Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 394. Friday, 18 December 1992.
Date: Friday, 18 Dec 1992 15:12:06 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: *Lear* Rewritten
Macready must take responsibility for the Astor Place Riot, but not, I
think, for *Lear* with a happy ending. The honor for the latter goes
to Nahum Tate (1652-1715), who succeeded Shadwell as Poet Laureate in 1692,
when he already had a number of Shakespearean redactions under his belt, among
them a *Richard II* altered so that, in Tate's own proud words, every scene
was "full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts." It was in 1681, I
think, that he fitted *King Lear* with a happy ending, in which Lear and
Cordelia do, indeed, survive, and Cordelia is betrothed to Edgar. Lear
obligingly steps aside in favor of "this celestial pair," and invites
Kent and Gloucester (did I mention that he survives too?) to retire with
him "to some cool cell," there to pass the short time left them "In calm
reflections on our fortunes past." Edgar has the final word, and he rather
distinctly speaks what he ought to say, not what he feels:
Our drooping country now erects her head,
Peace spreads her balmy wings, and Plenty blooms.
Divine Cordelia, all the gods can witness
How much to empire I thy love prefer!
Thy bright example shall convince the world
(Whatever storms of Fortune are decreed)
That truth and virtue shall at last succeed.
"In my novel," says Wilde's Miss Prism, "the good end well and the
bad badly. That is what Fiction means." Tate died in 1715 within the
precincts of the Mint, where he had gone to seek refuge from his creditors.
His *Lear*, however, survived him by many years and was the version regularly
produced throughout the eighteenth century.