King Lear

Shakespeare’s King Lear challenges us with the magnitude, intensity, and sheer duration of the pain that it represents. Its figures harden their hearts, engage in violence, or try to alleviate the suffering of others. Lear himself rages until his sanity cracks. What, then, keeps bringing us back to King Lear? For all the force of its language, King Lear is almost equally powerful when translated, suggesting that it is the story, in large part, that draws us to the play.

The play tells us about families struggling between greed and cruelty, on the one hand, and support and consolation, on the other. Emotions are extreme, magnified to gigantic proportions. We also see old age portrayed in all its vulnerability, pride, and, perhaps, wisdom—one reason this most devastating of Shakespeare’s tragedies is also perhaps his most moving.

The authoritative edition of King Lear from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:

-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play

-Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play

-Scene-by-scene plot summaries

-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases

-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language

-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play

-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books

-An annotated guide to further reading

Essay by Susan Snyder

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit


  • Series: Folger Shakespeare Library
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (January 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074348276X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743482769
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (200 customer reviews)
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4 thoughts on “King Lear”

  1. I bought this edition as a teaching supplement, not realizing that it is the folio version of the play. The words “quarto” and “folio” refer to the size of the pages in the two editions. Many secondary schools and universities use the quarto edition and a lot is left out of the folio–this version cuts out three hundred lines and adds one hundred new ones. The effect is that it alters the way the characters are shown. If you are reading the play with a class and they have a quarto version, while you are using your trusty teacher’s Cambridge, chances are there will be a lot of blank expressions and confusion on their faces. The lines they see will not jibe with yours. The extra articles and class activities are great though–just make sure that if you use the Cambridge, you have your students buy only folio editions.

  2. I have reviewed several current editions of King Lear and other Shakespearean plays, and was somewhat disappointed in the Folger edition of King Richard III. Nevertheless, the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of King Lear appears to be both accessible and scholarly, with solid reasoning behind its balance of the First Quarto with the First Folio versions of this intense and telling tragedy which we do well to revisit now.

    My first love will always be Prof. Tucker Brook’s redaction in the The Tragedy Of King Lear (The Yale Shakespeare) which against the academic preferences of the time chose the First Quarto over the First Folio. The reasons given by the Late Prof. are compelling, and brought about a generation of conflated editions which combined the two versions. The Quarto came first in publication, of course, and is longer; the Folio is later and does not contain several lines present in the Quarto (I believe about three hundred) yet introduces several (perhaps one hundred) of its own.

    And so we have a generation of productions which sought to combine the two. For instance we have an early recording of Paul Scofield as the King using a conflated edition and a later recording from his eighties in which only the Folio is used: King Lear (Naxos AudioBooks), following as it states the The Tragedy of King Lear (The New Cambridge Shakespeare), a strictly First Folio presentation.Read more ›

  3. Although RA Foakes’ Arden3 edition appeared some years after those of Wells & Taylor (Complete Oxford) and Jay L Halio (Cambridge) it did not follow their precedent of issuing separate texts based on Quarto and Folio originals. These early texts (Q 1608 and F 1623 respectively) occasionally offer quite different versions of the play and reconciling them to form a single, coherent whole is a task that is, arguably, less elegant than the dual edition solution. By comparison, Arden’s text looks cumbersome, with numerous Q and F superscripts surrounding passages found exclusively in one or other source.

    Foakes is well aware that his single, ‘conflated’ text isn’t as fashionable as those of the ‘revisionists’ mentioned above, who believe that the Folio text of Lear represents Shakespeare’s revised and final draft, and that modern editors should not pick and mix between Q and F but respect the integrity of the two early sources. While seemingly reactionary, Foakes is in fact countering the new orthodoxy of Halio et al. In his view, their ‘dogmatic and purist stance … abandons the idea of King Lear as a single work of which we have two versions.’ He is cautious and level-headed in his approach, aware of the limitations of scholarly speculation and in presenting both Q and F variants he allows the reader to make up her/his own mind.

    Aside from this central controversy, Arden3 Lear has much to offer.Read more ›

  4. King Lear was written at Shakespeare’s most prolific period, a time in which he rapidly composed Hamlest, Othello, and Macbeth. I believe, without a moments hesitation, that King Lear is his greatest work, and probably the greatest play ever written. The plot moves quickly with excitement and action. The central themes of the play (among which are abandonment, unconditional love, and self-realization) are some of the most serious and important aspects of human nature. The play brings up many important quiestions: Why should we forgive others? Can we ever trust someone? All of these areanswered in this play. I recently saw a professional production of the play, and found myself quickly moving from emotions of fear, to laughing, to wrath, and at the climactic end of the play, breaking down into tears, having been drained by the plays rapid motion and tension. This play will live with me forever.

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