Introduction to the Assignment:
Above: Title Page to the First Quarto (1608)
Above: Text Introducing the First Folio (1623)
As the titles above suggest, the title of the play that we now know as King Lear often differed from edition to edition. As you can see, the titles seem to announce two very different plays, not only in terms of genre (consider what it might mean, in other words, to read the play as a "historie" rather than a "tragedie"), but in terms of dramatic focus. Whereas the First Quarto (1608) groups Lear with "his three Daughters" and announces "the unfortunate life of Edgar," "Gloster," and the "sullen and assumed humour of Tom of Bedlam," the title in the First Folio (1623) focuses exclusively on Lear. Importantly, all modern editions of King Lear are derived from these two earliest printed texts. If you were editing your own modern edition of King Lear, which title would you select for the play? Why? Would you create another title by somehow conflating the two titles? Would you create another title altogether? How might the specific details of the title work as a kind of interpretation of the play itself?
Differences between the First Quarto (1608) and the First Folio (1623) texts of King Lear only begin with the title. In the first act of the play alone, there are over one hundred differences between the Quarto and the Folio (these differences of Folio from Quarto include the addition of whole lines of text, the deletion of words, phrases, and whole passages, the alteration of words and phrases, the addition of punctuation marks, the transposition of sentences, etc.). The Quarto (1608) contains approximately 300 lines that are not in the Folio (1623) and the Folio contains approximately 100 lines that are not in the Quarto. What the assignment this week will enable you to do is to compare an isolated passage from the first act of the 1608 Quarto (the first printed edition of the play) with that of the 1623 Folio and to make a series of editorial decisions. It will enable you, in other words, to begin to edit your own edition of King Lear. In the process, it is important to remember that neither quarto nor Folio is the definitive, the authoritative, or the "authentic" Shakespeare text. It is up to you, as the editor, to use your own interpretive skills to select from either the quarto or the Folio, or in other words, to make choices which help to sculpt the meaning of the text.
For this assignment, you will need to have your own copy of King Lear in hand (that is, whatever standard edition you have read for this week). Again, your edition, if it is a modern edition such as the Norton or the Pelican, will be a conflated text, that is, a version of the play created by an editor (or editors) who combined elements from the quarto and First Folio texts of Lear. The editor of your text, in other words, has made a series of decisions about how to reconcile or deal with the differences between early editions, has made decisions about which words to use, which lines to include and exclude, what punctuation to use, etc. If you have the Penguin Shakespeare, as many of you do, you will have noticed that alongside the "conflated" text of Lear, the First Quarto and First Folio texts have also been reproduced in full, enabling you to read and compare the originals side by side. While it is easy to spot the major differences between these two texts by noting where large blocks of empty space surface on the pages (signifying additional lines included in the version on the facing page), it is much harder to spot the subtle, but often highly significant differences between single words, sentences, punctuation, and speech prefixes, in the Quarto and Folio. Hence, in the following assignment, we have provided a single passage for you from King Lear and have highlighted the places where the First Quarto and the First Folio differ.