Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2007
Most of the variants between the two texts of King Lear can be explained as cuts or expansions; those who think the Quarto is the better text see the Folio as weakening Shakespeare’s intentions; those who think the Folio is a revision, possibly by the author, of the Quarto see the Folio as improving on the Quarto. The larger changes, as represented in the 300 or so lines found in the Quarto but not in the Folio, and the 100 or so lines found in the Folio but not in the Quarto, appear to be purposeful, but in the absence of external evidence debate continues about the nature of the purpose, and whose purpose is in question. Allowing for possible errors by printer or scribe, minor corrections or sophistications, and possible indifferent variants such as ‘vncleane’ (Q) or ‘vnchaste’ (F; 1.1.223) and ‘respects’ (Q) or ‘regards’ (F; 1.1.234), the majority of the smaller changes also seem to be purposeful, and like the larger cuts or additions, may be regarded as modifications of the Quarto in the Folio. The basic structure of the play remains the same in both texts, and ‘virtually no speech of any length seems to have been either wholly reworked or replaced by a different one’. There are one or two places, such as the scene of the duel between Edgar and Edmund, and the ending with the death of Lear, both in 5.3, where the dramatic action is radically altered, but the only substantial speech that appears to offer two different versions in Quarto and Folio is Kent’s general commentary on the state of affairs addressed to a Gentleman in 3.1.