King Lear

King Lear's Three Deaths: Triumph, Nihilism, and Revision

If Shakespeare penned two King Lears, he created three King Lears. There is the Quarto's hero, the Folio's hero, and the hero who exists somewhere in the interplay. The last of these is not the same Lear who emerges variously in various conflated editions. That Lear is an editor's creation. The Lear I refer to contradicts himself at one and the same moment, could never be seen on any stage, and dies two very different deaths.

In an essay on Hamlet's textual problems, Stanley Urkowitz wrote that comparing Q1 to Q2 is "rather like [perusing] a museum or a gallery showing the variant states of the great Rembrandt etchings... Each can stand alone, but when viewed side by side they show how the work grew and altered, and we can better appreciate the particular virtues of each trial." At this hypothetical Rembrandt exhibit a visitor to the museum might also concern himself with the question of what the differences between the etchings mean in themselves. A mole on an attractive woman's nose that grows bigger from etching to etching suggests something about Rembrandt's conception of beauty. The revisions might say as much about Rembrandt's art as his discreet productions.

There are many important...

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