During our discussion of King Lear, I mentioned that for more than 150 years beginning in 1681 English theatergoers experienced a very different version of King Lear, one with a “happy ending” supplied by one Nahum Tate. In this version of the play, King Lear regains his throne, Cordelia marries Edgar, and all live happily ever after. Samuel Johnson, the 18th century polymath (you may know him as the author of the Oxford English Dictionary) compiled an edition of Shakespeare’s plays; he used the original version, but he personally preferred Tate’s. In fact, he recalled being so horrified by the injustice of Cordelia’s death as a child (!) that he didn’t look at the play again until deciding to compile his edition. So while Shakespeare’s version of King Lear was widely available in print, it wasn’t until about 1838 that English theatergoers had the opportunity to see, or as they said “hear,” the original thing.
Here’s a link to Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear:
Scroll down to the final scene, which takes place in the prison, and where King Lear stabs the soldier who has come to hang Cordelia…