King Lear exists in two different texts: the Quarto (1608) and the Folio (1623). Because each supplies passages missing in the other, for over 200 years editors combined the two to form a single text, the basis for all modern productions. Then in the 1980s a group of influential scholars argued that the two texts represent different versions of King Lear, that Shakespeare revised his play in light of theatrical performance. The two-text theory has since hardened into orthodoxy. Now for the first time in a book-length argument, one of the world’s most eminent Shakespeare scholars challenges the two-text theory. At stake is the way Shakespeare’s greatest play is read and performed.
Sir Brian Vickers demonstrates that the cuts in the Quarto were in fact carried out by the printer because he had underestimated the amount of paper he would need. Paper was an expensive commodity in the early modern period, and printers counted the number of lines or words in a manuscript before ordering their supply. As for the Folio, whereas the revisionists claim that Shakespeare cut the text in order to alter the balance between characters, Vickers sees no evidence of his agency. These cuts were likely made by the theater company to speed up the action. Vickers includes responses to the revisionist theory made by leading literary scholars, who show that the Folio cuts damage the play’s moral and emotional structure and are impracticable on the stage.
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About the Author
Sir Brian Vickers is Distinguished Senior Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.
Table of Contents
A Note on References xxi
Part 1 The Quarto, 1608 1
Chapter 1 King Lear at the Printer 3
Chapter 2 Adjusting Text Space to Print Space in the Shakespeare Folio and Quartos 36
Chapter 3 Nicholas Okes Compresses the Play 72
Chapter 4 Nicholas Okes Abridges It 129
Part 2 The Folio, 1623 171
Chapter 5 One Play, One Manuscript, Two Printed Books 173
Chapter 6 The Folio Editors Regularize Shakespeare 200
Chapter 7 The King's Men Abridge a Tragedy 225
Part 3 The One King Lear 267
Chapter 8 The "Two Versions" Revisited 269
Conclusion: Toward a New Consensus 310
Appendix 1 Illustrations and Commentary 331
Appendix 2 Space Saving in Qi King Lear 339