Consider the influence/adaptation of Shakespeare in at least two texts we’ve studied this term
In 1681, Nahum Tate adapted William Shakespeare’s King Lear into the History of King Lear and in 1758 David Garrick adapted The Winter’s Tale into Florizel and Perdita. In this essay, I will argue that in both Tate and Garrick’s adaptations, the authors aimed to make Shakespeare more palatable to Post-Restoration and 18th-century audiences. I will be exploring how Tate and Garrick minimise the tragedy present in King Lear and The Winter’s Tale, effectively changing the genre of the two plays. Whilst ‘problem plays’ is a term that has been retroactively applied to some of Shakespeare’s plays, I will also be arguing that Garrick’s adaptation helped to classify The Winter’s Tale and it helped to provide a solution for how Shakespeare’s play disrupted the Classical Unities.
I argue that Tate’s adaptation made King Lear more palatable for Post-Restoration audiences. With King Charles the II’s Restoration only two decades earlier, many play-wrights, including Tate, had been influenced by Restoration values and ideals, as well as their audiences who had lived through the horrors of the English Civil War followed by the closure of the theatres during Oliver Cromwell’s reign as Protector of the Commonwealth. Shakespeare’s King Lear begins with Lear holding a contest to see which of his daughters loves him the most, whilst Tate’s adaptation begins by focusing on Edmund’s soliloquy. Shakespeare’s King Lear begins on a more indecisive and uncertain note. Kent and Gloucester speculate over whom Lear will choose as his successor with Kent asserting “I thought the King had more affected the Duke of| Albany than Cornwell” and Gloucester replying:
it did always seem so to us. But now in the
division of the Kingdoms it appears not which of the
Dukes he values most. (King Lear, 1.1. 3-5)
This uncertainty continues into Goneril’s flattery of her father with Goneril saying that her love for her father is “dearer than eyesight, space or liberty.” (King Lear, 1.1. 56) Lear’s decision to determine who should inherit his wealth and title by seeing which of his daughters loves him the most, demonstrates his weak leadership. He does not base his decision on anything logical, but rather on which daughter can stroke his ego the best. Shakespeare opens the play on this uncertain note, which spotlights the troubled situation that Lear’s kingdom is in. In contrast, Tate in opening his adaptation with Edmund’s soliloquy, shifts the focus away from the indecisive King Lear and onto the ambitious Edmund who is left resentful that because of his illegitimate birth, he will never inherit his father’s wealth, despite how he has a “mind as gen’rous and a shape as true” as his brother Edgar’s. As Tate wrote the History of King Lear two decades after King Charles the II’s Restoration, it is only logical that he would re-write King Lear in a way that more favourably portrays the monarchy. By having Edmund’s soliloquy preceding Lear deciding how to divide his kingdom, Tate makes Lear’s weakness as ruler less apparent. If, like Shakespeare, Tate had begun his adaptation by showcasing the indecisiveness and foolishness of the king he might have been condemned for attacking the monarchy. By adapting the beginning of King Lear into something less inflammatory towards the monarchy, Tate made the text more palatable to audiences that welcomed the return of the king.
Similarly to how Tate has changed the beginning of King Lear, Garrick has also changed the beginning of The Winter’s Tale. Garrick starts Florizel and Perdita in media res, with the first three acts of The Winter’s Tale being condensed into exposition. Ros King highlights how “Shakespeare also uses Time’s speech triumphantly to draw attention to one of the greatest ‘errors’ in literary theory: the requirement to obey the ‘unities’ of time and place, both of which are broken in this play.” In act 4.1, the character of Time enters the scene and implores the audience to:
Impute it not a crime
[…] that I slide
o’er sixteen years […]
[…] since it is in my power
The character of Time establishes that sixteen years have passed since the end of the last scene. Time also explicitly acknowledges how the Unity of Time has been broken. Through saying “since it is in my power| to ‘o’erthrow law,” (Winter, 4.1. 7-8) the Unity of Time is constructed as a rule that cannot and should not be transgressed. However, it is still broken. Time argues that “it is in my power| to o’erthrow law,” (Winter, 4.1. 7-8) thus imbuing him with the very authority to disregard the Unity of Time. This is not the only Classical Unity that has been broken. The Unity of Place dictates that “the action of a play should occur in one setting.” Yet The Winter’s Tale constantly changes location. In Act 2.3, Leontes orders Antigonus to:
this female bastard hence, and that thou bear it
to some remote and desert place. (Winter, 2.3. 173-175)
Antigonus leaves the baby on the Bohemian coast, despite the fact that Bohemia, now located in the modern-day Czech Republic, is a landlocked nation with no shore-line. However, I argue that Garrick’s adaptation provides a solution for Shakespeare’s disregard of the Classical Unities. Garrick concisely summarises the action of the first three acts in a few lines. Rather than demonstrating Leontes’ barbaric treatment of the pregnant Hermione, it is stated that: “the dishonour’d Hermione [was] clapp’d up in prison| where she gave the king a princess.” In Garrick’s prologue, he compares Shakespeare to a “precious Liquor” (Garrick, Prologue. 52) whose literary talents have been “confin’d and bottled for your Taste,” (Garrick, Prologue. 53) and it is Garrick’s “only plan| to lose no Drop of that immortal Man,” (Garrick, Prologue. 54-55) implying that he wants to preserve the best of Shakespeare. In omitting the first three acts, Garrick neglects to describe the tragedy of The Winter’s Tale and the passion of sadness that is associated with it. He compares the theatre to a “Tavern” (Garrick, Prologue. 4) with “the Poets Vinters, and the Waiters we.” (Garrick, Prologue. 5) In comparing the theatre to a tavern, Garrick is depicting it as a raucous environment filled with laughter, good company and the passion of joy. Poets as “Vinters” (Garrick, Prologue. 5) or winemakers, produce this joy and actors as “Waiters” (Garrick, Prologue. 5) distribute it to the audience. If Garrick had included the original beginning to The Winter’s Tale, he would have run the risk of damaging the present joyful atmosphere and replacing it with a sombre one. However, by condensing the tragedy of the first three acts into a few lines, Garrick has preserved the atmosphere within the theatre, thus keeping his audience content. Therefore he is able to use their energy to help fuel his performance and his audience subsequently feeds off his energy, in a similar fashion to how modern-day music acts thrive off of the energy of their audiences. Through Garrick’s adaptation of The Winter’s Tale he preserves the joyous atmosphere by continuing the passion of joy. This only works through the omission of the tragic elements within The Winter’s Tale. If Garrick had kept these elements, the preservation would not have been as effective and his audience would not have been as satisfied.
Both Tate and Garrick alter the source material to such an extent that the plays effectively change genres. Whilst King Lear, with its bloody ending and personal destruction of the titular character is undoubtedly a tragedy and The Winter’s Tale, whilst being classified today as one of Shakespeare’s romances, it was, along with Shakespeare’s other romances “in the early seventeenth century regarded as tragi-comedies,” I argue that Tate and Garrick adapted them into romances to make them more appealing to their audiences. Pamela Bickley and Jenny Stevens identify that “the Post-Restoration audience found Shakespeare’s devastating conclusion simply too disturbing to accept.” Samuel Johnson was “so shocked by Cordelia’s death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.” Through how Edgar concludes the first Quarto edition, the true tragedy of the play becomes evident. The final two lines convey the uncertainty of the situation: “the oldest hath borne most; we that are young| shall never see so much nor live so long.” (King Lear, ll. 5.3. 323-324) King Lear and Gloucester have experienced the most suffering as the result of their children. Their suffering has been so great that those who “are young” (King Lear, 5.3. 323) could never experience the same. They will “never see so much nor live so long.” (King Lear, 5.3. 324) Edgar holds little hope for his own personal future or the future of his kingdom. However, Tate’s adaptation is nowhere near as bleak or uncertain: at his play’s conclusion, Goneril, Regan and Edmund all die, but Cordelia, Lear and Gloucester survive. Not only does Cordelia survive, but King Lear declares that:
Cordelia then shall be a Queen, mark that:
Cordelia shall be a Queen; […]
And bear it on your rosy Wings to Heav’n-
Cordelia is a Queen. (Tate, 5.3. 120-124)
Not only does this resolve the conflict that is initiated at the play’s beginning, but it also resolves it more romantically than Shakespeare’s original. King Lear is reunited with Cordelia and the pair forgive each other. Furthermore, Tate’s adaptation is more romantic because only the ‘bad’ characters die and the ‘good’ ones survive. By having Cordelia and Kent survive, Tate is rewarding them for their honesty and loyalty. Through killing Edmund and Goneril, he is punishing them for their sadism and treachery. By solely killing the ‘evil’ characters at the play’s conclusion, Tate reduces the disturbing nature of King Lear, condensing it into a less unsettling and more appealing version of the original.
Sean Mcevoy distinguishes between romance in its modern sense and in relation to Shakespeare. He argues that romance:
became the name for tales about heroes on quests in which magic and improbable coincidence would lead to a happy resolution, and where sundered families and lovers are eventually reunited, often after much suffering on the way. In Shakespeare’s plays the protagonists, similarly, must travel, be shipwrecked, or be lost. The movement of the plot is from sorrow to joy, from division to unity.
I argue that whilst Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale fits with this definition of romance, Garrick’s alterations move The Winter’s Tale away from tragedy and closer to romance. In Shakespeare’s original, families are broken up whether this is Paulina’s family, whose husband Antigonus dies upon being “pursued by a bear,” (Winter, 3.3. 57) or Leontes’ family, whose son Mamillius dies after worrying what fate will befall his mother Hermione of whom Paulina later reports that “the sweet’st, dear’st creature’s dead.” (Winter, 3.2. 198) However, at the play’s conclusion, Paulina is matched with Camillo, and Leontes is reunited with Perdita and Hermione who through “magic and improbable coincidence” comes to life from a statue. Garrick’s adaptation lessens the tragic element through the complete omission of Antigonus and Mamillius. In doing so, he moves The Winter’s Tale away from tragedy and towards romance. Leontes still feels guilty over the injustices he forced upon Hermione and Polixenes. In Act 1, Scene 2, Leontes laments on how “all the wrongs I have done| stir now afresh within me.” (Garrick, 1.2. 74-75) After Hermione’s supposed resurrection, Leontes asks “O my Hermione!- have I deserv’d that tender name?” (Garrick, 3.5. 218-219) Hermione forgives Leontes: “no more; be all that’s past| forgot in this enfolding, and forgiven.” (Garrick, 3.5. 220-221) Despite how Garrick’s adaptation omits Mamillius’ death and Leontes’ grief that accompanies it, he compensates by portraying the guilt Leontes feels for his actions towards Hermione. After Leontes’ suffering, Hermione forgives him and the family is reunited. Thus, in its conclusion Garrick’s Florizel and Perdita is closer to a romance than a tragedy, making it more attractive for audiences. The omission of Antigonus’ and Mammillius’ deaths results in the removal of the tragic elements of this play.
In this essay, I have aimed to examine Nahum Tate’s adaptation of King Lear and David Garrick’s adaptation of The Winter’s Tale and the changes that both authors have made to the source material. Considering the social context and audience reaction to both plays, I conclude that Tate’s and Garrick’s alterations were intended to cater for the changing beliefs and ideals held by audiences and critics of the time. Through their changes to Shakespeare’s original plays, they have altered his work to keep it appropriate for the time periods in which they were writing. Ultimately, I argue that Tate and Garrick changed the genres of both plays from tragedy into something with greater mass appeal, thus maximising customer satisfaction and the amount of profit that could be made from each showing.
Word Count: 2391
‘I confirm that this piece of work contains no plagiarised material and that I have read and understood the section on Plagiarism in the School Style Guide.’
Bickey, Pamela and Jenny Stevens, Essential Shakespeare: the Arden Guide to Text and Interpretation (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)
Garrick, David, Florizel and Perdita. A dramatic pastoral, in three acts. Alter’d from The Winter’s Tale of Shakespear (London: J.R and R.Tonson, 1758) as consulted on Eighteenth Century Collection Online <http://find.galegroup.com/ecco/informark.do&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=new_itw&tabID=T001&docID=CW3306673452&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE>. <last accessed 06/01/2016>
Johnson, Samuel, Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. by H.R. Woudhuysen (London: Penguin Books, 1989)
King, Ros, The Winter’s Tale: a guide to the text and the play in performance (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
Mcevoy, Sean, Shakespeare: The Basics 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2000)
Shakespeare, William, King Lear, ed. by George Hunter (London: Penguin, 1972)
Shakespeare, William, The Winter’s Tale, ed. by Ernest Schanzer (London: Penguin, 1986)
Tate, Nahum, The History of King Lear: A Tragedy (London: J. Brindley, C. Hitch, J. Hodges, C. Corbett, J. and T. King, R. New, W. Reeve and J. Cooper, 1749) as consulted on Google Books <https://books.google.co.uk/books?id= 5sIAQAAIAAJ&q=nahum+tate+the+history+of+king+lear&dq=nahum+tate+the+history+of+king+lear&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiTjuyEs5XKAhXM6xQKHYA_DIcQ6AEILDAB> <last accessed 06/01/2016>
William, Shakespeare, King Lear, ed. by George Hunter (London: Penguin, 1972) 1.1, 1-2 (All subsequent references are taken from this edition and will be given in parenthesis in quotations in the text)
Nahum, Tate, The History of King Lear: A Tragedy (London: J. Brindley, C. Hitch, J. Hodges, C. Corbett, J. and T. King, R. New, W. Reeve and J. Cooper, 1749) 1.1. l. 9 (All subsequent references are taken from this edition and will be given in parenthesis after quotations in the text)
William, Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, ed. by Ernest Schanzer (London: Penguin, 1986) 4.1. 4-8 (All subsequent references are taken from this edition and will be given in parenthesis after quotations in the text.)
David, Garrick, Florizel and Perdita. A dramatic pastoral, in three acts. Alter’d from The Winter’s Tale of Shakespear (London: J.R and R.Tonson, 1758) 1.1. 54-55 (All subsequent references are taken from this edition and will be given in parenthesis in quotations in the text.)
This is the final essay that I wrote for my Ways of the World module. This essay focused on Nahum Tate’s adaptation of King Lear and David Garrick’s adaptation of the Winter’s Tale. I was supposed to discuss the differences between both text and why the authors changed Shakespeare’s originals.