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REVIEWS Steven Urkowitz. Shakespeare’s Revision of “King Lear.” Princeton Essays in Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980. Pp. ix + 170. $13.50. Steven Urkowitz’s radical departure from received opinion about the text of Lear will certainly stir controversy. Bibliographers and literary critics are equally likely to be reluctant—but for quite different reasons— to accept the conclusions of his new interdisciplinary approach, though there is much to be said for it and though others are beginning to work with texts in analogous ways.l Urkowitz argues that Q1 and FI of Lear are both Shakespearian texts, the latter representing authorial revision in a quite systematic effort to achieve better performance values, especially in entrances and exits, in interrupted speeches, and in the moral ambiguity of Albany’s role. The logic of the book thus makes FI the authoritative text of the play, re­ ducing Q1 to a trial text. The whole question of the textual authority of “good quartos” is thus by implication reopened here, and a vigorous reaction is to be expected from orthodox bibliographers. A corollary argument makes the composite texts which all modern editors put to­ gether from FI and Q1 (sometimes with stray readings as well from the unauthoritative Q2) worse than either Q1 or FI. In two ways, then, Urkowitz challenges the establishment frontally. On the whole the logic about modem composite texts is compelling; it is more plausible to reason with Urkowitz that FI is a revision of Q1 than to think of both as imperfect approximations of the lost Urtext. But no one should expect editors immediately to drop the 300-odd lines in Q1 which would be sacrificed in a mere reprinting of FI; some of them are well-known and admired, for example the two servants’ re­ sponses to the horrifying atrocity committed by Cornwall and Regan in Ill.vii: Servant. lie never care what wickednes I doe, If this man come to good. 2 Servant. If she live long, & in the end meet the old course of death, women will all turne monsters.. . . It will not be easy to persuade Shakespearians to part with such lines as these. This, of course, is no threat to Urkowitz’s logic: his point is that the literary aesthetic has been too prominent a criterion in Shakespearian textual judgments, when actually theatrical considerations can more plausibly be thought of as ulterior to textual revision, whether that re­ vision be authorial or no, aesthetically motivated or a response to thea19 80 Comparative Drama trical exigency (“the two hours’ traffic”). I must agree: we are led astray by our classification of Shakespeare’s plays as “literature”—we should recall that it was in the year of Shakespeare’s death that Ben Jonson defiantly published a folio of his plays as “Works” and was mocked for his definition. Shakespeare may have thought of his play texts as scenarios in progress, subject to cutting, rewording, expansion. As Stephen Orgel pointed out in a paper at MLA 1980, the relative proprietary interests of Elizabethan authors and acting companies in plays is a question as yet unanswered. Our reverence for Shakespeare’s every word might surprise him. Analogy to the practice of living playwrights may be instructive. Thomas Clayton has recently quoted Tom Stoppard on the evolving text of Jumpers.2 Stoppard makes it clear that it was theatrical, not literary, criteria that determined the alterations he made in the text as the play ripened. Another Stoppard play is an even more striking case: what the audience saw in the American premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the National Theatre in Washington in 1967 was longer by about 1/3 than what audiences later saw in New York and what appears in published texts of the play. One thinks of the 300 lines Shakespeare may have dispensed with in King Lear. Anyone who has worked with playwrights in the theater knows that revision in the early stages of a run is the rule, not the exception: indeed at one time the University of Texas Drama Department invited a working playwright to Austin each summer to put finishing touches on a new script during production (audiences were actually...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 79-82
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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