Editorial Interpretation

I am reading an 1879 version of King Lear edited by Rev. Henry N. Hudson. Because it was meant for classroom use, the editorial notes are generally glosses, explanations of etymology, explanations of allusions, and comparisons to Shakespeare’s other plays where he uses words similarly. There are also several interpretations of key lines, and not all of them are Hudson’s—he frequently provides other editors’ interpretations, most often Coleridge’s. The purpose of providing interpretations of certain passages is probably to help students not only appreciate Shakespeare’s language, but also go one step further and learn interpretation. These interpretations, particularly Coleridge’s, illustrate the universal applications of the play’s themes. But Hudson also shows that students should not be limited to one interpretation. In Act III scene vii, note 11, he provides an explanation for part of Gloucester’s speech, emphasizing the word “cruels.” He first gives his own original interpretation, then another editor’s that he prefers, modeling how opinions about texts can and should change. The difficult passage is made clearer for students—and this clarity at the same time highlights the passage’s complexity and resistance to a single explanation. This comment as well as many others throughout the play includes judgment about one of the characters, in this case Regan. While these judgments are helpful for students, they might limit interpretation when it comes to thinking about the complexity of characters’ motives.

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