VI. Popish Impostures?

                                        The Life and Death of King Lear.



The different texts of King Lear; Shakespeare the reviser?; problems solved by quarto text; the demand for `compleat sense'; The `trial scene'; doubts over Edgar's role; an affective scene; Cordelia's sorrow `beautifully painted'.



Of all Shakespeare's plays, King Lear has the most troubled textual history. The play exists in two very different forms. There are two early quartos known as Q (the so called `Pied Bull quarto') and Q1 (dated - falsely - 1608), and there is the Folio of 1623 with its descendant line of later folios. For the purposes of examining Pope's edition here, the distinctions within each `family' of texts can be deferred since the differences between quarto and quarto, and folio and folio, are negligible in comparison to those between any quarto, any folio, and Pope's own edition. For simplicity's sake I will continue here to refer to the `quarto' and `folio' texts, meaning the terms to be taken as referring to that textual family, rather than to a specific text.

            Recent scholarly investigations have brought textual issues of King Lear into the fore of our critical appreciation of the play as much as they seemed to be in the earliest years of editing during the eighteenth century. The chief facts are that the quarto text is about three hundred lines longer than the folio, containing many single lines, some passages, and two major incidents (the bulk of the `trial scene' and Kent's report of Cordelia's grief on hearing of her father's plight) not in the later text. The folio text has however around one hundred lines that cannot be found in quarto. A brief survey of the history of this play (in its many forms) reveals that what commonly appears in print as King Lear, is the result of editorial tradition which itself evolved for centuries after Shakespeare finished writing. From the publication of the folio in 1623, the reading audience would predominantly have known it in its folio form until the beginning of textually-aware Shakespeare editions in the 1720s led to the gradual adoption of a fully combined version of the texts, which sought to include as much material as possible. Today, while school-children and undergraduates still largely study the play in a fully combined version, such as is offered by the Arden and Penguin editions, the view is gaining acceptance in some quarters that the two texts of the play are two `versions' of King Lear. In the 1986 Oxford edition of The Complete Works, the reader will therefore find two plays, The History of King Lear (based on the quarto) and The Tragedy of King Lear (based on the folio).

            On the stage, a different sort of textual indeterminacy has marked the play's history, for from the 1680s until the 1820s the only performed versions were those which had been re-written, most famously by Nahum Tate. Tate's reworking of the play introduced many changes, the most praised of which was a prison scene between Lear and Cordelia in Act 5. Today, Tate is mostly remembered for his addition of a `happy ending' to the play, which is thought to be symptomatic of the Eighteenth-Century's fastidious dislike of `real' tragedy. This view, however, ignores the fact the Tate's changes were wide-ranging and makes a reductive assumption about the taste of the age. It is possible that Tate's play may have been prompted by a more sophisticated dissatisfaction with the folio text──the only text of the play that was then generally available, and that the impulse to alter the play which has since found vent in editorial intervention, was expressed by Tate in a reworking of the material.

            The belief that we have two distinct version of King Lear has implications for our understanding of Shakespeare's creative process. The view that the folio texts represent second thoughts has come to be known as `revisionist', and promotes the idea that the folio text is a reworking of (and, usually, an improvement on) the quarto text. The debate surrounding this view as to whether or not Shakespeare was a reviser, has existed as long as his plays, and is prefigured to some degree in Pope's Preface, where he takes issue with Ben Jonson's observation that `Shakespeare never blotted line.' Pope writes,


in reality [...] there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the Comedy of the Merry Wives of Windsor, which he entirely new writ; the History of Henry the 6th, which was first published under the Title of the Contention of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the 5th, extreamly improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at first, and many others.



The practical application of Pope's `revisionist' view can be seen in, for example, The Merry Wives of Windsor, where he ignores the early quarto version in favour of the folio text `revision'. The same is also true of Hamlet where the notorious `bad' quarto is entirely neglected. Once Pope had determined a quarto as manifestly inferior in comparison to its folio counterpart, he ignored it.

            There is a danger in attaching too much importance to Pope's pronouncements here, however, as his task was not to collate different texts, but to produce a working edition. It seems he saw that some plays had two texts, that one text was earlier, usually shorter, and poetically inferior, and concluded that in these cases Shakespeare had revised. This meant that the inferior text in these cases was not studied - Pope would have been unlikely to have been drawn to scrutinising `useless' plays when he had enough work in editing his chosen text or texts. If Pope had studied these `inferior' texts, he may have revised his opinion that they were first drafts, and seen many of them to be in fact corruptions of the text he had accepted. Pope was editing for the reader, not giving a definitive study of textual variants for the scholar.

            Another reason for today treating with care the notion of Pope as a revisionist, is that his `revisionist' views seem limited to plays quite different to those considered today. In many plays the existence of a quarto text seemed useful to Pope in that it might justify his suspicion of folio passages which he believed interpolations. In Henry V he is unhappy to find that the scene consisting mainly of French jokes (Act 3 Scene 5) is included in both the early and later texts, and notes:


I have left this ridiculous scene as I found it; and am sorry to have no colour left, from any of the editions, to imagine it interpolated.


Clearly then, questions of poetic quality precede and inspire questions of textual authority. By his above note Pope hints at the process by which textual authority might be determined: a consistent pattern of omissions of `ridiculous' passages in a text of Henry V would suggest a good text──unfortunately in this case such a text did not exist.

            So to take Pope's declaration in his Preface and extrapolate a modern, revisionist viewpoint from it is therefore dangerous as these views form only one part of Pope's textual beliefs. King Lear is today the play over which claims of revision are disputed, and as far as Pope was concerned, while there may have been many factors at work to produce two quite different texts, Shakespeare's revising hand was certainly not one of them.

            As we have seen, in Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew it would be wrong to suppose that Pope believed the folio text a `revision'. For him the folio texts of these plays represented something very different: a further corruption of an already corrupt text. Pope believed in Shakespeare's revisions; but he did not believe every variant text represented them. Since it is unhelpful to consider Pope in a recent `revisionist' critical context according to what he writes in his Preface, the only alternative is to examine every editorial decision in order to understand Pope's editorial opinion of the texts. As we shall see, in the case of King Lear, Pope does not seem to be in any sense a `revisionist'.

            Pope's edition of the play, entitled The Life and Death of King Lear, immediately states in its title a difference from Tate's popular theatrical text: this is a play in which Lear will die. The title also moves away from the folio categorisation of the play as a tragedy. In Pope's edition, the play comes before King John as Shakespeare's earliest (in subject) history play. Because King Lear is today synonymous with tragedy, and suggestive of its utmost heights, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate the different attitude to the text which Pope's title suggests. But it is sobering to bear in mind that as Pope edited the play, King Lear was as yet largely unknown in some of its most famous components (parts of Lear's rage against the storm [quote] and the `mad' hovel scene), and was performed in a version which suggests the world at large viewed it as being so seriously flawed that substantial re-writing was in order.

            While it may be odd for us to think of King Lear as a history, rather than as the pre-eminent tragedy it is considered today, it is interesting to imagine how Pope thought of the relationship between this play and King John; both have some superficial elements in common: they are located in the distant past; both chronicle the fall of an erring King; they have in their cast vigorous bastards and furiously opposed women; both include scenes of great cruelty; both include scenes of madness. For Pope, perhaps, King Lear and King John were plays which were close to each other in general character. Strikingly, it is King John which comes in for the greater share of approbatory punctuation. In King Lear the only incident to be given marginal commas is Edgar's now famous description of the drop from the top of Dover Cliff. King John has four passages with approbatory commas, and contains one of the few scenes in Shakespear to which Pope has allocated a star, indicating that `the beauty lay not in particulars but in the whole.' It is difficult to be sure how much weight can be put on such evidence; whether or not Pope was deliberately campaigning in removing King Lear from its company in the folios, amongst the tragedies, and associating it with King John. Given his remarks in the Preface on Shakespeare's equal powers in all modes of writing, it is unlikely that to include King Lear among the histories was, for Pope, a signal that he considered it inferior. What does seem to the case, however, is that Pope did not approach this play (or, perhaps, any other) with that particularising reverence which often accompanied later accounts.


                                                             * * *


             When it came to the texts themselves, Pope's first sight of the quarto text was presumably something of a revelation, giving him a great deal of new material with which to work in his quest to create a text. He worked through the play, relineating, repunctuating, emending, and removing what he thought to be spurious material, with his attention focused on both the folio and the quarto texts. The result is a play which has several features that distinguished it from earlier editions. Most important is Pope's selective admittance of some quarto passages not in the folio into his text, sometimes heavily edited. quarto passages not admitted to the text are entirely omitted. Pope also admits most of the folio material though a few passages are degraded to the bottom of the page. Pope's text therefore represents something unique. He has not simply run together all the available material, nor has he simply re-presented one single printing. His play is a fusion. The means may seem highly eclectic, but point to an end which must have been to create the best possible text under the circumstances, as close as possible to the text as he might have assumed it to exist in Shakespeare's mind.

            Although as a reader Pope had been used to the folios, his text is not an augmented folio text, but rather a new creation of elements of both folio and quarto. Steven Urkowitz[i], refers to the folio as `Pope's basic text,' but this probably represents a Twentieth-Century misunderstanding of Pope's editorial process. For modern textual editors schooled in the mechanics of textual criticism, it is natural to assume that a `basic text' must exist; and almost impossible even to conceive of editing without one. For such an editor, the copy text usually represents an entity within which only single-word emendation is permitted, since even today creative single-word emendation is permitted and enthusiastically pursued. A model for understanding Pope's approach can be imagined by thinking of the process underlying a single-word emendation. Take the lines in quarto,


            patience and sorrow streme,

Who should expresse her goodliest [...]


The word `streme' does not make sense, so Pope emended it to `strove' which does. The emendation has stuck, and even persists in the `modernised' quarto text of The History of King Lear that appears in the Oxford Edition of the complete works. In this instance editors have allowed their decision to appeal to a set of criteria superior to `the text'; those determining whether the text, at the most basic level, `makes sense'.

            Once the principle is admitted, it is merely a question of how large the editor's concept of `sense' is. Pope's understanding of sense was not `at the most basic level'; for him the text had to be able to withstand critical scrutiny and make poetic and dramatic sense as far as possible. Thus Pope's `basic text' is not a concrete textual artifact, but a conception of a poetic and dramatic work of art which will answer, at the very least, to some fundamental artistic precepts. folio and quarto only inform Pope's text at the molecular level. Every time a major textual difference or literary difficulty occurs, the formula


                        Pope's text = folio + quarto


breaks down. Sometimes folio gives way to quarto, sometimes they are joined, and sometimes it is preferred as it stands. In every instance, however, it is important to bear in mind the unique property of Pope as editor: his editorial basis is poetic, and not textual.

            By looking at Pope's decisions it is possible to begin to deduce a relationship between the texts, not necessarily what Pope thought to be the relationship between the folio and the quarto, since he did not necessarily need to `think' anything about that.

            Pope's appreciation of the nature of the quarto material is often well indicated by the tone of Pope's footnotes, which at first give the impression that the extra quarto material has allowed problems to be resolved. For example in the first scene of the play Pope has Cordelia explaining her reticence in praising Lear thus:


Why have my sisters husbands, if they say

They love you, all? hap'ly when I shall wed,

That lord whose hand must take my plight, shall carry

Half my love with him, half my care and duty.

Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,

To love my father all────-


Of the last line in this extract, Pope's footnote records, `These words restor'd from the first edition, without which the sense was not compleat.' The folio version of this speech, without the last line, does make some sense. Indeed, Steven Urkowitz asserts, `the folio here is as complete as the quarto, and as sensible. It is shorter, more declarative and (arguably) less redundant than the quarto, but it is not demonstrably inferior, as Pope asserts'.

            But Pope's judgement is that it is not the `compleat' sense. His preference for the quarto reading indicates perhaps that he thought this line cut because it interrupts the succession of ten-syllable lines here── `restor'd' implies a return to an original. Also, Pope has preferred the reading which is more rhetorically poised, in which the point of the argument is pressed home rather than implied. Rhetorically too, the speech ends more pressingly in quarto, with its insistently iambic line `to love my father all' as opposed to the unstressed second syllable of `sisters'.

            In addition to decisions concerning the local form and effect of the speech, Pope no doubt took into consideration wider questions about the propriety of the words in the mouth of Cordelia; in this first scene, is she someone who would - as the folios suggest - shy away from the pointed conclusion of the speech, or is she like Kent, a character who offers her opinion with unhoneyed force? Pope perhaps took into account a later instance of Cordelia's speech. When she is spurned by the king of France because she has no dowry, she makes this reply:


  Cor. Peace be with Burgundy,

Since that respect and fortunes are his love,

I shall not be his wife.


As in the rebuke given to Goneril and Regan in the quarto, the final half line here makes a logical and poetically effective close. In terms of word-meaning alone, we could do without the half-line `I shall not be his wife,' deducing this instead from the line preceding it; and we could support such a version of the text by maintaining that it was `shorter, more declarative' &c. But here Cordelia's speech does have a sting: `I shall not be his wife', and this half line follows exactly the same stress pattern as the earlier `To love my Father all'. In Pope's text, and the quarto, this consistency of poetic and rhetorical character emerges──Cordelia is not one to flinch from strong speech.

            Another, later, scene finds Pope taking a different approach to the text, when Edmund persuades Edgar to flee by telling him of his father's wrath. In Act 1 Scene 8 [1,2,115] Edmund has his famous soliloquy concerning man's recourse to astrological explanations in time of trouble. Pope gives the speech an entry in his index of thoughts and sentiments──`astrology ridicul'd':


This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, (often the surfeits of our own behaviour) we make guilty of our disasters, the sun, the moon and stars [...]


The speech in Pope's edition has a scene to itself, and in the next we see Edmund intimate to Edgar that the recent eclipses foretell some disaster. The folio text has this dialogue:


  Edg. How now Brother Edmond, what serious contemplation

are you in?

  Bast. I am thinking Brother of a prediction I read this

other day, what should follow these Eclipses.

  Edg. Do you busy yourself with that?

  Bast. I promise you, the effect he writes of, succeede


When saw you my father last?


The quarto differs at this point, giving Edmund more to say:


  Edgar. How now brother Edmund, what serious contemplation

are you in?

  Bast. I am thinking brother of a prediction I read this other

day, what should follow these Eclipses.

  Edg. Doe you busie your selfe about that?

  Bast. I promise you the effects he writ of, succeed unhappily,

as of unnaturalnesse betweene the child and the parent, death,

dearth, dissolutions of ancient amitie, divisions in state, menaces

and maledictions against King and nobles, needles diffidences,

banishment of friends, dissipation of Cohorts, nuptial breaches,

and I know not what.

  Edg. How long have you been a sectary Astronomicall?

  Bast. Come, come, when saw you my father last?


Here, Pope omitted the quarto material from his edition, and followed the folio text. We can deduce therefore that he thought the additional quarto material spurious - an actorish interpolation. The quarto speech can seem humorous; maybe the actors - Pope reasoned - had exploited the comic potentiality of a scene in which somebody credulous is outwitted by somebody witty: Edgar and Edmund now enact a routine in which wily Edmund produces an impressive list, full of fantastical language, while his credulous brother Edgar stands open mouthed before asking `how long have you been a sectary Astronomicall?'. In support of this view is the strange last line of Edmund's, beginning with `Come, come'. This `come come' could imply a return to serious matters──perhaps Pope took it as an example of an `interpolator's reflex', the tendency of an interpolator to betray his hand by drawing attention to the interface between original and additional text. Here, the text is labelling its own superfluity by suggesting that the comic diversion is now over and the play can continue. Perhaps it is this odd sense which prompted the Arden editor to omit these words altogether.

            A different reading of this episode would take Edgar's question `How long have you been a sectary astronomical?' as an earnest one: Edgar shows his serious doubts about Edmund's competence in this field. In this light, the `come, come' could be taken to indicate that Edmund is determined to push this question aside and a return to the important matter of their father.

            Whatever the critical considerations behind Pope's decision to adopt the folio reading and omit the quarto material, we know at least that Pope must have thought this extra material written by somebody other than Shakespeare. Whether he saw the quartos' list as irrelevant humour or as a needless expansion, it does not form a part of his idea of what Shakespeare wrote.

            As is sometimes the case, evidence has since come to light which bears on Pope's decision. The note in the Arden edition tells how Schmidt pointed out that in the extra quarto material, there are six words which occur nowhere else in Shakespeare. These are `astronomical', `dissipation', `cohorts', `malediction', `menace', and `sectary'. While it is possible that coincidence dictated that Shakespeare used six new words in as many lines, a more likely explanation is that he, or somebody else, added them from elsewhere. This seems especially likely if we consider that if Shakespeare had known what `cohorts' were, this seems an odd place for the only usage of that word. So perhaps Pope's omission of these lines - and his implied assumption that they are not Shakespeare's, was close to the truth. We cannot know whether Shakespeare himself added, or sanctioned, this passage, but we can at least appreciate some of the reasons behind Pope's decision, even if we don't approve of it.


                                                             * * *


A more sizable difficulty than those already considered lies at the very heart of the play, the so-called `trial scene'. While the examples we have looked at suggest that the folio text is deficient, the quarto burdened with extraneous material, this impression is most dramatically shown by the result of Pope editing this scene. While the matter of a missing sentence or an interpolated list has a mainly local effect, the textual differences here, involving scores of lines, crucially alter the impression given by this scene and the play as a whole. The scene in quarto, folio and Pope's edition can be seen in parallel text 6.1.

            Pope's first editorial decision involves a feature common to both the folio and quarto texts. In extracts 1 and 2, the Fool poses Lear a riddle and Lear makes his reply. The fullest version of this exchange comes in the folio text


  Foole. Prythee Nunkle tell me, whether a madman

be a Gentleman, or a Yeoman.

  Lear. A King, a King.

  Fool. No, he's a Yeoman, that ha's a Gentleman to

his Sonne: for hee's a mad Yeoman that sees his

Sonne a Gentleman before him.

  Lear. To have a thousand with red burning spits

Come hizzing in upon 'em.


The sequence is one we would expect: the fool poses his riddle, Lear answers wrongly, the Fool answers wittily. The riddle is, as usual, a barely covered criticism of Lear. Yeomen and gentlemen are not `mad'──but a gentleman whose son is promoted above him is: thus stands Lear in relation to his daughters. Prompted by understanding this, perhaps, Lear's next words show him musing on having (or regaining) a thousand `yeomen' (perhaps) to attack his daughters (the unspecified `'em')──only the language he now uses has shifted to a distinctly diabolical register with its `red burning spits' and `hizzing.'

            It is the exchange as it happens here that Pope has chosen to adopt, with only one change: he has deleted the word `mad' so that the fool response is now, `No, he's a yeoman that has a gentleman to his son: \ for he's a yeoman that sees his son a gentleman before him.' In adopting the folio reading, Pope has rejected the quarto. Its exchange (marked 1) is quite different, containing the question part of the folio riddle and Lear's musing on its answer. Pope, it seems, considered that there was a gap in the quarto, and that it would not be artistically or dramatically justifiable to leave the Fool's question unanswered.

            Following this, Pope has put a footnote alerting his readers to the upcoming textual differences. Unlike some of his earlier uses of quarto material, this footnote records no enthusiasm and little certainty. Pope is unsure whether these lines were cut by the players, or by Shakespeare; and although he will insert them, they are left `to the reader's mercy'.

            Pope then proceeded to build his scene from selected material from the quarto text. A look at the parallel text reveals that there is a notable difference between the folio and quarto text at this point, and this difference constitutes, among other things, the `trial' by Lear of his daughters. In the original quarto, the mad trial is interspersed by Edgar's `mad' outbursts, but these have been greatly reduced in Pope's edition by the omission of extracts 5, 6, and 7.

            There can be little doubt that at this point in the play Pope faced an editing dilemma. The way he has chosen to resolve it (by leaving speeches `to the reader's mercy') is not one he adopts anywhere else in his edition of Shakespeare. If the `several speeches in the mad way' are of such dubious quality, then why did Pope use them? Since the progress of the fable could have been preserved by reducing these speeches to a bare minimum (as in the opening parley of the royal parties in The Life and Death of King John) the most likely answer is that Pope thought the passages to be Shakespeare's in one of his worst modes.

            At the same time an examination of the differing texts must have been something of a revelation to Pope. As a reader of the folio text he would already have been aware that this is a problematic scene; and now, with the evidence of the quartos before his eyes, several oddities of the folio text reveal themselves as severed tendons which formerly held the scene together. The exclamations of Kent and Edgar in extract 8, which in the folio seem unprompted, now seem well-placed as a reaction to Lear's imaginary prosecution. In extract 9, Lear's wish to `anatomize Regan' balances well with his arraigning of Goneril, and his question, `Is there any cause in Nature which makes these hard hearts?' now justifies its plural `hearts' since he has considered the hard-heartedness of both daughters.

            With the quarto text in front of him, Pope was the first editor to see that this scene could have a raison d'être, that it could be the `trial scene' which has become so well known. The problem with the folio text might have been that this was a scene in which characters entered, gibbered, and exited again: there was no reason why Gloucester should install Lear and his small entourage in a shelter, merely to remove them after a handful of inconsequential lines. Deficiencies like this may well have accounted for the play's being rewritten for the popular stage, since at its very heart it has such a peculiar scene.

            Any possible excitement presented by this editorial opportunity would, however, have been dampened by the nature of the new material. Unusually, Pope's footnote makes it clear that he was unsure whether these `mad' speeches were omitted by Shakespeare or by the players. Pope might have reasoned, that Shakespeare, seeing that his mad-scene was rather too full of madness, cut it back to arrive at the folio text. If this were true, then in order to represent Shakespeare (or Shakespeare's final intentions, one-time intentions, or possible one-time or final intentions) he too would have to be sensitive to having excessive feigned madness. However, if this cut was Shakespeare's, it was a bad one──so bad, in fact that it could equally well have been made - for whatever reasons - by the players.

            Pope faced a dilemma. It would be impossible for him to keep the folio text, as the scene was clearly incomplete without the trial; but he probably felt with equal strength that he could not in all conscience retain all of the quarto text, since the speeches there were of such a poor quality that Shakespeare himself might have sanctioned their removal.

            Pope chose a compromise; he retained the substance of the additional material describing the `trial', but discarded some of the apparently superfluous `mad' talk in the extracts marked 5, 6 and 7. As well as giving us the best of both literary and dramatic worlds, Pope's edition arrives at a position that can be reconciled with a poetic, if not the textual truth: it was possible that if Shakespeare had taken the opportunity to consider this scene, he might have seen that the need for excluding superfluous and poor material had to be balanced with the dramatic demands of the scene.

            While this supposition is self-evidently pure speculation, I suggest that most theories concerning the provenance of the scene are as speculative, although often offered as sober textual fact. One incontrovertible fact is that much of the vocabulary of this scene, particularly that of Edgar's feigned madness, is taken from Samuel Harsnett's attack on exorcists, A Declaration of Various Egregious Popish Impostures. We cannot know if Pope was aware of this (Lewis Theobald certainly knew of it as early as 1733), and so we cannot know if Pope was accurately identifying and omitting passages which struck him as alien to Shakespeare's style, or that he regarded the Harsnett borrowing to have been overdone (and not necessarily by Shakespeare, since we know there was some overlap between the exorcist and player communities[ii]).

            Having thus dealt with the substance of the scene, Pope had to consider its end. Again, after the `mock trial' itself, the two texts vary greatly in the material they offer. The folio has Gloucester re-enter and urge Lear to rest (extract 9). He does so, and Gloucester then urges Kent to convey Lear to Dover in a speech which has, with its repeated `take up, take up [..]', a sense of great urgency (extract 10).


If thou shoulds't dally halfe an houre, his life

With thine, and all that offer to defend him,

Stand in assured losse. Take up, take up,

And follow me, that will to some provision

Give thee quick conduct. Come, come, away.


In his edition, Pope here follows the folio, deviating only to alter the very last words of the scene from `come, come away' to `come, away, away', presumably to heighten the urgency one degree more and complete the line's ten syllables. Pope follows the folio in its despatch of the fool by giving him that one peculiar last line `And Ile to bed at noone.' The quarto omits that line and implies that Kent directs the fool to go with Lear at the end of extract 11, `Come help bear thy maister, thou must not stay behind.' Both solutions betray rather awkwardly Shakespeare's loss of interest in the character.

            Apart from the demise of the fool, the quarto text differs substantially from the folios in containing eighteen more lines. The very end of Gloucester's urgent speech is now interrupted by Kent musing on Lear condition (extract 11), and after the other characters have exited, Edgar has a soliloquy.

            Kent's additional quarto material was ignored by Pope, possibly because he may have felt it dampened the sense of urgency at the close of the scene, or perhaps because he felt it did not make sense. The difficulty centres on the word `sinews' which it seemed so explicitly denoted physical and not mental substance, that Theobald was moved to emend the word to `senses' in his Shakespeare Restored, an emendation adopted later by Malone. It has been argued that `sinews' could refer to mental state[iii], but quite apart from the fact that then `balmed' and `broken' must be understood figuratively, the Shakespearean usages offered seem not to support this contention. Schmidt cites `a second fear through all her sinews spread', but of course fear is something that manifests itself physically as well as mentally. It seems Elizabethan English found `sinews' as specifically a physical term as we might find `cardio-vascular system'; Theobald and Malone could not have been insensitive to the possibility of this being a metaphor; for them, the word `sinews' had not yet passed into the realms of quaint and archaic usage, which makes the word so elastic for us that we may pass over this difficulty. An editor letting the passage stand today would have to suppose in the face of evidence to the contrary, that Lear's `broken sinews' could be understood to denote his mental distress; but Pope, it seems, was not able to accept such a laxity.

            Pope's decision to omit Edgar's final soliloquy from the scene stands at the head of a tradition of critical suspicion of it. Ominously for those who would praise its quality, Lewis Theobald defended it, writing, `This soliloquy is extremely fine'[iv] The lines prompted Johnson (who included them in his edition) to write,


The omission of these lines in the folio is certainly faulty; yet I believe the folio is printed from Shakespeare's last revision, carelessly and hastily performed, with more thought of shortening the scenes than of continuing the action.[v]


It is possible to imagine that Pope's objections to this speech may have been manifold. A further piece of evidence which bears on it is his heavy reduction of Edgar's part later in the play (for example Act 5 Scene 3 lines 203-217 in the Arden Edition). Here perhaps Pope thought Edgar's burgeoning part was beginning to clog the movement of the play--here in the `hovel scene' Pope has attempted to reduce what he considered superfluous material while using enough to give the incident shape and purpose. By these criteria Edgar's speech here was a ripe candidate for deletion. The banal and inappropriate rhyming couplets with their trite sentiment must surely have suggested to Pope the hand of an interpolator──possibly the same hand that had inflated earlier parts of the scene with a superabundance of mad exclamations. While Johnson's more benign editorship could tolerate such bad verse and attribute it to Shakespeare, Pope's estimation of Shakespeare's ability would not allow these lines to be printed under his name.

            Perhaps another reason for treating this particular speech with suspicion could have come from the very title of the quarto text Pope was using for his edition, since it referred to `the unfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humour of Tom of Bedlam'. Maybe this very title pasge was evidence of interpolation in Edgar's part.

            In a piece entitled `The folio Omission of the Mock Trial'[vi], Roger Warren makes the interesting claim that the bulk of this scene was omitted because Shakespeare found himself pre-empting the effect of Lear's `mad' speech in Act 4. Scene 6. While the effect and desirability of having two scenes with some similarities is debatable, the effect made by the curtailed folio scene is difficult to defend. Warren claims the folio is `not only shorter but sharper, more urgent and rapid' than the quarto scene. Such a description could well apply to Pope's realisation of the text, which omits the more tedious aspects of the quarto; but it is not so applicable to the folio which, while being without doubt shorter, cannot be easily claimed to be `sharper' since as it stands it has no point, but attempts to give substance to dramatic lacuna as gaping as can be. Uncannily, Warren describes some characteristics of Pope's text when he describes the performance of the play which has most convinced him of its dramatic credibility:


Although Brook did not cut anything from the mock trial itself, he did make some cuts in the mad scenes of Act Three, particularly some of the repetitive mad Tom material in 3.4 and 3.6. [...] Brook basically followed the folio's cuts which tighten the end of the scene, omitting a line and a half from Kent's last speech and the whole of Edgar's final soliloquy.


`it remains to be seen', Warren concludes, `whether a production following the folio revisions [...] would achieve more successful results.'

            In cutting the `mad' speeches of the quarto, Pope may have considered how likely it was that this material appeared according to Shakespeare's wishes. Was it likely that the playwright who elsewhere showed such a grasp of both the underlying causes and the manifestation of madness (for example in the character of Ophelia), should make no distinction between the fake madness of Edgar and that of Lear, giving them both the same sort of material?

            In such an appraisal of a performance (or reading) of the folio text, scholars and critics face the problem of memory. The quarto text cannot with ease be erased from the mind, especially since such an incident as the `hovel scene' is such a prominent feature of performances and discussions of the play. It is difficult for the mind not to fill the Act 3 Scene 6 lacuna with the detail, or broad incident, which it has experienced there before. Nature abhors a vacuum.


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            Considerations of larger structures within the play also inform another major incident peculiar to the quarto text, that known as Act 4 Scene 2 where a Gentleman apprises Kent of Cordelia's grief at hearing of her father's plight. Parallel text 6.2  shows the scene as it appears in the quarto and in Pope's edition.

            Pope states in his own note the reasons for including this passage from the quarto in the text of his edition of the play. These pivot around Pope's belief that the scene is Shakespeare's, that it is necessary to the plot, and that it is beautiful. Modern editorial practice and debate tends to centre around the first two of these criteria, and Pope's assertion of the necessity of the scene is at odds with the view of many modern revisionists. It is perhaps impossible to arrive at any certainty about whether or not an event in any plot is necessary, and this is especially so for Shakespeare, whose plots are often marked by apparent omissions and superfluities. However Pope's argument is not a subtle one that takes into account Pope's own comparison between Shakespeare's plays and Gothic architecture, where there are materials enough to make many neat modern buildings. Instead his statement is that this incident is necessary `to continue the story of Cordelia'. Possible reasons for Pope's note might be that he thought the scene was necessary to establish the presence of Cordelia and the French in England; that without it Cordelia would suffer too great an absence from the readers' minds; or that without it we might not be sure what attitude she (in contrast to her sisters) held towards her father. Arguments could be raised to counter such assertions, and so perhaps it is Pope's belief that Cordelia's `behaviour .. is most beautifully painted' which weighs as a more substantial piece of evidence when deciding the fate of the scene.

            The beautiful lines (extracts 1 and 2) are particularly interesting since Pope has lavished a great deal of care in their restoration. In sixteen lines from the quarto, in addition to extensive repunctuation and relineation Pope has deleted three lines and one hypermetric word, emended six other words, and supplied one extra word and one half-line of his own. Pope's creative input has been such that it almost amounts to a rewriting of the lines in question. The question is, was such a re-writing necessary and what justification is there for it in lines `manifestly of Shakespeare's hand'?

            The emendation of `patience and sorrow streme' to `Patience and Sorrow strove' is a necessary one which persists today. While it is possible to construct a rationale for this emendation based on an assumption about textual transmission the word `strove' makes good enough sense to have become a recurrent fixture when this scene appeared in later editions. The words `her smiles and teares, / Were like a better way' were emended by Warbuton──`better way' becoming `wetter May'; and this stands at the head of a series of clenches with this phrase by editors down the ages, none of which have stood, as the line today appears as it did in the quarto. Pope would perhaps have agreed with Wright (the editor who frequently comes closest to Pope in matters of both poetic judgement and actual editorial practice) who commented `It is not clear what sense can be made of it. The emendations which have been proposed are none of them perfectly satisfactory.' If this is the case, then perhaps the presence of these dubious lines amid description `beautifully painted' was even more cause to discard them.

            Pope's change of `smilets' to `smiles' can be seen as a desire to use the word `smile' consistently──but as so often, the editorial decision cannot be divorced from a literary critical decision based on poetic propriety and familiarity with Shakespeare's ways: Pope's change also stops the line being hypermetrical.[vii]

            In the speech marked 2, Pope makes similarly bold changes. As well as relineating the verse, Pope excludes the opening word `faith' so that this line, taken together with its predecessor, forms a ten syllable unit. Cordelia's exclamations are shortened from the quarto's `sisters, sisters, shame of Ladies sisters: / Kent, father, sisters, what ith storme of ith night' to the shorter `sisters! sisters! what? i'th'storm of night?'. Perhaps the omission of `father' from Pope's version does not accord happily with the Gentleman's assertion that Cordelia's countenance was `sun-shine and rain at once' (she is glad that he is alive despite being distressed by his treatment and is thinking of him too)──in Pope's version the exclamations suggest Cordelia is concerned most by her sisters' behaviour. However, the following half line, emended in Pope's edition to `Let Pity ne'er believe it' makes good sense. Presumably here Pope's capitalization of Pity personifies it into a force that would not believe the account of Lear's treatment. The quarto text, `Let pitie no be beleest' can give a different impression if `beleest' is emended to `believed'──Let Pity not be thought to be! We cannot know if Pope hit on, and then rejected, this idea.

            The final major change Pope makes to this speech is to substitute his phrase `And then retired' for the quarto's `And clamour moistened her, then away she started'. That there was some problem with the idea of `clamour moistened her' can be seen by the notes attached to early editions of the play. Warbuton objected that `clamour may distort the mouth, it is not wont to moisten the eye'[viii] and this mixing of the metaphor was something Pope no doubt took into account. However, the sense is not too obscure or uncommon. Theobald cited `wept aloud' from the Bible and Johnson maintained the sense of the quarto was good. Possibly a further reason for Pope's change here can be deduced from his replacement of `started' with `retir'd' as the verb to describe the manner of Cordelia's retreat into solitude. The effect of this substitution is to adjust the dignity of Cordelia. Pope may have considered starting away, like uttering too long a list of exclamations, an inappropriately girlish way for Cordelia to be presented, especially considering her mature control at the beginning and end of the play. With this thought in mind, Pope's exclusion of `clamour moistened her' may become clearer; it was not necessarily a difficulty of sense, but a lack of propriety and consistency of character that he was objecting to here.


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            While various approaches to King Lear since Pope's time have been based on a hypothesis about textual provenance, Pope's method was to edit according to what he read. The possible value of The Life and Death of King Lear lies in its being the only place where the bases of the final text are critical decisions, founded on a knowledge (or assumed knowledge) of Shakespeare, rather than textual hypotheses. If, in some small measure, a pattern of sound critical judgement emerges, then it may point to a pattern of textual corruption in this play different from, and maybe more subtle than, any of the many possibilities that have been entertained down the ages.

            In The Life and Death of King Lear, Pope's Shakespeare emerges as an artist whose intelligence and delicacy is evidenced equally in the perfect six-syllable completion of pointed speech and in the conduct and proportion of the narrative. He is to be contrasted with the corruptors of Shakespeare's intentions, who at one moment produce narrative nonsense by cutting passages and scenes, and at others detract from the main business to be considered by expanding the part of a secondary personage by mechanical means, to purely theatrical ends.

                                                Notes for Chapter VI



[i]. See Urkowitz, Steven, `The Growth of an Editorial Tradition' in The Division of the Kingdoms, (op. cit.).

[ii]. For a discussion of Harsnett's Declaration. see Stephen Greenblatt's Shakespearean Negotiations, (op. cit.).

[iii].  See note to the variorum edition, (op. cit.).

[iv]. See note to variorum edition, (op. cit.)

[v]. note in Johnsons's edition, (op. cit.).

[vi]. in The Division of the Kingdoms. (op. cit.).

[vii]. See also PERI BATHOS chapter 11 section 3 on `the infantine'. Pope may have been objecting here to the diminutive words.

[viii]. See note to the Arden edition, (op. cit.).