Should I flip a coin?
May 4, 2009 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Which King Lear should I read, Q or F?

I got King Lear from the library and it has the two versions side by side. Which one should I read? I just want to have a good time, not some authentic scholarly experience.
posted by creasy boy to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
According to Wikipedia, the folio version is "more theatrical" than the quarto version. Take from that what you will.
posted by LSK at 11:01 AM on May 4, 2009

In short, Q1 is "authorial"; F1 is "theatrical.".

For reading, I'd go with "authorial".
posted by Joe Beese at 11:01 AM on May 4, 2009

The Norton Shakespeare has a conflated version if you want the best of both worlds.
posted by pised at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah I saw that it was more theatrical. I guess I'm looking for more of an insider's recommendation.

Beese, why would you pick "authorial"? I'm not really sure what that's supposed to mean.

And I'm in Berlin and take what I can get, so no Norton version.
posted by creasy boy at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2009

creasy boy, "authorial" just means that the text is (thought by scholars to be) closer to what Shakespeare wrote in the first place. A more "theatrical" version is (thought to be) more influenced by changes made in the theater, possibly by actors other than Shakespeare, and may reflect how the play was performed rather than how it was drafted.

For much of the 20th century, there was a strong scholarly preference for "authorial" versions of the play texts; it was assumed that we were best off trying to get as close as possible to Shakespeare's "intentions." These days, there are also a number of people arguing that Shakespeare wrote for the stage, with the expectation that his play texts would be modified on an ad-hoc basis by the acting company, and that what the play "is" is at least as much a product of that social context as of one individual mind.
posted by Orinda at 12:30 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I realize I didn't answer your original question. It feels a bit like answering the question "Which of these two people should I date?" or "Which flavor of ice cream do I want?"

I guess if I were in your position, I'd read the quarto text mainly, occasionally ping-ponging to the opposite page to check out what's different in the folio.
posted by Orinda at 12:40 PM on May 4, 2009

The play's the thing: I say if you want to choose just one, go with the quarto. If it were me, though, I'd read 'em both (and I have, repeatedly).
posted by trip and a half at 12:42 PM on May 4, 2009

On non-preview, what Orinda said.
posted by trip and a half at 12:43 PM on May 4, 2009

Greg Nog and I agree on the version but for totally different reasons! Forge ahead for even more Shakespearian analysis:

From what I understand, the major shifts between the 1603 Quarto version and the 1623 Folio version are well beyond the difference between "theatrics." The concluding lines of Lear are:

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Like Greg Nog says, the Quarto version gives this final insight to the Duke of Albany, Goneril's estranged husband who disapproves of the sisters' betrayal but nevertheless implicates himself with their plans to usurp Lear. Notice that the Duke verbally berates the sisters for treating their father and king so poorly, but he nevertheless politically aligns himself during the battle scene by fighting the French, who sympathize with Cordelia and Lear. He never quite makes up his mind about whether he'd rather be good or powerful. In the scenario that leaves us with the idea that the Duke of Albany will take over the throne, the final mood is less than reassuring: The Duke fell prey to political and personal scams and struggled to maintain his own ideals when faced with the prospect of being rich and powerful. Shakespeare often depicted rulers as gentle and/or wishy-washy people whose gentleness and/or wishy-washiness made them poor leaders (see: Richard II, Orsino, Hamlet). MEANWHILE the Folio version implies that Edgar, the eldest and legitimate son of Lear's ally Gloucester, will be crowned king. Edgar's allotment of the final lines suggests a more hopeful ending to Shakespeare's most nihilistic work. Of all the characters, Edgar has been the truth-sayer, the wisest of the younger generation, most abused and yet most forgiving, nimbly negotiating various egos and agendas without sullying his record by angling for more power and land. Edgar's crowning is also a more perfect reinstating of the natural order, where an oldest son gets the land. The system of patrilineal inheritance, already undermined at the play's beginning because Lear only has three daughters, once again reasserts itself as the best way to run a kingdom.

In this case, "theatrical" doesn't just mean "shorter"--the Folio version is far more reassuring as a tragedy set aright, as it ends with Edgar as the ideal ruler to fill Lear's throne, and is therefore more rewarding for an audience that has just sat through 3 hours of gut-wrenching betrayals, suicide, poisoning, and lunatic field-wandering. I personally find the Folio edition a tad expedient and pat, especially since you're not really supposed to feel shiny and happy upon finishing the play. But man, Lear is one depressing play, and I don't think anyone would fault you if you wanted a slightly brighter ending than "hey, everyone interesting is dead and this one kind-of-alright dude is taking over the throne THE END."
posted by zoomorphic at 12:44 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

It really doesn't matter. Still, I like this discussion of the provenance of the Q1 and F1 texts and the presumed evolution of the play in performance. (Also, here, but with spoilers.)

Now that we get to see screenplays circulating on the internets, or multiple editions of classic albums, it's possibly easier to understand what goes on between page and performance. Except that plays aren't fixed like films: when modern productions of Shakespeare make lots of cuts, they're doing the same thing as Shakespeare's own companies and contemporaries, and in that context, both Q1 and F1 really just represent a snapshot of the play at the point they appeared.

I suppose that F1 can be considered the "legacy remastered box set" edition, and I think it's got fewer rough edges. Through earlier conflated playtexts, it's basically the Folio revisions that have become part of the "cultural" Lear, i.e. the one you'd see on stage or in filmed versions.
posted by holgate at 12:45 PM on May 4, 2009

Getting back to the actual question here, which includes this phrase:

I just want to have a good time

I would say you should go with the Folio version. It's a bit of an easier read, IMNSHO, since you can better imagine the lines playing out in your head. If you're just looking to enjoy a good read, it's the way to go.
posted by cerebus19 at 2:00 PM on May 4, 2009

Albany tells Kent and Edgar to rule (and Kent defers, but Edgar doesn't), so I would assume that Edgar's still about to be the ruler, not Albany.

As Goneril's husband and sole surviving inheritor of the throne, Albany is the presumed heir who then nobly offers to split the kingdom with Kent and Edgar as reward for their loyalty to Lear. There's not much talk about how Albany gets the kingdom because it's already his by virtue of his marriage to Lear's daughter, a patrilineal arrangement familiar among Shakespearian audiences. Kent's refusal then leaves both Albany and Edgar in charge. However, the person who delivers that final royal decree ("The weight of this sad time we must obey / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say") seems be the true figurehead, and the difference of tone relies on whether this is Albany or Edgar.

In any case, creasy boy, here's a mini-analysis from a Shakespeare scholar who weighs in on the Folio version where Edgar speaks the last lines of the play.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:11 PM on May 4, 2009

I'm with cerebus... if you're READING it, go with the Folio (F). If you're REALLY into it you can go back, read the other and contrast and compare. But just to get it off the page, F is the way to go.

Full disclosure: Lear is my favorite work by Shakespeare, and I'm an English major, so I'm avoiding getting into the weeds on this. If you want someone to tell you what to do, then forget the rest and just listen to me. =)
posted by indiebass at 2:58 PM on May 4, 2009

Response by poster: Majority rule says Q and so I shall. The rest of the commentary here looks awesome and I will read it all in due time after I have read Q. Thank you everyone.
posted by creasy boy at 10:39 PM on May 4, 2009

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