A funny thing happened last week that really put the Geek in Shakespeare Geek.
It all started with a Reddit post. A user wrote that he had a copy of the 1997 Folio Society edition of King Lear, where the text is taken from the 1986 Oxford Shakespeare edition of The Complete Works edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.
Under “The Persons of the Play”, I see “Earl of Gloucester”. I turn the page, and the very first stage direction says “Enter the Earl of Kent, the Duke of Gloucester…”
He is referred to as the Earl of Gloucester only in the list of characters, from what I can tell. Thereafter, he is always referred to as the Duke of Gloucester.
At first, I misunderstood and thought he was saying that Gloucester is always Duke, so it was listing him as Earl on the title page was the mistake. My error was pointed out to me – Gloucester is never Duke, always Earl – so I offered to get some first-hand input on the situation.
And by first-hand, I meant just go ahead and ask Sir Stanley Wells. Because why not? Twitter’s amazing sometimes. We follow each other and have corresponded online on some other occasions.
So I wrote, “Do you know of a mistake in King Lear in the 1986 Oxford Complete Works where Gloucester is referred to as Duke rather than Earl?” and waited to see if I would get a response. In the meantime, I pursued two other possibilities. First I contacted Bardfilm to see if he had a copy of the book in question. Second I started googling for early references to a “Duke of Gloucester” in King Lear.
Bingo, I got a hit on the second one. “Edgar and the Duke of Gloster” meet King Lear, from an early 19th-century print. I did find other hits, but most of them seemed to be from modern papers, all making what appears to be just a random error. For the most part I found references to Richard III, where of course there is a Duke of Gloucester.
And then I heard back from Sir Stanley (and I apologize if I am not addressing him properly). “Yes alas!” he wrote initially, suggesting that not only did he know what we were talking about, but he found it embarrassing to admit. However, he went on to offer another bit of trivia, letting us know that “There’s another horrible error in the first edition involving the names of the brothers in Cymbeline. It was noticed and corrected early on.”
Just to wrap the story up, Bardfilm came through with some scans of the book in question. Sure enough, there he is – the Duke of Gloucester!
So that’s the story of the mysterious Duke of Gloucester. I suppose it doesn’t have a terribly exciting ending, like discovering something no one had yet noticed. I’m just pleased that I was able to put the ol’ social media network into action and find some answers!
The only problem is now I can’t get this song out of my head!