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The first edition of King Lear ’ was published in 1608 ; two other editions were published by Butter in the same year. It is remarkable that a play of which three editions were demanded in one year should not have been reprinted till it was collected in the folio of 1623. Whether ‘Lear' was piratical, or whether a limited publication was allowed, it is clear, we think, that by some interference the continued publication was stopped.
The text of the folio, in one material respect, differs considerably from that of the quartos. Large passages which are found in the quartos are omitted in the folio: there are, indeed, some lines found in the folio which are not in the quartos, amounting to about fifty. These are scattered passages, not very remarkable when de tached, but for the most part essential to the progress of the action or to the development of character. On the other hand, the lines found in the quartos which are not in the folio amount to as many as two hundred and twenty-five; and they comprise one entire scene, and one or two of the most striking connected passages in the drama. It would be easy to account for these omissions, by the assumption that in the folio edition the original play was cut down by the editors; for · Lear,' without the omissions, is perhaps the longest of Shakspere's plays, with the exception of Hamlet.' But this theory would require us to assume, also, that the additions to the folio
were made by the editors. These comprise several such minute touches as none but the hand of the master could have superadded.
The story of Lear' belongs to the popular literature of Europe. It is a pretty episode in the fabulous chronicles of Britain ; and whether invented by the monkish historians, or transplanted into our annals from some foreign source, is not very material. In the Gesta Romanorum,' the same story is told of Theodosius, “ a wise emperor in the city of Rome.”
Shelley, in his eloquent · Defence of Poetry,' published in his ‘Posthumous Essays,' &c., has stated the grounds for his belief that the · Lear' of Shakspere may sustain a comparison with the master-pieces of the Greek tragedy. “The modern practice of blending comedy with tragedy, though liable to great abuse in point of practice, is undoubtedly an extension of the dramatic circle; but the comedy should be as in "King Lear,' universal, ideal, and sublime. It is, perhaps, the intervention of this principle which determines the balance in favour of 'King Lear' against the 'Edipus Tyrannus' or the Agamemnon,' or, if you will, the trilogies with which they are connected; unless the intense power of the choral poetry, especially that of the latter, should be considered as restoring the equilibrium. “King Lear," if it can sustain that comparison, may be judged to be the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world." We can understand this now.
But if any writer before the commencement of the present century, and indeed long after, had talked of the comedy of " Lear' as being “universal, ideal, and sublime," and
had chosen that as the excellence to balance against “the intense power of the choral poetry " of Æschylus and Sophocles, he would have been referred to the authority of Voltaire, who, in his letter to the Academy, describes such works of Shakspere as forming “an obscure chaos, composed of murders and buffooneries, of heroism and meanness."
In certain schools of criticism, even yet, the notion that “Lear' “ may be judged to be the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world ” would be treated as a mere visionary conceit; and we should still be reminded that Shakspere was a “wild and irregular genius,” producing these results because he could not help it. In France are still heard the feeble echoes of the contest between the disciples of the romantic and the classic schools.
Poor Nahum Tate did not unfitly represent his age when he said of Lear,' “ It is a heap of jewels, unstrung and unpolished, yet so dazzling in their disorder that I soon perceived I had seized a treasure.”
There is only one mode in which such a production as the “Lear' of Shakspere can be understood — by study, and by reverential reflection. The age which produced the miserable parody of Lear' that till within a few years had banished the 'Lear' of Shakspere from the stage, was, as far as regards the knowledge of the highest efforts of intellect, a presumptuous, artificial, and therefore empty age. Tate was tolerated because Shakspere was not read. We have arrived, in some degree, to a better judgment, because we have learnt to judge more humbly. We have learnt to compare the