, is to take a far greater leap into conjecture than to postulate error.

The presence of error in Q is not simply a possible alternative hypothesis to that of revision; it is a demonstrable fact, and the kind and number of errors are such as to destroy the theory that Q was printed from an authentic Shakespeare manuscript, no matter how illegible it is presumed to have been. The assumption of compositorial misreading cannot explain the overwhelming number of errors of mishearing, mislineation, and mispunctuation that again and again destroy the sense of what Shakespeare must have written, and what is correctly given in F. Nor can these errors represent Shakespeare's first thoughts, later revised in F; rather, they are clearly corruptions of the text preserved in F.

The first two acts of the play alone provide a number of examples of errors (almost certainly mishearings rather than misreadings) that turn F's sense into nonsense:

Q. She is her selfe and dowre. F. She is herselfe a Dowrie.(I.1.236; TLN 264)

Q. [ … ] epicurisme and lust make more   like a taverne or brothell, then a great pallace F. [ … ] Epicurisme and Lust Makes it more like a Taverne, or a Brothell, Then a grac'd Pallace.(I.4.199; TLN 753)

(Despite McLeod, 'grac'd Pallace', a necessary antithesis to the squalid, ungraced "Taverne or a Brothell', is obviously right here, and 'great pallace' is in error).

Q. with accent teares, fret channels in her   cheeks F With cadent Teares fret Channels in her   cheekes(I.4.240; TLN 799)

Q. striving to better ought, we marre what's   well. F. Striving to better, oft we marre what's   well.(I.4.300; TLN 870)

Q. You should doe small respect, shew too   bald malice Against the Grace and person of my maister, Stobing his messenger. F. You shall doe small respects, show too   bald malice Against the Grace, and Person of my Master, Stocking his Messenger.(n.2.119; TLN 1209)

'Stobing', in uncorrected copies of Q, is an obvious error and was changed by the press corrector to 'stopping', an intelligent guess but one that proves he cannot have consulted an authentic manuscript, since the F reading, 'stocking', is, as the context makes clear, what Shakespeare must have written in the first place.13

Q. nothing almost sees my rackles But miserie F. [ … ] Nothing almost sees miracles But miserie.(n.2.148; TLN 1242)

Here again, the Q press corrector, desperately guessing, without recourse to a genuine manuscript, has changed 'my rackles' to 'my wracke'. Nothing in Q, incidentally, is more certainly a mishearing than 'my rackles'.

Q. Why the hot bloud in France, that   dowerles Tooke our yongest borne F. Why the hot-blooded France that   dowerlesse tooke

Our yongest borne(n.4.205; TLN 1505)

These examples of simple mishearing in Q, not only in the first two acts of Lear, but in other acts as well, could be further expanded. But it is sufficient to cite, in addition to those already given, the most notorious error in the Q text, occurring in the great confrontation scene between Lear and Gloucester in the latter part of the play:

Q. see how yon Justice railes upon yon simple theife, harke in thy eare handy, dandy, which is the theefe, which is the Justice, thou hast seene a farmers dogge barke at a begger. [ … ]

And the creature runne from the cur, there thou mightst behold the great image of authoritie, a dogge, so bade in office. F. See how yond Justice railes upon yond simple theefe. Hearke in thine eare; Change places, and handy-dandy, which is the Justice, which is the theefe: Thou hast seene a Farmers dogge barke at a Beggar? [ … ]

And the creature run from the Cur: there thou might'st behold the great image of Authoritie, a Dogg's obey'd in Office.

(IV.5.145-51; TLN 2595-2603)

I have put the ludicrous Q reading 'a dogge, so bade in office', in its context, not merely to show how Q mangles one of Shakespeare's most powerful images but also to reveal the presence of other errors, of dropped words or phrases, of reckless mispunctuation, as here, that are endemic throughout Q, and that cannot be explained away as compositorial misreadings of a Shakespeare holograph.

It is such errors, as well as those of mislineation, to which I now turn. As early as the first scene, we find what is a pervasive characteristic of the Q text: a running together of phrases that belong in F to separate clauses or sentences, and that in F are properly set off by necessary marks of punctuation. Regan's first speech in Q begins:

Sir I am made of the self same mettali that   my sister is, and prize me at her worth in my true heart, I find she names my very deed of love, only   she came short

The corresponding lines in F read:

I am made of that self-mettle as my Sister, and prize me at her worth. In my true heart, I find she names my very deede of love.(I.1.64; TLN 74)

I cannot here list all the instances of such sense-destroying mispunctuation, but I give some of the more flagrant examples. In Q, Goneril says:

His Knights grow ryotous, and him selfe   obrayds us, On every trifell when he returnes from   hunting, I will not speake with him, say I am   sicke.

The corresponding passage in F reads:

His Knights grow riotous, and himselfe   upbraides us On every trifle. When he returns from   hunting, I will not speake with him, say I am sicke.(I.3.7; TLN 513)

In Q, Lear's outburst at Goneril reads:

Doth any here know mee? why this is not Lear, doth Lear walke thus? speake thus? where are his eyes, either his notion, weaknes or his discernings are lethergie, sleeping, or wakeing; ha! sure tis not so, who is it that can tell me who I am?

The corresponding lines in F read:

Do's any heere know me? This is not Lear: Do's Lear walke thus? Speake thus? Where   are his eies? Either his Notion weakens, his Discernings Are Lethargied. Ha! Waking? 'Tis not so? Who is it that can tell me who I am?(I.4.185; TLN 738)

Later in this scene, we have a complete breakdown of sense in another of Lear's passionate outbursts in Q:

We that too late repent's, O sir, are you   come? Is it your will that we prepare any horses, ingratitude! thou marble harted fiend.

Compare this gibberish with the corresponding lines in F:

Woe, that too late repents: Is it your will, speake Sir? Prepare my horses. Ingratitude! thou Marble-hearted Fiend.(I.4.212; TLN 769)

Even more corrupt is the continuation of Lear's speech in Q: 'detested kite, thou list my traine, and men of choise and rarest parts, that all particulars of dutie know'. In F, these lines form the beginning of a new speech, after Albany's interjection, 'Pray, sir be patient':

Detested Kite, thou lyest. My traine are men of choice, and rarest parts That all particulars of dutie know.(I.4.217; TLN 775)

Still another example of Q's transformation of sense into nonsense is found later in Regan's speech, which reads in Q:

It was great ignorance, Gloster's eyes being   out To let him live, where he arrives he moves All harts against us, and now I thinke is gone In pitie of his misery to dispatch his nighted   life, Moreover to discrie the strength at'h army.

The absurdity of Gloster's having gone to descry the strength of the army vanishes when we turn to F's version of these lines:

It was great ignorance, Glousters eyes being   out To let him live. Where he arrives, he moves All hearts against us: Edmond, I thinke is   gone In pitty of his misery, to dispatch His nighted life: Moreover to descry The strength o' th' Enemy.(IV.4.11; TLN 2394)

I find it hard to believe that any compositor, no matter how bungling, could have misread 'Edmond' as 'and now'. The error is far more likely to be due to a lapse of memory, by whoever prepared the copy for Q, as with other errors in the Q text.

One more example of memorial distortion must suffice. Edgar's description to his blind father of the imagined heights on which they stand reads thus in Q:

  [ … ] the murmuring surge That on the unnumbered idle peeble chaffes Cannot be heard, its so hie ile looke no more

Compare the same lines in F:

              The murmuring Surge, That on th'unnumbered idle Pebble chafes Cannot be heard so high. Ile looke no more(IV.5.20; TLN 2455)

One of the most conspicuous features of the Q text is its frequent inability to reproduce the verse lineation of the original text. Either the attempt is given up as hopeless, and verse is simply broken down into prose, as in virtually all of the first half of the first scene of Act II, or the verse is nonsensically mislined, resulting in such absurdities as these lines of Lear's in Q:

The art of our necessities is strange that can, Make vild things precious, come you hovell   poore, Foole and knave, I haue one part of my heart That sorrowes yet for thee.

Compare F:

The art of our Necessities is strange, And can make vilde things precious. Come,   your Hovel; Poore Foole, and Knave, I have one part in   my heart That's sorry yet for thee.(III.2.68; TLN 1725)

I find it difficult to believe that the Q compositor is here following an authentic manuscript, embodying a first version of the play by Shakespeare. It is, of course, just possible that someone in the printing-house dictated these lines to the compositor, who was unable to read a badly illegible manuscript. But I think it far more likely that the manuscript was already corrupt when it reached Okes's print shop, as the memorial errors I have already cited demonstrate.14

In any case, this is not an isolated example of mislineation in Q, with attendant damage to punctuation and sense. At the beginning of III.3, there is a futile attempt by Q to make verse out of the prose preserved in F as in the opening lines of Gloucester's speech:

Alacke alacke Edmund I like not this, Unnaturall dealing when I desir'd their leave That I might pity him, they tooke me from me The use of mine owne house.

Compare F:

GLOU. Alacke, alacke Edmund, I like not this unnaturall dealing; when I desired their leave that I might pity him, they tooke from me the use of mine owne house.

(III.3.1-3; TLN 1753-55)

Another example of mislineation combined with mis-punctuation in Q is found in Edgar's reply to Albany's wondering question, 'Where have you hid your selfe? / How have you knowne the miseries of your Father?' :

By nursing them my Lord, List a briefe tale, and when tis told O that my heart would burst the bloudy   proclamation To escape that followed me so neere, O our lives sweetnes, that with the paine of   death, Would hourly die, rather than die at once Taught me to shift into a mad-mans rags

To assume a semblance that very dogges   disdained And in this habit met I my father with his   bleeding rings, The precious stones new lost became his   guide, Led him, beg'd for him, sav'd him from   despaire.

F here reads:

By nursing them my Lord. List a breefe tale, And when 'tis told, O that my heart would   burst. The bloody proclamation to escape That follow'd me so neere, (O our lives   sweetnesse, That we the paine of death would hourely   dye, Rather than die at once) taught me to shift Into a mad-mans rags, t'assume a semblance That very Dogges disdain'd; and in this habit Met I my father with his bleeding Rings, Their precious stones new lost: became his   guide, Led him, begg'd for him, sav'd him from   dispaire.(v.3.172-82; TLN 3144-54)

The various Q errors that I have cited, mishearings, omissions, mispunctuation, mislineation, are all characteristic features of so-called 'bad' quartos, texts that have long been considered the products of memorial reconstruction, whether put together by renegade actors or playhouse note-takers, or assembled for provincial performance by a company lacking its play-books. The theory of 'bad' quartos needs and has received some modification in recent years, most impressively I do not maintain in an important article by Paul Werstine.15 I do not maintain that Q of Lear is corrupt throughout; as Greg himself emphasized, no simple explanation can account for all the textual features of Q, not least the obvious Tightness of many passages, particularly in the middle scenes of the play.16 But, as I have tried to demonstrate, there are many clear errors of a sort that can only be due to some form of oral transmission, and that are difficult to reconcile with the hypothesis of an authentic Shakespeare manuscript as the copy for Q.17

If I am right in believing that both the absence of any external evidence for Shakespearean revision of Lear, and the weakness of the internal evidence, make it improbable, to say the least, that Q represents a first version of the play, the question remains: why has the theory of a two-text Lear, enshrined as it has been in two prestigious editions, the one-volume Oxford Complete Works, and the New Cambridge King Lear, won such widespread acceptance? The answer to this question involves a number of factors.

First of all, there is the complete assurance, the categorical dismissal of all alternative hypotheses, with which the theory is presented by its adherents. Warren, for example, concludes his influential article with the following words: '[Q and F] must be treated as separate versions of King Lear, and [ … ] eclecticism cannot be a valid principle in deciding readings. Conflated texts such as are commonly printed are invalid, and should not be used either for production or for interpretation [ … ]. [The conflated text is] a work that has no justification for its existence' (pp. 104-05). It is no wonder that many scholars, confronted with such absolute certainty, should accept the two-text theory as proved beyond a doubt.

Even more important in muting possible criticism of the two-text theory has been the constant iteration, by some of the more active revisionists, of their theatrical expertise, which has enabled them to discern major differences of dramatic emphasis and staging to which Greg, Duthie, Alice Walker, and others were presumably blind.18 Most Shakespeare scholars, with some notable exceptions (such as G. Wilson Knight and Kenneth Muir), have had little or no experience as actors or directors, and are reluctant to challenge the confident assertions by revisionists that transform palpable errors into heavily charged markers of changes in stagecraft.

Above all, the two-text theory has flourished because it has lent support to, and been supported by, the deconstructionist emphasis on textual indeterminacy, and the virtual disappearance of the creative autonomy of the author, what R. A. Foakes has characterized as 'the new enthusiasm for cutting Shakespeare down to size' (p. 9). The idea that King Lear, arguably the greatest literary work in English, is not one play, 'absolute in [its] numbers, as he conceived them', but at least two separate plays, has had a powerful appeal, especially for younger scholars. Thus, we have been told by a respected scholar, 'Shakespeare was a reviser of scripts subject to numerous contingencies; there never was a King Lear'.19 And Leah Marcus, arguing that Shakespeare may have revised his plays for different audiences and different venues, observes: 'We may find ourselves gravitating towards a multiple editorial presentation of the plays that allows us and our students to explore deviations between texts not as symptoms of corruption but as signs of local difference.'20

What I am concerned to affirm is the integrity, the oneness of King Lear as a coherent vision of life and human relationships. There are not two Lears, or as some would have it, an indefinite number of possible Lears, but one supreme masterpiece, that like Rembrandt's sublime painting of 'The Return of the Prodigal Son', with its Lear-like theme of reconciliation and mutuai forgiveness, convinces us, despite the apparent bleakness and nihilism of the close, that something can come of nothing.21


1 'Shakespeare's Supposed Revision of King Lear', Shakespeare Quarterly, 35 (1984), 506-11 (p. 506).

2King Lear, p. 69. All act, scene, and line references are to the New Cambridge King Lear, ed. by Jay L. Halio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). Even those few scholars who remain unconvinced that Q and F King Lears are separate and independent plays accept, for the most part, the idea that it is a revised version of Q. Thus, in his excellent recent book, 'Hamlet versus Lear' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), R. A. Foakes concludes: 'What I take to be the revised King Lear of F is thus significantly different from Q, though not as radically different as the authors of The Division of the Kingdoms would have us think' (p. 212).

3Revising Shakespeare (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 184.

4 Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).

5'Henslowe 's Diary and the Economics of Play Revision for Revival, 1592-1603', Theatre Research International, 10 (1985), 1-18 (p. 1). Knutson effectively confutes G. E. Bentley's conclusion (heavily relied on by the revisionists) that 'almost any play [ … ] kept in active repertory by the company which owned it is most likely to contain later revisions by the author or, in many cases, by another playwright working for the same company' (The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare's Time, 1590-1642 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 263).

6 E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), II, 332.

7Textual Companion, p. 17.

8 'Quarto and Folio King Lear and the Interpretation of Albany and Edgar', in Shakespeare: Pattern of Excelling Nature, ed. by David Bevington and Jay L. Halio (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1978), pp. 95-105. Warren's essay has, since its publication, served as one of the cornerstones of the two-text theory of Lear, and its conclusions have never been seriously challenged.

9'Hamlet versus Lear', p. 208.

10 'Shakespeare's Supposed Revision', p. 510.

11'King Lear. The Date and Authorship of the Folio Version', in The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare's Two Versions of King Lear', ed. by Gary Taylor and Michael Warren (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 376.

12 ' Gon. No more, the text is foolish', in The Division of the Kingdoms, p. 176. The refusal to see corruption rather than revision as the explanation for differences between Q and F is even shared by Foakes. He speaks, for example, of 'the conversion [my emphasis] of Lear's "Who is it that can tell me who I am? Lear's shadow" (Q) into a dialogue with a mocking retort by the Fool: "Lear. Who is it that can tell me who I am? Fool. Lear's shadow" (F)' (p. 101). I believe that F is clearly right here and represents what Shakespeare must have written in the first place, whereas Q corrupts the meaningful dialogue of Lear's anguished question and the Fool's bitter response into a meaningless rhetorical question that Lear immediately answers.

13 See Peter W. M. Blayney, The Texts of 'King Lear' and their Origins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982- ), Vol. I; Nicholas Okes and the First Quarto, 'The variants in Lear are of many different kinds. Some of the substantive alterations suggest, with varying degrees of probability, that the copy was consulted and that its readings were correctly restored. Others appear to reflect nothing more reliable than the corrector's wrong guesswork' (p. 219). See also

14 As Greg observed in The Shakespeare First Folio, p. 387, note B: 'It looks as though the copy for Q had been written continuously, without line division, and without punctuation, and that it had been left to the compositor to punctuate the text and identify and divide the verse as best he could.' But if Greg's conjecture is correct (as I believe it is), then we must reject the assumption of the revisionists that the copy for Q was an authentic Shakespeare manuscript. There is no evidence to suggest that Shakespeare, or any other Elizabethan dramatist, ever wrote, even in a first draft, without line division or punctuation. On the other hand, this is precisely what we would expect of an orally transmitted play text.

15 'Narratives About Printed Shakespeare Texts: "Foul Papers" and "Bad Quartos'", Shakespeare Quarterly, 41 (1990), 65-86.

16First Folio, p. 383.

17 I have by no means, in this article, exhausted the list of palpable errors that betray the surreptitious origins of Q, and which have been catalogued and analysed by such scholars as Greg, G. I. Duthie, Alice Walker, and others, to whose work I am deeply indebted.

18 See, for example, Steven Urkowitz, '"Well-sayd olde Mole": Burying Three Hamlets in Modern Editions', in Shakespeare Study Today, ed. by Georgianna Ziegler (New York: AMS Press, 1986), p. 39.

19 Jonathan Goldberg, 'Textual Properties', Shakespeare Quarterly, 37 (1986), 213.

20 'Levelling Shakespeare: Local Customs and Local Texts', Shakespeare Quarterly, 42 (1991), 169.

21 Michael Warren's invaluable The Parallel King Lear (1608-1623) (Berkeley and Oxford: University of California Press, 1989), has been a major resource in the writing of this article.

Source: "The Integrity of King Lear," in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 90, No. 3, July, 1995, pp. 572-84.


Lear, King