Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Michael Best
Not Peer Reviewed

King Lear: Notes Towards a Textual Introduction


The texts

6There is no doubt that Q1 King Lear is difficult and puzzling. It remains so even after three decades of intensive research, including the remarkably meticulous scholarship of Peter W. M. Blayney who has discovered much of value about the practices of Nicholas Okes's printing house, and about the process of printing the Quarto. Despite Blayney's research, the reasons for many of Q1's obscurities remain unexplained. Whatever copy Okes was working from seems to have puzzled him as well: a collation of extant copies shows that there were an unusual number of "stop press" corrections in the text. Most of these improve the sense, and seem to be more accurate, but some look more like sophistications—attempts by the proof reader to make sense of a passage, rather than the substitution of a correct reading from the manuscript. Just what kind of manuscript it was is uncertain. Was it an especially messy authorial copy, a memorial construction of a performance, or a reading of a shorthand version of the play? The prevailing view is that of the authorial copy; the hypothesis of a memorial construction is now generally rejected, despite some errors that may be the result of mishearing. Though for many years the possibility of the involvement of a shorthand transcription was soundly rejected following the work of G. I. Duthie, the possibility of this method of transmission has recently been cogently re-argued (Davidson). Whatever the origin of the printer's copy, the modern editor must intrude to a significant degree to make the text accessible to today's reader, and to find acceptable readings for many difficult passages. Although I find some of Davidson's readings ingenious and thoughtful, my working hypothesis as I edit Q1 will be that it is derived from an especially difficult authorial draft, very likely a copy that was already superseded by the time it reached the printer. The term "foul papers" has been called into question, but Okes's copy for Q1 may reasonably have justified the term; Grace Ioppolo (Manuscripts 94ff.) has detailed the known characteristics of authorial drafts, and it is fair to say that nothing in Q1 goes beyond an explanation of a particularly untidy set of foul papers, possibly further obscured by occasional stains from spilt sack and sugar. Q1 became the basis for a second quarto issued as one of the "Pavier" quartos of 1619. The fact that the title page falsely gives the date of publication as 1608 led Greg to argue that the group of plays published by Pavier were fraudulently published against the wishes of the players (9); more recent consideration of the evidence has challenged this assumption (Johnson; Massai, Rise; Clegg). Sonia Massai argues that the false dating was intended to allow publication of the plays both individually and as a "nonce" collection, and very possibly to provide advance publicity for the future Folio (Rise 112-21). Whatever the legitimacy of this quarto, it is striking that it was printed by Jaggard, and it is reasonable to suppose that a copy of it would be available in Jaggard's shop as his compositors began work on King Lear in its Folio version. While there is no indication that Q2 introduced any authoritative changes, it is valuable as a witness to the kinds of corrections a contemporary apparently found necessary and reasonable (See Massai, Rise, 121ff).

7It is therefore not surprising that there is evidence that the Folio version of King Lear was in some form influenced by Q2, though the process by which the two texts interacted is contested. Tom Berger, in a review of the Oxford Works published in 1986, commented that "Just as we create fictions to get through the day, bibliographers and editors create fictions to get through texts" (161); fictions they may be, and editors would do well not to believe too much in them (see Werstine "Narratives"), but some kind of narrative is inevitable as a guide to consistent editorial choices. There are two narratives that have gained some degree of currency: that the compositors worked from a version of Q2 that had been annotated by consultation with a manuscript used in the theater, or that they worked directly from such a manuscript, consulting Q2 where they ran into difficulties in reading it. Trevor Howard-Hill has argued that the copy for the Folio was a manuscript rather than an annotated print copy of either Q1 or Q2; his preferred narrative is that a "collator" used a print copy of Q2 to clarify difficulties in the promptbook he was asked to transcribe for the printer ("Problem" 23; see also Halio Tragedy 73). If indeed the type was set from an annotated copy of Q2, I am fascinated by the process that must have been involved in marking it up so completely, since the annotations must have included complex indications of changes in lineation as well as deletions and additions. Was Q2 marked up in the printing-house, with an "annotator" (Massai Rise), "editor or redactor or 'dresser of plays'" (Knowles, "Evolution" 149)? Or was the document prepared in the theater before the copy was handed to the printer? It would be an interesting exercise to take a facsimile of Q2 and attempt to annotate it to see how it could be done—a project I plan to undertake. An alternative, perhaps simpler narrative is offered by Richard Knowles ("Evolution"; see also Halio Tragedy 75). He suggests that Q1 was derived from foul papers that were copied by a scribe for the theater, and that this fair copy was then subjected to the usual process of evolution within the theater, with cuts and revisions undertaken by Shakespeare or others; the final copy of this manuscript was then used to set F, with the compositors, especially the inexperienced compositor E, referring with some frequency to Q2 to clarify difficulties in the manuscript.

8Whatever form the copy for F took, the Folio version leaves an editor with multiple questions so far as individual readings are concerned, not least because significant quantities of the text were set by the apprentice Compositor E. Since Q1 was used in some fashion in the production of the Folio text (perhaps via a fair copy, and in any case through Q2), the later text may well include corrections that could legitimately be used in emending the earlier; similarly, as the origin for the later text, Q1 readings may on occasion be appropriately reinstated if a Folio reading looks like a corruption. We return to what is effectively the tradition: an eclectic text, with selections governed by the particular narrative the editor sees behind individual readings, coupled with a necessarily subjective critical sensitivity.

9The electronic space provides a perfect medium for a multi-text, multi-faceted play like King Lear. It will start with facsimiles and accurate old-spelling texts of Q1, Q2, and F. Because Q1 exists in so many variant versions, the old-spelling text will (uniquely for our series to date) provide collations for the various readings, with the attendant opportunity for viewers of the text to see all variants simultaneously, color-coded. I will follow Blayney, Greg, and Michael Warren in their documentation of variants. The online edition will provide full modern-spelling editions for Q1 and F, complete with annotation and collation; each of these requires a full discussion of the nature and possible or probable provenance of the text. In each case I will retain readings for both Q1 and F where they are defensible, though I am aware that I run the risk of making the doubtful assumption that the merely defensible is correct.

10Rather than a "traditional" conflated text, it would be possible—following the precedent of David Bevington's ISE Hamlet—to create an "Editor's Choice" version that included preferred readings (for whatever rationale) and at least most of the passages unique to both Q1 and F. I am well aware that I am at the beginning of a long journey, and have yet to make full acquaintance with the minutiae of each version, but at this point my intention is not to create an editor's version, but to provide three ways of viewing the "complete" Lear, building them from the fully edited versions of Q1 and F:

  1. 11An inclusive text, generated from the collations along the lines of our current display of variants, but limited to Q1 and F. This will include everything from both versions, color-coded. The one major challenge here is that I can at present conceive no simple way of showing the multiple changes in lineation between the texts; there is ample opportunity here for experimentation.
  2. 12An extended text, based on Q1, but including all additional F passages, which will be distinguished (to provide uncomplicated reading) by typography rather than color: san-serif to contrast with the default serif font.
  3. 13A similarly extended text based on F.

14While there need be no necessary preference between the latter two "finder" texts, my current thinking is that the extended text based on F will come closer to an Editor's Choice text, as my discussion of the question of the revision of Lear will reveal.

15One interesting challenge in the two extended texts will be how to handle the several passages that are not only different, but incompatible. Urkowitz shows, for example, how the two versions of the angry interchange between Lear and Cornwall (TLN 1472-80), each eminently dramatic, lose pungency when combined (Revision 36-8):

Quarto
Lear. This is a slaue, whose easie borrowed pride
Dwels in the fickle grace of her a followes,
Out varlet, from my sight.
Duke. What meanes your Grace? Enter Gon.
Gon. Who struck my seruant, Regan I haue good hope
Thou didst not know ant.
Lear. Who comes here? O heauens!
If you doe loue old men, if you sweet sway allow
Obedience, if your selues are old, make it your cause,
Folio
Lear. This is a Slaue, whose easie borrowed pride
Dwels in the sickly grace of her he followes.
Out Varlet, from my sight.
Corn. What meanes your Grace?
Enter Gonerill.
Lear. Who stockt my Seruant? Regan, I haue good hope
Thou did'st not know on't.
Who comes here? O Heauens!
If you do loue old men; if your sweet sway
Allow Obedience; if you your selues are old,
Make it your cause:

16In instances like this, each extended text will record only its own version, but since this is an electronic edition a marginal icon will allow a reader to switch to the alternate reading.

17In editing the "work" that is King Lear, I plan to provide the reader with a range of texts to explore. The basic navigation will be through an extended text from which readers will be able to glean most of what Shakespeare wrote in the two versions. The more curious, or scholarly, reader will be able to peel back layers to see what the play looked like in old spelling and in facsimile; or, indeed, to sift through an inclusive text that records all major variants on a single interface. The electronic medium will also allow me to include a number of additional ways of visualizing variants. For example, the question of the speaker at TLN 162 and 204 with the prefix "Cor," variously ascribed to Cornwall or Cordelia, is a perfect opportunity for an animated text moving between the two. In other instances where a reading from the current text is defensible but the alternative text provides a reading that can be seen as interestingly different (the "hit" / "sit" variant at TLN 328, for example), it will be possible for the reader to hover the mouse over the word to see the alternative, without having to click on it to open a commentary or collation window. In a pedagogical extension of this method of displaying the text, I plan to include a kind of "do it yourself" facility for selected scenes of particular interest: visitors to these pages will be able to select variants from pull-down menus and compile their own eclectic version of the text.