The One King Lear (Hardback)
  • The One King Lear (Hardback)

The One King Lear (Hardback)

Hardback Published: 07/01/2021
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King Lear exists in two different texts: the Quarto (1608) and the Folio (1623). Because each supplies passages missing in the other, for over 200 years editors combined the two to form a single text, the basis for all modern productions. Then in the 1980s a group of influential scholars argued that the two texts represent different versions of King Lear, that Shakespeare revised his play in light of theatrical performance. The two-text theory has since hardened into orthodoxy. Now for the first time in a book-length argument, one of the world’s most eminent Shakespeare scholars challenges the two-text theory. At stake is the way Shakespeare’s greatest play is read and performed.

Sir Brian Vickers demonstrates that the cuts in the Quarto were in fact carried out by the printer because he had underestimated the amount of paper he would need. Paper was an expensive commodity in the early modern period, and printers counted the number of lines or words in a manuscript before ordering their supply. As for the Folio, whereas the revisionists claim that Shakespeare cut the text in order to alter the balance between characters, Vickers sees no evidence of his agency. These cuts were likely made by the theater company to speed up the action. Vickers includes responses to the revisionist theory made by leading literary scholars, who show that the Folio cuts damage the play’s moral and emotional structure and are impracticable on the stage.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674504844
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


[An] astonishingly energetic and groundbreaking interrogation of what [Vickers] calls The One King Lear. - Katherine Duncan-Jones, Times Literary Supplement

Vickers’s argument for his theory might sound fanciful if it weren’t advanced with such expertise. - James Ryerson, New York Times Book Review

This is a big, bold book, a major piece of scholarship for everyone to engage with. No one interested in the texts of Shakespeare’s work (and not only in the texts of King Lear) will be able to ignore it. - Peter Holland, University of Notre Dame

The One King Lear is concerned with one of the most interesting and controversial issues relating not just to the two texts of what some see as Shakespeare’s greatest play, but to the dramatist and his art. There is much to enjoy in this book, and much to learn from it. - H. R. Woudhuysen, University of Oxford

The strength of Vickers’s interpretation lies in his minute attention to the people in the play- and printing-houses who necessarily participated in the transmission of Shakespeare’s play into performance and print and to the crafts they practiced and the exigencies they faced. - Paul Werstine, Shakespeare Studies

Important…dauntingly impressive…[Vickers’s] profound understanding of Shakespeare’s play, as well as the vicissitudes of printing, allows him and us to appreciate fully how remarkably its innumerable and incomparable excellences have survived despite the several varieties of difficulty and misfortune in the publication of its two indispensable early editions…Vickers’s fine book only confirms the fact that Shakespeare never had any reason to become disaffected with his greatest play, nor to feel the slightest impulse to attempt to change it. King Lear remains, as it has been from the beginning, sui generis. - Richard Knowles, Shakespeare Quarterly

Vickers' study is a long-overdue and careful response to a situation in which the Folio text of Lear has generally come to be regarded, on insufficient evidence, as Shakespeare's revision of his tragedy. In the absence of any authorial manuscripts of King Lear, Vickers takes on this issue in the only way it is possible to do so: by a painstaking, thoroughgoing analysis of the early modern technology through which these works have survived. I suspect that Vickers' book will, for a long time, stand as a model for this kind of analysis, not only with Lear but also with the other First Folio plays published in quarto before 1623. - Leeds Barroll, Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England

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