Thursday, December 17, 2020

Book Note: The One King Lear

Vickers, Brian. The One King Lear. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016.
This is one of those points where I am making a a note about what I've been reading lately—without necessarily endorsing the ideas in the material.

In The One King Lear, Brian Vickers fights against the critical orthodoxy that has developed in the past forty years or so. The argument is, in essence, that Q1 of King Lear and F of King Lear are two distinct plays and ought to be studied as such.  Vickers disagrees. His argument is that Q1 is different from F because the printer miscalculated how much paper he would need to print the play. Therefore, the cuts in Q1 of the play are not the result of a particular theatrical performance but because of material considerations (literally) in the print house.

Vickers is very good on describing the likely scenario in the print shop. It's clear that the printer was trying to save space in a number of instances, and Vickers details all those.  I follow him through all that.

But I don't agree with his conclusion. The conclusion (roughly outlined at the bottom of page 135 and the top of 136 below) is that critics have divided Lear much as Lear divided his kingdom: without warrant and with disastrous results.

Part of my disagreement has to do with Vickers' somewhat-cranky characterization of the "two Lears" revisionists. He paints them as insisting that the F Lear is better than the Q1 Lear, and I don't think that's at the center of the argument. I think, rather, that the revisionists are finding the differences in the two texts to stem from a speculative (admittedly) performance history—but that they are not making value judgements about the two texts.

I gave the argument a fair hearing, but I'm not buying it at present.

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Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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