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The History of King Lear (Dodo Press) Paperback – March 20, 2009
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The thinking behind this illustrates changing attitudes. The Quarto is now seen as an early, working version of the play, not a 'corrupt' or 'unauthorised' one. The Folio meanwhile is viewed as a revised version, by Shakespeare or Shakespeare's company - the product of several years of performance, adaptation and rethinking. Wells bases this single-play Oxford Shakespeare on the Quarto, not because it is a superior text, but because his main rivals (ie Arden and New Cambridge) base their editions on the Folio. This fact alone makes Wells' version worth serious consideration.
Another advantage of this edition is that it includes The Ballad of King Lear. Although published in 1620 (ie some fifteen years or so after the play's composition) it might just cast light, Wells argues, upon some aspects of the play's early stage history. Moreover, here as elsewhere, The Oxford Shakespeare is alone in providing an index of unusual words and phrases used in the play. This excellent innovation helps the reader find the passage they're looking for without the need for a computer search.
Despite unpromising beginnings ('Once upon a time, probably in 1605, a man called William Shakespeare, using a quill pen, wrote a play about the legendary King Lear ...') there are, in fact, many reasons why students might want to opt for this particular Lear. Not least, because it skilfully introduces us to a wealth of critical ideas about the play. One of a modern editor's main tasks is to help us sort out the wheat from a mountain of chaff, and a selection of the more influential and important thinking on Lear is neatly summarised in the Introduction. Two bibliographies offer scope for further, independent analysis, while Wells himself is especially illuminating on the play's language and structure.
Excellent editions of King Lear are already out there, especially those by RA Foakes and Jay L Halio. But this one manages to offer something new and stimulating.