Study Guide

King Lear by William Shakespeare in Textual Criticism

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King Lear by William Shakespeare

The textual history of Shakespeare's plays is a total mess. We don't actually have any of his plays passed down to us in his own hand. In fact, we only have texts of Shakespeare's plays at all because people in his company—actors and others—transcribed his works and preserved them in documents that are known as Quarto 1, Quarto 2, and the Folio.

As you might expect, there can be some very important differences as you move from one version of his works to the next. Let's look at this example from King Lear; it's from the last scene of the play, when Cordelia, Lear's daughter, dies in Lear's arms. King Lear's been through so much crap by this point that the death of his youngest daughter is the last straw, and he dies. Here's the same scene from the Quarto 1 and Folio versions of the play.

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