By: Nahum Tate (1652-1715)
The History of King Lear is an adaptation by Nahum Tate of William Shakespeare's King Lear. It first appeared in 1681, some seventy-five years after Shakespeare's version, and is believed to have replaced Shakespeare's version on the English stage in whole or in part until 1838. Unlike Shakespeare's tragedy, Tate's play has a happy ending, with Lear regaining his throne, Cordelia marrying Edgar, and Edgar joyfully declaring that "truth and virtue shall at last succeed." Regarded as a tragicomedy, the play has five acts, as does Shakespeare's, although the number of scenes is different, and the text is about eight hundred lines shorter than Shakespeare's. Many of Shakespeare's original lines are retained, or modified only slightly, but a significant portion of the text is entirely new, and much is omitted. The character of the Fool, for example, is absent. Although many critics — including Joseph Addison, August Wilhelm Schlegel, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and Anna Jameson — condemned Tate's adaptation for what they saw as its cheap sentimentality, it was popular with theatregoers, and was approved by Samuel Johnson, who regarded Cordelia's death in Shakespeare's play as unbearable. Shakespeare's version continued to appear in printed editions of his works, but, according to numerous scholars, including A.C. Bradley and Stanley Wells, did not appear on the English stage for over a hundred and fifty years from the date of the first performance of Tate's play Actors such as Thomas Betterton, David Garrick, and John Philip Kemble, who were famous for the role of Lear, were portraying Tate's Lear, not Shakespeare's.