List of Illustrations
Textual Introduction and Editorial Procedures
THE HISTORY OF KING LEAR
The Ballad of King Lear
Offshoots ofKing Lear
Alterations to Lineation
Once upon a time, probably in 1605, a man called William Shakespeare, using a quill pen, wrote a play about the legendary British King Lear and his three daughters. How often he drafted and redrafted his script we do not know; the version that reached print in 1608, and which seems to have been his first completed manuscript of the play, contains some 25,000 words.
Shakespeares penning of these words has had consequences that he cannot have foreseen. It has resulted in countless theatrical performances, many of them in languages that he cannot have known and in countries of which he can have had no inkling. It has enhancedand occasionally diminishedthe reputation of innumerable actors. It has stimulated other writersplaywrights, novelists, poets, essayiststo produce an enormous body of work. It has generated a multiplicity of works by artists in other mediavisual art, music, opera, film and television. It has provoked, especially in the twentieth century, a vast body of scholarly and critical writing. And it produced a work which, at least since the Romantic period with its admiration for the Sublime, has come to be regarded not only as its authors finest literary achievement, but also as one of the most profound and challenging examinations ever undertaken of what it means to be human, an examination conducted not discursively but in a text that requires actors to represent men and women in action that is often violent, in extremes of suffering, and in repose. In imaginative scope and in its power to generate intellectual and emotional response, King Lear has been compared with the greatest masterpieces of art, literature, and music. Coleridge wrote of the storm scenes： O, what a worlds convention of agonies is here!...surely such a scene was never conceived before or since. Take it but as a picture for the eye only, it is more terrific than any which a Michel Anglo, inspired by a Dante, could have conceived, and which none but a Michel Angelo could have executed.