Texts of King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.126  Tuesday, 28 March 2017


[1] From:        Ron Rosenbaum <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 24, 2017 at 3:39:12 PM EDT

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Text/s of King Lear


[2] From:        Jim Carroll <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 26, 2017 at 9:13:58 PM EDT

     Subj:         Re: Text/s of King Lear




From:        Ron Rosenbaum <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 24, 2017 at 3:39:12 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Text/s of King Lear


I must say I’m fascinated by the Lear discussion but disappointed at the apparent lack of interest in the thematic differences between Q1 and Folio Lear. Yes, I know the question of making Cordelia’s army more or less French. But I’m thinking of the larger question of human nature and the cruelty of fate.


Perhaps they can be found in the book under review, but at the very least attention should be paid to the addition of the feather in the Folio and Lear’s presumably wishful hallucinatory reaction to it, which, for me deepens the tragedy of his end. Or I could see a reading in which he leaves this mortal coil thinking his daughter lives. Not exactly a happy ending (like Cordelia marrying Edgar) but certainly a different one thematically from Q1. Many of the other differences also provoke thought about such questions rather than merely type shop exigencies.


The decision not to add the drama with the feather at the last moment is not a casual one, some type shop misprision—which is not to say it can be pronounced “authorial”. I would like to hear others views on this.



From:        Jim Carroll <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 26, 2017 at 9:13:58 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Text/s of King Lear


Gerald Downs wrote:


‘Striving to better anything, we mar what’s well’ seems a non sequitur. 


One thing I noted when reading the Q1 version of Lear was not how corrupt it seemed, but how almost all of the text is preserved in the state of the folio version. The print itself is not poorly reproduced, by that I mean fuzzy or distorted letters etc., and reads just like any other folio text, not some cheap or inferior copy, as some commentators would lead you to believe. If the errors were not collated and listed in one place, it’s hard to believe that any honest reader would think that the text was corrupt in any way, either through lack of skill or laziness from the printer or because it was a “reported” text. It seems to me that the differences between the texts have been converted from a mole-hill to a mountain.


In the case of the line with “striving to better”, the Q1 version is clear (I reproduce the punctuation exactly as well):


How farre your eyes may pearce I cannot tell; striving

to better ought, we marre what's well.


The construction “to better [noun]” appears elsewhere in Shakespeare: “to better yours”, “to better vantage”, “to better purpose”. Sonnet 103 has nearly the exact sentiment, with a similar construction involving “striving to”:


Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,

To mar the subject that before was well?  Sonnet 103.9-10


Turning to the folio’s version, “oft we” or “we oft” appears several times (in the context of an aphorism, as in the Lear case):


for 'tis a vulgar proof

That very oft we pity enemies.   TN 3.1.124-125


Withal, full oft we see

Cold wisdom waiting on superfluous folly. AWEW 1.1.104-105


Our doubts are traitors,

And makes us lose the good we oft might win, MfM 1.4.77-78


We are oft to blame in this —

'Tis too much prov'd — that with devotion's visage

And pious action we do sugar o'er

The devil himself.             Ham 3.1.45-48


I do believe you think what now you speak,

But what we do determine, oft we break.   Ham 3.1.186-187


So I have no problem with the idea that Shakespeare simply revised the Q1 version to the F1 version; both have elements of Shakespeare’s usual diction, and we don’t need to introduce anything other than the thought that Shakespeare liked the sound of one version better than the other for that particular case at the particular time that he revised it.


Jim Carroll




Shakespeare and Hegel (Kingston Shakespeare at the Temple), Apr 1

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.125  Tuesday, 28 March 2017


From:        Timo Uotinen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 26, 2017 at 1:06:54 PM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare and Hegel (Kingston Shakespeare at the Temple), Apr 1


Shakespeare and Hegel (Kingston Shakespeare at the Temple), Apr 1



10.00: Jennifer Bates (Duquesne University):
‘Hegel and Shakespeare on the Measure for Measure: The Hangman’s Mystery’


11.00: Coffee


11.30: Simon Haines (Chinese University of Hong Kong):
‘Hegel and The Merchant of Venice


12.15: Joe Moshenska (University of Cambridge):
King Lear and Hegel’s “Unlimited Monarchy”’


13.00: Lunch (Bell Inn, Hampton)


14.00: Paul Kottman (New School, New York):
‘Hegel and Shakespeare on the Pastness of Art’


14.45: Erik Roraback (Charles University, Prague):
‘Hegel, Shakespeare, and Forms of the World Spirit’


15.30: Tea


16.00: Ewan Fernie (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham):
‘Shakespeare, Hegel – and Garrick?’


17.00: Round Table Discussion


19.30: Chamber Concert: ‘The Music of the World Spirit’ – The Abel Quartet play music by Haydn, Mozart and Devienne


The registration fee is £20, which covers a sandwich lunch at the Bell Inn, plus coffee and tea. The charge for the concert will be an additional £12. All proceeds go to support the Temple. See here for directions to the Temple. Places are limited. See also Facebook page.


Book tickets here at Eventbrite!


Timo Uotinen

PhD Candidate in English Literature

Royal Holloway, University of London


Texts of King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.124  Friday, 24 March 2017


[1] From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 24, 2017 at 2:31:20 AM EDT

     Subj:         Re: Text of King Lear


[2] From:        Brian Vickers <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 24, 2017 at 11:12:41 AM EDT

     Subj:         Text of King Lear




From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 24, 2017 at 2:31:20 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Text of King Lear


Because response to Blayney’s One Lear review is hard to organize and as textual analysis is informative, I’ll note some of Blayney’s few examples for discussion.


As [Mr. & Mrs. Albany] prepare to leave [1.4] the Folio makes one more change, traditionally dismissed as merely the correction of an auditory error in Q (. . . similarity of pronunciation having first been deduced from the variant). But while Q’s [Albany] tells Gonorill that “Striuing to better ought [anything], we marre whats well,” his weakened F counterpart offers only the less decisive “Striuing to better, oft we marre what’s well.” (If it ain’t broke, often don’t fix it.)


‘Striving to better anything, we mar what’s well’ seems a non sequitur. The “Q to F adapter” apparently “deduced” Albany’s words were a warning: ‘oft we should of left well enow alone.’ Stone (unmentioned by Blayney, tho his analysis appeared in 1980) accepts F’s ‘oft’ and classifies ‘ought’ as mishearing.


Q1 Lear’s dying, broke ‘a rat of life’, fixed in F to ‘a Rat haue life’, is one of many phonetic (auditory) errors (should of / should have). But Q1’s ‘ought’ is likely a misspelling of shorthand transcription caused by the variability of ough in orthography and pronunciation. Pervez and I discussed ‘ought’ two years ago, when I noticed lines from Bordeaux:


spoke like a man of arte do me that good but sought  (439) 

how shall I fall in to a dreme having no mynd at all to slep‹e›


The stenographer interchanges ough for its many sounds: a bought, stoughtest, sought/soft, sought, doughter, tought, cought/coughed.


If memorial, Q1 copy isn’t Shakespeare’s hand and its spelling is haphazardly incidental. But if Q1 copy was “autograph and authoritative,” Shakespeare wrote ‘rat of life’ and every other “mishearing.” Ought, if arguably correct, isn’t very good evidence. Misspelt, it’s evidence for theatrical reporting.


If one believes (as both Vickers and I do) that Q was printed from an autograph and authoritative manuscript, then . . . “Breake hart, I prethe breake” is Lear’s dying line rather than Kent’s . . . and the final speech implicitly leaves the reunited kingdom in the hands of the only legal successor (Albany) rather than Edgar. Those two attributions alone necessarily influence one’s view of what the preceding drama “has been about,” and they are by no means the only significant differences that are neither omissions nor additions.


If one credits shorthand reporting (for inquiry’s sake?) ascriptions shouldn’t necessarily influence views; the speech headings are guesswork. Analysis must determine speakers. Q and F editors tried, as their differences indicate. Stone opts for Kent as pretheer as he immediately repeats himself and because Lear has cashed in (before revision kills him again). I agree with Schmidt that Edgar gets two lines after Kent and Albany gets the last two.


But one can always weasel one’s way out of Quarto readings one dislikes by dismissing them as simply evidence of “the execrable printing of the Quarto” (ix) . . .


Gabriel Egan hinted about upcoming revisionist opinion: 


< John Jowett edited King Lear for the New Oxford

Shakespeare and his view . . . is that: >


<< . . . the quarto is very poorly printed . . . .

Reasons may be found in difficulties inherent to the

copy manuscript, Okes's inexperience . . . and a low

level of ability in the compositors. . . . [A] further

economy in the cost . . . made the situation worse >>


< I don’t feel at liberty to quote more of Jowett’s superbly up-to-date account of, and contribution to, knowledge about the textual situation of King Lear, >


If “further economy” refers to Blayney’s newly-abandoned “paper shortage” and not to “Quotation Quads,” Jowett isn’t up-to-date. I suppose New Oxford editors neglect Blayney’s opposition to authorial revision from Q to F. Jowett will perforce agree with Blayney, Vickers, and Knowles, that Q1 is “autograph.” My guess: he’ll rely not on Doran but on simpler R3 methods: the Q memorial iceberg will be carefully navigated (to set it aside). Or, “the quarto is very poorly printed.” Yet for analysis, the well-printed Q1 exposes its copy-text. I dislike the term weaseling. Most every Lear commentator is contorted by the foul-paper assumption.


To explain the lines found only in the Folio was less easy until the twentieth century invented “memorial contamination”—an infinitely flexible means of corruption that could be “deduced” from almost any kind of departure from a reading preferred by the investigator. And so the Lear of 1608 was often dismissed as a “Bad Quarto,” despite being longer than the allegedly superior . . . Folio text.


Memorial transmission was “invented” early (Heywood, Buc, Malone, Theobald, Schmidt). Blayney must refer to “memorial reconstruction” and that Q was thought to report an F-like text. Nowadays, most everyone agrees that a Q1-like text evolved into F (when Q1 cannot be “bad”); but that ignores the obvious alternative.


Q1 reports ancestral text of which we have no other record than Q1. The only likelihood of greater “knowledge” is traditional, eclectic criticism and Blayney’s bibliography. As a bad quarto, Q1 precludes F dependence on any parallel text. But one chance remains to recover Shakespearian text; F may restore (in emendations and added lines) some Q1 printer’s copy missing from Q1. Reporting does answer a lot of questions. Play length is irrelevant here.


Vickers asserts that virtually all F additions qualify as restorations; that cannot be. Blayney says none of them do. Stone categorizes the origins of F additions from textual evidence to conclude that some additional Q1 copy survives in F.


But there is absolutely no historical, bibliographical, or textual evidence that most of the 1623 additions had yet been written in 1608, let alone that they were present in the printer’s copy for the Quarto (63).


I disagree, if Blayney isn’t hedging (“absolutely . . . most” is not “most absolutely.”) I’ll review Blayney’s review from Stone’s perspective.


Gerald E. Downs



From:        Brian Vickers <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 24, 2017 at 11:12:41 AM EDT

Subject:    Text of King Lear


Letter to SHAKSPER 23.3.17


The text of King Lear


I had intended to continue reading this conversation from the side lines, but the posting by Holger Syme causes me to intervene. Professor Syme sprang from obscurity to notoriety last year by his feat of posting 500 tweets attacking my book The One King Lear, for which he deserves a footnote in the history of Shakespeare criticism. His purpose was destructive, and some described it as a hatchet job; to me it seemed more like acid throwing. (See also Julia Griffin’s comments, SHK 28.215).


Throughout that series, as in the additional 20,000 word attacks he contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Syme has consistently falsified my argument by taking quotations out of context, especially in regard to Peter Blayney’s ground-breaking book, The Texts of King Lear and Their Origins, Volume I (1982). In his recent posting (SHK 28.109). Syme cited Blayney’s review in the current issue of PBSA in these terms: ‘despite Brian Vickers’ repeated reference . . . to Blayney’s “recent acknowledgement that ‘Okes probably guessed (badly) that he could fit Lear into 10 ½ sheets’,” the review makes clear that Blayney doesn’t acknowledge any such thing.’ Syme has left out the context and the date, both given in my book, where I quote the personal communication I received from Blayney on April 11, 2014: ‘Okes probably guessed (badly) that he could fit Lear into 10/1/2 sheets – but it was Butter who supplied the paper and paid for the printing, and it would have been to Okes’s advantage to confess that he’d miscalculated and ask to renegotiate. He’d have earned more for printing twelve sheets’ (p. 359 n.10). By suppressing the date and writing ‘doesn’t acknowledge’ Syme makes it look as if I am deliberately misrepresenting Blayney. He also fails to record Blayney’s admission that ‘Vickers is misled by a statement of my own’, in which he referred to Okes’s ‘shortage of space metal’. Blayney now confesses that he ‘unwisely inserted a hint about one of those sections’ he had drafted for the intended second volume of his book, ‘but deliberately declined to explain it’ (p. 70). If the author now admits, 35 years after its publication, that on some topics he was ‘evasive’ and ‘just plain wrong’, I can hardly be blamed for having difficulty with his argument.


Blayney’s PBSA review not only ‘offers much new evidence about the printing of Q1 of King Lear’, as Syme reports, it is a remarkably honest piece of self-criticism, by his own very high scholarly standards. (My errors are castigated, on the whole fairly, but others who come his ferrule include such eminent textual scholars as Adrian Weiss, William Proctor Williams, and the late Don McKenzie.) The autobiographical sections also shed light on a matter that has puzzled scholars for years, the non-appearance of a second volume of Origins. Blayney now reveals that in the late 1970s he was one of ‘at least three graduate students’ who were ‘independently doubting the validity’ of conflating the two texts of Lear, and that their ‘conclusions influenced several others (including Gary Taylor, who had been shown some draft material I lent to someone else), and when four of the growing group participated in a seminar at Boston in 1980, the suggestion that the two texts might be incompatible began to spread with unexpected speed’ (p. 64). In other words, Blayney was one of the original ‘Two Versions’ theorists, but the fact that his ideas bore rapid fruit in others’ hands dissuaded him from continuing with Volume II. Personally speaking, I don’t mind that he didn’t come out as a revisionist, but I do regret that he wasn’t able to detach that part of his book and give us the benefit of his sustained study of Okes’s quarto. Perhaps he yet will.


Much as I admire Peter Blayney’s work, I must disagree with him on one matter. In The One King Lear I argued that Nicholas Okes cramped the printing and shortened the text of the play because he had under-estimated the amount of paper that he would need, a conclusion that I had arrived at by intensive study of the Quarto. As I acknowledged, I subsequently discovered that my thesis had been anticipated by Edward Hubler in 1933 and by Gwynn Blakemore Evans in 1959; but there are more. As Duncan Salkeld pointed out (SHK 28.090), Reg Foakes in his 1997 Arden edition, considering ‘why so much verse was interpreted by the compositors as prose,’ remarked that ‘Okes presumably wanted to economize on paper, and use not more than ten sheets, which led to crowding on the final page’ (p. 122). And I can add James Shapiro, who endorsed this position in 2015: ‘Okes also ran short of paper, forcing the compositors to cram the long text into too few pages’ (1606. William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear, p. 352). In his letter to the TLS (quoted in SHK 28.091) Peter Blayney dismissed my argument that ‘the 102 lines not found in the Quarto existed in 1608 but were deliberately suppressed’ as ‘simply a product of [my] imagination’. It’s odd that four other prominent Shakespearians have reached the same conclusion.


Holger Syme is an avowed supporter of the ‘Two Texts of Lear thesis’, which was adopted by Stephen Greenblatt in the 1997 edition of the Norton Shakespeare (following the Taylor and Wells Oxford Shakespeare of 1986) and has been repeated in the 2016 edition, to which Syme has contributed. Your readers have already been directed to Greenblatt’s dismissive account of my book in the New York Review, in which he recommended Syme’s tweets and quoted approvingly from Syme’s book, Theatre and Testimony in Shakespeare’s England (based on a Harvard dissertation directed by Greenblatt). It is hardly surprising, then, that Syme failed to inform your readers about Blayney’s forthright rejection of the revisionists’ main tenet, ‘that the Folio’s alterations represent a revision by Shakespeare undertaken in 1609-11.’ Blayney cannot ‘believe (1) that the original author could have either made or approved what I see as both radical and damaging changes to what he had originally written, or (2) that could anyone have persuaded him to do so, he would have done it simply by making cuts and minor additions rather than actually rewriting some of it’ (p. 95; author’s emphasis). Subsequently Blayney argues that ‘what the Folio prints is the result of deliberate alteration’ and suggests that ‘a more appropriate title for [the Folio] might have been “The Travestie of King Lear”’ (p. 101). Accordingly, commenting on the chapter in which I criticize the revisionists’ claim that the Folio as it stands represents ‘Shakespeare’s own revised and improved creation’, he comments: ‘With most of his criticisms I agree’ (ibid.)


Your readers will know that judgments on this issue are sharply divided, and that no agreement can be expected. But a disappointing feature of partisan alignments in recent years is that some members of a group are unwilling to even mention the presence of disagreement. In my final chapter, and in the conclusion (pp. 269-338) I showed how the revisionists had isolated themselves from dissenting voices by a process of mutual validation, warmly endorsing each other’s work and dismissing critics as ‘reactionaries’ or ‘gerontocrats’. I was not surprised then, to read the posting by Gabriel Egan, a loyal associate of Gary Taylor, stating that ‘conflating the quarto and Folio was never an option for the New Oxford Shakespeare because its editors felt that the case for authorial revision (which makes conflation an illogical approach) was settled thirty years ago’ (SHK28.089). Outside that charmed circle other voices could have been heard. I am reliably informed that, in a seminar at the 2006 SAA meeting in Philadelphia on “The Texts of King Lear,” only three of almost twenty participants made any reference to the two allegedly Shakespearean versions, and two of these three took issue with the revision hypothesis. As James Shapiro said to me some years ago, ‘The idea that Shakespeare revised King Lear in 1610 is dead in the water’. Perhaps it’s time for Gabriel to have a re-think, for the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that ‘A highly organized system will, over time, deteriorate…’. 




Review of the RSC’s Julius Caesar

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.123  Friday, 24 March 2017


From:        Kirk McElhearn <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 24, 2017 at 4:30:45 AM EDT

Subject:    Review of the RSC’s Julius Caesar




Theater Review – Julius Caesar, by the Royal Shakespeare Company


Julius Caesar holds a special place in my heart. It was the first Shakespeare play I read, back in high school, and its many memorable lines ignited my love for Shakespeare’s language. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it at the Royal Shakespeare Company, as part of the current Rome season, and last night’s production was wonderful. I saw a preview performance on March 16, and I can’t help but think that the RSC should have had a performance the day before – the Ides of March – but did not have one.

Julius Caesar is about politics, ambition, honor, and the consequences of taking radical actions. You’re probably aware that the title character doesn’t live to the end of the play; in some ways, this work could be entitled Marcus Brutus, but Caesar was certainly the more famous man.


The play opens in a stark, empty set, Roman with influences from Albert Speer, where there are some steps, columns, and lions toward the back of the stage. The RSC has gone full toga here; this is no modern dress production, transported to some setting where one needs to imagine how a modern Caesar would reflect the original. This is Rome, and the production embraces the antique. All the men wear identical togas; clean, crisp, white trimmed with scarlet.


Brutus is a well-respected Roman, and Cassius, played by the excellent Martin Hutson, starts suggesting that Rome would be better off without Caesar, who has just returned from a war with Pompey. In a show of humility, the Roman people – offstage – have offered Caesar the crown of emperor, but he refuses three times, only to accept.


Brutus, admirably played by Alex Waldmann, warms to the idea, and before long launches the conspiracy. The comings and goings of the conspirators build the tension, and their plans takes hold.


Earlier in the play, a soothsayer had warned Caesar to “Beware the ides of March,” and just before Caesar was due to go to the Senate, his wife, having dreamt of his death, tries to keep him home. But Caesar heads out on that fateful day.


The famous murder scene is one of the tensest scenes I’ve seen at the RSC. The combination of set and lighting make it a harsh murder, and, while there’s not a lot of blood, there’s enough so the killers can wash their hands in it, and stain their togas.


After the intermission comes Mark Antony’s famous speech, which begins with “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” Standing on a small platform in the center of the stage, surrounded by a surprising number of Romans – most of the cast, plus what seems like a gaggle of extras – James Corrigan performs one of the best scenes I have ever seen at the RSC. He is impassioned and truculent, reminding that, “Brutus is an honorable man,” and he plays the crowd like a cheap fiddle.


The remainder of the play is less intense, as the men are seen at war, and Brutus and Cassius have a bit of a falling out. With the conspirators on one side, and Mark Antony and Octavius on the other, war is immanent, and the battle scenes are thrilling, the ending tragic, as several of the conspirators choose death in honor over death at the hands of their enemies.


The triumvirate of Brutus, Cassius, and Mark Antony – respectively played by Alex Waldmann, Martin Hutson, and James Corrigan – make up a stellar cast for this production. I felt that Caesar, played by Andrew Woodall, was a bit too much of a loudmouth, spitting as he spoke, and r-r-r-olling his Rs, which may have been a way of marking him as somehow different from the others. The majority of the cast is made up of RSC first-timers, who all acquit their roles with ease and grace.


It’s hard not to see this play and think of politics, either in the US or the UK, with Trump on one side, Brexit on the other. But that’s the beauty of Julius Caesar; it holds a message for all time, to be interpreted according to the current political climate. But Angus Jackson’s production, staying purely in its Roman guise, takes no sides, allowing spectators to make their own transpositions, if they wish.


This was a beautiful production, with creative lighting, and, while there was just the single set in the first half, the set morphed a bit in the second part giving the stage a very different tone. The two key scenes in the middle of the play are among the best theater I’ve seen at the RSC, and the overall production is powerful. I hope to see this play again several times during its run.


The only negative was one brief moment near the end of the play that was so shocking that much of the audience gasped in surprise. This is something that is not in Shakespeare’s text, and that I feel should not be done on stage, but I will say no more so as not to spoil anything.


Julius Caesar has a long run at the RSC, through September, and you’ll be able to see it in cinemas in April. Don’t miss this.




Call for Papers: Special Issue of Shakespeare: A Journal

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.122  Friday, 24 March 2017


From:        Hugh Grady <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 23, 2017 at 4:32:40 PM EDT

Subject:    Call for Papers: Special Issue of Shakespeare: A Journal


Call for Papers


For a special issue of Shakespeare: A Journal, marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, we are inviting submissions of papers, related to the issue’s central topic of investigating Marx’s impact, in a broad sense, on Shakespeare studies, either by exemplifying it in your own way or by commenting directly on it. Reference to the situation in our contemporary world as part of the overall argument would be welcome as well. We are also looking for papers that investigate Shakespeare’s influence on Karl Marx and the development of his writings. 


The proposed length for this is 6000 words, and the journal requires double-blind peer evaluation. We expect a strong issue.


Send abstracts or proposals by May 1, 2017 to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Final versions will be due at the end of summer 2017.



Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.