Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: Textual Introduction
  • Author: Michael Best

  • Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Michael Best
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Textual Introduction

    65General editorial principles

    Despite my conclusion that the Folio preserves some Shakespearean revisions, my approach in editing King Lear, with the creation of two base and two extended texts, is effectively agnostic about the primacy of the two versions and makes no assumptions about the nature of the revision that created the differences between them. The one instance where I privilege the Folio over the Quarto is on the title page for this edition, where the "Quick start" link takes the reader to the Extended Folio version of the play, and the Folio texts are listed before those of the Quarto. Implicit in this choice is a belief that the Folio to a modest degree represents the most recent thoughts of the author. Readers of the Extended Quarto, however, will have access to a text in which Q1 is privileged.

    Quarto and Folio texts

    My aim has been with both base versions to create an accurate, sound, and readable text. Where the versions differ, I follow each text wherever possible so long as it makes reasonable sense; I do not, however, strain unduly with a difficult passage if the alternative text provides a clear reading. In my earlier discussion of the possible evolution of the texts, I pointed out that all narratives that attempt to explain the relationship between the texts agree that in some fashion each is in a position potentially to clarify the other. My intention is to use the digital medium in such a way that it visually distinguishes the components of the two composite—extended—texts, making the richness of variance immediately and intuitively available to the reader. For the student or teacher the play abounds in "teaching moments" where there is room for discussion about the cumulative effect of what seem to be small changes in wording or speech assignments. For the scholar and critic the interface facilitates the disambiguation of questions of characterization, imagery, and more general issues as they vary between the versions. For the actor or director there is a convenient way of choosing an eclectic acting edition, with each choice informed by its alternative.

    The extended texts

    Each extended text combines the base text with sections from the alternative text that do not appear in it; the extended text retains the structure and individual readings of the base text. Passages that are added from the alternative text are included with as little change to the base text as possible; I have made no attempt to relineate or adjust the base text to accommodate the additions other than occasional necessary changes in punctuation. In the extended texts I make no attempt to create rhythmically neat lines where there are added part lines or phrases. In other words, I have not provided metrical conflation when the alternative text adds material to the base text. The interface is designed to make clear at all times which text is the source of a passage, at the same time making readily available, and visually apparent, where there are potentially significant and interesting differences in individual readings.

    • The base text appears in the normal font. </li>
    • Added sections appear with a light gray background; in each case the source text is noted on the right.
    • Sections that are unique to the base text are indicated with a vertical line on the right of the text, with the explanation "Not in [F or Q]"; when the mouse is hovered over the text or the note in the margin, the unique text is then highlighted in gray. 1. * Where passages in the two versions differ in such a way that adding material from the alternative text would create a hybrid that would confuse rather than extend the text, the two equivalent passages can be viewed separately with the assistance of horizontal tabs, or in parallel. There are five such parallels, discussed above.1. * Notable variants between the texts are indicated throughout with a dotted underline; hovering the mouse over the word brings up a pop-up with the alternative reading and its source. </li>

    In general, I include only phrases or longer passages from the alternative text. Thus, at TLN 115 where the Quarto reads "Well, let it be so" and the Folio "Let it be so" the Folio does not add the initial "Well." A more interesting case of a single word missing from one text is when a Doctor (Quarto) or Gentleman (Folio) informs Cordelia that her father has been sleeping, asking her to be near when he awakens; he then speaks of Lear's probable state of mind: the Quarto Lear will be calm ("I doubt not of his temperance"), the Folio Lear unpredictable ("I doubt of his temperance"). In this instance I have chosen to use the mouseover hover to indicate the alternative reading rather than adding "not" to the Folio extended text. See also TLN 315.

    The overall aims of the extended texts are twofold: to make available two ways of reading the complete work that is King Lear while retaining the integrity of the individual Quarto and Folio versions, and to make visually and intuitively evident the relationship between them. In the process, it is my hope that the extended texts will make evident some of the bones of the "social" network that produced the texts—the Folio especially—and stimulate exploration of the semantic and dramatic richness that the two versions, considered together rather than apart, make available.