Monday, 19 May 2014

5 Interesting Facts About Shakespeare's King Lear

Interesting Facts About Shakespeare's King Lear
Written between 1603 and 1606 (and rewritten on a number of occasions), King Lear is one of Shakespeare's most famous and popular tragedies. Sibling and romantic jealousy, fraternal betrayal, greed, insanity and bloody violence - what's not to like?

Here are five interesting facts about Shakespeare's King Lear:

1. There were FOUR versions of the play: the 1608 First Quarto (possibly from Shakespeare's 'foul papers'); the 1608 (although printed in 1619), Second Quarto; the 1623 First Folio; and the 1632 Second Folio. 


The modern text of the play is a conflation of the two quarto versions and the first of the folios, thanks to early editors, like Alexander Pope.

In fact, though, the versions differ wildly, with nearly three hundred lines of Quarto One that are not in Folio One, and around a hundred lines of Folio One that aren't in Quarto One.

The First Quarto Version of King Lear

2. It's thought that Shakespeare may have made one of those revision when The King's Men shifted premises to the indoor Blackfriars Theatre. 


Was King Lear altered for an indoor stage?

Nahum Tate did unspeakable things to King Lear

3. As if four versions weren't enough, in the 17th century, Nahum Tate decided that Shakespeare's interpretation of the tragedy was just too...well, tragic. 


Tate offered a much happier ending, with Lear and Cordelia surviving, and Cordelia going on to marry Edgar. She must have jilted the King of France, I suppose.

Most shocking is that Tate's 'cheerful' version of the play was the version for nearly a century and a half! For more on what unforgivable things Nahum Tate did to King Lear, click here.

4. Like many of Shakespeare's plays, the plot for King Lear did not come from thin air. 


Leir of Britain and his three daughters, illustration from
around 1250

The basis for the story actually came from the semi-legendary Celtic tale of Leir of Britain, which Shakespeare probably picked up from Holinshed's  The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande.

There's also a good chance Shakespeare pinched the name Cordelia from a character in Spencer's The Faerie Queene, who, coincidentally, also dies by hanging.

The role of Lear's fool was written for
Robert Armin

5. It's reckoned that Shakespeare wrote the part Lear's fool specifically for Robert Armin: the company's resident comedian.


Armin played most of Shakespeare's clowns, including Feste, Touchstone, Thersites and Lavatch.

And Robert Armin was another actor who turned his hand to writing, although not as prolifically as his pal Shakespeare!

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