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M. William Shak-speare: His True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear and his three Daughters. With the vnfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humor of Tom of Bedlam. As it was played before the Kings Maicstie at Whiteball vpon S. Stephans night in Christmas Hollidayes. By his Maiesties seruants playing vsually at the Gloabe on the Bancke-side.-London, Printed for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Churchyard at the signe of the Pide Bull neere St. Austins Gate. 1608. 4to. 41 leaves.
M. William Shake-speare, His True Chronicle History of the life and death of King Lear, and his three Daughters. With the ynfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Glocester, and his sullen and assumed humour of Tom of Bedlam. As it was plaid before the Kings Maiesty at White-Hall, vppon S. Stephens night, in Christmas Hollidaies. By his Maiesties Seruants, playing vsually at the Globe on the Banck-side.- Printed for Nathaniel Butter. 1608. 4to. 44 leaves.
The title-page of a third impression in 1608 corresponds with that last above given.
In the folio of 1623, “The Tragedie of King Lear" occupies twenty-seven pages, in the division of “Tragedies;" viz. from p. 283 to p. 309, inclusive. The last page but one, by an error, is numbered 38, instead of 308. In the first, as well as in the folios of 1632, 1664, and 1685, the Acts and Scenes are marked.
The most remarkable circumstance connected with the early publication of “ King Lear” is, that the same stationer published three quarto impressions of it in 1608, that stationer being a person who had not put forth any of the authentic (as far as they can deserve to be so considered) editions of Shakespeare's plays. After it had been thus thrice printed (for they were not merely re-issues with fresh title-pages) in the same year, the tragedy did not again make its appearance until it was included in the folio of 1623.
Why it was never republished in quarto, in the interval, must be matter of speculation ; but such was not an unusual occurrence with the works of our great dramatist : his “Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Merchant of Venice,” and “Troilus and Cressida” were each twice printed, the two first in 1600, and the last in 1609, and they were not again seen in type until they were inserted in the folio of 1623 : there was also no second quarto edition of “Much Ado about Nothing,” nor of “Love's Labour's Lost." The extreme popularity of" King Lear" seems proved by the mere fact, that the public demand for it, in the first year of its publication, could not be satisfied without three distinct impressions.
It will be seen, by the exact copies of the title-pages which we have inserted on the opposite leaf, that although Nathaniel Butter was the publisher of the three quarto editions, he only put his address on the title-page of one of them. It is perhaps impossible now to ascertain on what account the difference was made; but it is to be observed that“ Printed by J. Roberts," without any address, is found at the bottom of the title-pages of some of the copies of “ The Merchant of Venice" and of “ Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1600. A more remarkable circumstance, in relation to the titlepages of “ King Lear,” is, that the name of William Shakespeare is made so obvious at the top of them, the type being larger than that used for any other part of the work : moreover, we have it again at the head of the leaf on which the tragedy commences, “M. William Shake-speare, his history of King Lear." This peculiarity has never attracted sufficient attention, and it belongs not only to no other of Shakespeare's plays, but to no other production of any kind of that period which we recollect. It was clearly intended to enable purchasers to make sure that they were buying the drama which “M. William Shakespeare " had written upon the popular story of King Lear.
One cause of it is, perhaps, to be found in the fact, that there was another contemporary drama upon the same subject, and with very nearly the same names to the principal characters, which was not by Shakespeare, but which the publisher probably had endeavoured to pass off as his work. An edition of this play was printed in 1605, under the following title: "The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his three Daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cor. della. As it hath bene divers and sundry times lately acted.” It was printed, by Simon Stafford, for John Wright; and we agree with Malone in thinking, that this impression was put forth in consequence of the popularity of Shakespeare's "King Lear," which was then in a course of successful performance at the Globe theatre. That this edition of “ The True Chronicle History of King Leir” was a re-impression we have little doubt, because it was entered at Stationers' Hall for publication as early as 14th May, 1591: it was entered again on Sth May, 1605, anterior to the appearance of the impression with that date.
We may presume that in 1605 no bookseller was able to obtain from the King's players a copy of Shakespeare's “King Lear;" for there are few points in our early stage-history more clear, than that the different companies took every precaution in order to prevent the publication of plays belonging to them. However, in the autumn of 1607, Nathaniel Butter had in some way possessed himself of a manuscript of “ King Lear,” and on the 26th November he procured the following unusually minute memorandum to be made in the Stationers' Registers :
“ 26 Nov. 1607. Na. Butter and Jo. Busby] Entered for their Copie, under
t' hands of Sir Geo. Bucke, Kt. and the Wardens, a booke called Mr. Willm Shakespeare his Historye of Kinge Lear, as yt was played before the King's Majestie at Whitehall, upon St. Stephen's night at Christmas last, by his Majesties Servants playing usually at the Globe on
the Bank-side." This entry establishes that Shakespeare's “ King Lear” had been played at Court on the 26th December, 1606, and not on the 26th December, 1607, as we might infer from the title-pages of the three editions of 1608.
The memorandum we have just inserted would lead us to believe that John Busby was the printer of “King Lear," although his name does not otherwise at all appear in connexion with it. The differences between the quartos are seldom more than verbal, but they are sometimes important: after a very patient comparison, we may state, that the two quartos without the publisher's address are more accurate than that with his address; and we presume