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A Fragmented Trajectory

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A Fragmented Trajectory:

An Analysis of the Duke of Albany in the Dual Texts of King Lear


Critical study of Shakespeare’s King Lear has long been complicated by the fact that two disparate versions of the play exist. The Quarto and Folio editions of this play are, in places, radically different: scenes and lines are added or removed between versions; characters are swapped; entrance and exit cues change places; words are altered. With regards to the study of character and characterial continuity, I sought to enter an actor’s mindset, examining only the parts of specific characters in order to attain a better understanding of the significance of these textual differences. While so limited an examination cannot necessarily mark one text as superior, the coherence of a particular character’s arc can . This “actorly perspective,” however, shows a bias towards whichever character it focuses on; a more comprehensive analysis of one character in relation to others makes apparent the difficulties inherent in sacrificing the entirety of the Folio at the expense of the Quarto, or vice versa. The challenge for adapters is finding a compromise between maintaining characterial integrity and coherence of plot: a task that neither text can fulfill on its own. Combining key elements of both texts often serves this balance best.

The Duke of Albany exemplifies this challenge remarkably well. His role as depicted in the Quarto has a stronger, more resolved dynamism to its movement, while the modifications made by the Folio weaken his potential for growth. In the figurative sense, Albany’s character trajectory in the Quarto resembles that of a rocket-- starting at a low point, building in force and intensity, and settling into an established high. He is first cowed and meek, then coldly vitriolic as he begins to grow some spine, and finally settles into the persona of a firm, compassionate leader. In the Folio his trajectory mirrors that of a heavy object dropping-- beginning at a high tension point, hitting a disconcerting dead stop, and trying ineffectually to bounce up to the top again. He is critically verbose at the start, but seems to shrink, growing resignedly put-upon and terse, unable to regain the fervor with which he began. The implications of these alterations become, the larger context of the play as a whole, most apparent in the final scene. By and large, the division of lines and responsibilities between Albany and Edgar-- who has, by the play’s end, become a formidable commanding presence in his own right-- in both versions correlates strongly with the changes in Albany’s character. By examining these changes in detail, I argue that a compromise between texts via combination can best depict the full realization of both character and plot.

Though Albany appears alongside the majority of the named cast in the first scene, his presence is not an active one until Act 1, scene 4, during which he mostly acts as an intermediary between his wife Goneril and her father, Lear himself. The most significant differences between the two versions of the scene are the addition of two extra lines in the Folio text. The first of these, preceding his first line in the Quarto, is a plea to Lear; “pray sir, be patient” takes the text’s first step towards establishing the character’s primary conflict of interest-- the desire to protect his wife from her tyrannical father, and the desire to be supportive of his late king (F I.iv.223). This conflict also remains intact in the Quarto. Both versions keep intact the line “I cannot be so partial, Goneril,/ To the great love I bear you,” which emphasizes this perceived sense of divided duty even as Goneril’s dismissive response gives the first insight into Albany’s meek, mild nature (Q I.iv.290-291). This gentleness of manner, however, is belied somewhat by the second added line in the Folio text. After Goneril expounds angrily upon the inanity of her father’s retaining one hundred knights in a speech also unique to the Folio, Albany tells her, “well, you may fear too far”; his statement is both placating and incisive, a means of questioning Goneril’s judgement (F I.iv.291). The Quarto gives him no such spine; he is silent through many of Goneril’s interactions with both Lear and Oswald, giving credence to her condemnation of his “milky gentleness” and “harmful mildness” (Q I.iv.309, 312). Even his final line is of a milder tenor in the Quarto. The words “well, well, the event” in the Warren Folio forcibly cut off Goneril’s protestation of “nay, then,” while the Quarto allows the latter line to come to completion before giving Albany the last word (F I.iv.310-311). The differences in character presentation in this one scene alone are startling, if minute. Albany in the Folio starts off with a considerable amount of subtle force-- despite Goneril’s blatant lack of recognition of it, as she persists in calling him lily-livered up through Act 4. Even so, Albany’s force is not maintained throughout; indeed, silence characterizes his next appearance in the Folio. The Quarto, on the other hand, uses Albany’s sparse dialogue to portray him as the soft shadow of a man Goneril so snidely accuses him of being. His cynical verbal explosion when next he appears, precipitated by Oswald’s mention of him being much changed, is a natural upward progression from this stagnant beginning state.

Albany does not appear again in either the Quarto or the Folio until Act 4, scene 2, where he, seemingly out of nowhere, eviscerates Goneril’s character. In terms of sheer verbosity, Albany-in-the-Quarto and Albany-in-the-Folio suddenly seem to swap parts; the Quarto gives him three speeches, each longer than five lines, that the Folio omits, and each roundly criticizes his wife. To be sure, he speaks the truth with such jabs as “you are not worth the dust which the rude wind/ Blows in your face,” “changèd and self-covered thing,” and “thou art a fiend,” but the venom contained these remarks, as well as the bitter, sardonic despair of his questioning her actions against her father, are shocking when examined alongside the conciliatory near-silence of his first scene in that text (Q IV.ii.30-31, 61, 65). Oswald speaks home when he cautions Goneril that her husband is acting most unlike himself, for in the Quarto, he undeniably has enacted a sea-change upon his modus operandi where his wife is concerned. In contrast, the Folio diminishes this vitriol, by sheer virtue of line count. While some of his more vicious remarks (“you are not worth the dust….” and “see thyself, devil….”) remain intact, they are terse, acting more as weary, resigned interjections than as outpourings of emotion and recognition of truth (F IV.ii.30-31, 35). The Folio downsizes Goneril’s part similarly, but her lack of lines have less of an impact regarding her relationship with her husband; her impatience with him in earlier scenes established her contempt of him well enough. The husband’s demolition of her-- and our-- perception of him as a submissive coward is rather more revolutionary-- especially in the Quarto, which effectuates such a dramatic shift in his personality, from timidly vapid to acerbically voluble. He has gone from “zero to hero” in terms of his ability and willingness to stand up for himself; decrying his wife’s utter lack of a moral nature seems a natural method of expressing his contempt of her. By this point in the play he has no illusions of her being anything but self-serving and manipulative, and it is the Quarto that most fully expresses this realization. The Quarto version of this scene also does much to expand upon other aspects of Albany’s character that work to strengthen his arc. His casual assumption of command over the questioning of the servant gives the audience its first insight into the sort of leader he will eventually become, while his compassion and need to maintain the integrity of justice emerge in his passionate vow to avenge Gloucester’s blinding.   

Interestingly, this profession of closeness to Gloucester also facilitates the development of a connection between Albany and Gloucester’s son Edgar. Both are men capable of extraordinary empathy, and in addition, both can be remarkably naive, blind to that which they do not directly see-- such as Albany’s blind acceptance of Edgar’s guilt or Edgar’s own failure to question Gloucester’s wrath and his brother’s report of it. Both men, too, possess an intolerance for wickedness, especially when it manifests in women, and both grow past their initial reticence and weakness of spirit to become powerful moral figures, capable of commanding a nation.

All of these traits are expressed most fully in Act 5, scene 3. Albany in particular has grown into himself as a leader and as a man. Act 5, scene 1 of the Quarto gives him an interesting opportunity for self-reflection amidst the military talk, musing that “where I could not be honest/ I never yet was valiant”-- but, when he returns, he will not give Goneril, Regan, or Edmund the slightest benefit of the doubt (Q V.i.25-26). Perhaps he feels himself to be culpable by mere association with these selfish villains, but his coldness and public condemnation of the lot of them make it evident that he has truly distanced himself from such perpetrators of immorality and will bow to them no longer. In point of fact, he will bow to no man. Albany doles out most of the lines of command (to servants, or to other characters of lower station) in the Quarto, as well as the play’s final speech, in which he comes into his own as a gentle leader with no patience for iniquity. He has reached the height of his command, and seems content to remain there.

Curiously, the one character in the Quarto who defies Albany’s assumption of command is, in fact, Edgar. After Edgar relates the woeful tale of his exile and Gloucester’s death, Albany pleads “If there be more, more woeful, hold it in,/ For I am almost ready to dissolve,/ Hearing of this” (F V.iii.193-195). In the Folio, Edgar is silenced, but in the Quarto he presses on. The introduction of Kent to his tale adds little to the overall plot, but I find it odd that Albany’s authority, so blatantly exercised in the Quarto, could be nullified by the character who, in the Folio, actually usurps it entirely. Those aforementioned lines of command-- that directly follow either Albany’s plea or Edgar’s speech-- are actually divided more or less evenly betwixt the two men in that version, particularly since the Folio gives the play’s final speech to Edgar. In a sense, the connection between these two characters almost bridges the gap between the disparate play texts. Edgar, having cast off his forced anonymity in the wake of his brother’s death, now rises to meet Albany’s implicit challenge. The Quarto’s addendum to his “woeful tale” directly defies Albany’s assumption of control over the situation-- and only when this tale is spoken does Edgar, in the Folio, begin to take over some of the dialogue that the Quarto had left to Albany. If the added speech was inserted into the Folio text-- if, that is, the texts were considered jointly-- the authoritative power of Albany, and that of Edgar, would be inextricably linked. Edgar’s ability to command is brought to fruition, while Albany’s is diminished to compensate.

The differing divisions of parts seem sensible when considering the lesser measure of efficacy afforded to Albany in the Folio, as opposed to the strength of his upward mobility in the Quarto. However, a balance ought to exist in the treatment of the rest of the script, in order to maintain the integrity of both characters’ arcs. In the case of Albany, the growing force of his role in the Quarto can be fostered while still allowing Edgar some modicum of power by the end. I would argue that the character’s progression as depicted in the Quarto-- from resigned silence to an eruption of critical asperity to a level, stolid defense of moral codes-- when paired with some surrendering of authority, as evinced by the division of lines in the Folio, would best achieve this balance between the coherence of character and plot. That surrendering of Albany’s authority would also enhance Edgar’s stature; where Albany falters, Edgar picks up the reins, and thus marks himself as a viable wielder of power. “Combination” could begin with Edgar’s Quarto speech following Albany’s importunate bid to be silent, and including the Folio’s alternation of lines of command between Albany and Edgar would further support the ultimate stagnation of Albany’s rise to power. The final speech in particular should be “signed over,” as it were; Albany is not the youngest left onstage, nor will he be donning the mantle of responsibility left untended by Lear. That task is assigned jointly to Edgar and to Kent-- though whether Albany does so because he plans to govern his own northern half of Britain still, because his lack of ability to control his wife has made him doubt his ability to govern a nation, or because he simply does not want that burden of kingship, remains a mystery. Still, that delegation of authority ought to be his last word. He has said his piece, completed his arc-- and if the arc was given its proper range of motion, its proper “launch sequence,” it should feel no less firmly realized for the ultimate deference to another’s power, when that other is just as capable, just as wise and weary of the world. Albany’s fragmented character development in the Folio does an injustice to any strength his role might possess-- despite the fact that this same fragmentation grants the growing power behind Edgar’s role more weight due to the emphasis placed on it. The reverse, too, is true; the strength of Albany’s arc in the Quarto prevents Edgar’s from reaching its full potential. Only by working within the frames of both texts can both characters, as well as the story’s ability to make sense to a reader, get the chance to develop to fruition.


Works Consulted

Warren, Michael. “ King Lear , V.iii.265: Albany's ‘Fall and Cease.’” Shakespeare Quarterly , vol. 33, no. 2, 1982, pp. 178–179.

Stevenson, Warren. “Albany as Archetype in King Lear .” Modern Language Quarterly , vol. 26, no. 2, 1965, pp. 257-263.

Hardman, C. B. “‘Our Drooping Country Now Erects Her Head’: Nahum Tate's ‘ History of King Lear .’” The Modern Language Review , vol. 95, no. 4, 2000, pp. 913–923.


Works Cited

Stephen Greenblatt, et al. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2008. Print.