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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An alternative take, 19 Dec. 2010
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This review is from: The History of King Lear: The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
We students of the 70s and 80s didn't realise how relatively simple things were back then (from a textual point of view, anyhow). Nowadays, when it comes to some of Shakespeare's seminal works, it isn't so much a question of which play we're studying as which version of the text. As Wells tells us in his introduction, the 'conflated' editorial tradition of combining the two early sources of 1608 (Quarto) and 1623 (Folio) was begun by Lewis Theobald in 1735 and followed right up until 1986. Wells himself was one of the series editors of the groundbreaking Oxford Collected Works of that year. This volume presented two different versions of King Lear, one based on the Quarto, the other on the Folio.

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.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 May 2014 11:05:46 BDT
J says:
This review obviously relates to Shakespeare's Lear so why is it on the page for Tate's version? Please fix this, Amazon!
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