Nahum Tate’s adaptation of King Lear debuted in 1681. In a dedicatory epistle to the published play, Tate says: “I found the whole [of Shakespeare’s King Lear] … a heap of jewels, unstrung and unpolished; yet so dazzling in their disorder, that I soon perceived I had seized a treasure. ’Twas my good fortune to light on one expedient to rectify what was wanting in the regularity and probability of the tale, which was to run through the whole a love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia.”
Tate’s adaptation also cut the original substantially, revised the language throughout, and added several new scenes; it eliminated the character of the Fool and — most notoriously — added a happy ending.
Tate’s happy-ending version of King Lear was so popular that no performance of Shakespeare’s text appeared on stage until 1838, an impressive 157 year run.
Here are the final moments of Tate’s King Lear (5.3.378–451):
ALBANY. The troops by Edmund raised, I have disbanded;
Those that remain are under my command.
What comfort may be brought to cheer your age
And heal your savage wrongs, shall be applied;
For to your majesty we do resign
Your kingdom, save what part your self conferred
On us in marriage.
KENT. Hear you that, my liege?
CORDELIA. Then there are gods, and virtue is their care.
LEAR. Is’t possible?
Let the spheres stop their course, the sun make halt,
The winds be hushed, the seas and fountains rest;
All nature pause, and listen to the change.
Where is my Kent, my Caius?
KENT. Here, my liege.
LEAR. Why I have news that will recall thy youth;
Ha! Didst thou hear ’t, or did th’ inspiring gods
Whisper to me alone? Old Lear shall be
A king again.
KENT. The prince, that like a god has power, has said it.
LEAR. Cordelia then shall be a queen, mark that:
Cordelia shall be queen; winds catch the sound
And bear it on your rosy wings to heaven.
Cordelia is a queen.
Re-enter Edgar with Gloster.
ALBANY. Look, sir, where pious Edgar comes
Leading his eyeless father: O my liege!
His wondrous story will deserve your leisure:
What he has done and suffered for your sake,
What for the fair Cordelia’s.
GLOSTER. Where is my liege? Conduct me to his knees to hail
His second birth of empire; my dear Edgar
Has, with himself, revealed the King’s blest restoration.
LEAR. My poor dark Gloster.
GLOSTER. O let me kiss that once more sceptered hand!
LEAR. Hold, Thou mistak’st the majesty, kneel here;
Cordelia has our power, Cordelia’s queen.
Speak, is not that the noble suffering Edgar?
GLOSTER. My pious son, more dear than my lost eyes.
LEAR. I wronged him too, but here’s the fair amends.
EDGAR. Your leave, my liege, for an unwelcome message.
Edmund (but that’s a trifle) is expired;
What more will touch you, your imperious daughters
Gonerill and haughty Regan, both are dead,
Each by the other poisoned at a banquet;
This, dying, they confessed.
CORDELIA. O fatal period of ill-governed life!
LEAR. Ingrateful as they were, my heart feels yet
A pang of nature for their wretched fall; —
But, Edgar, I defer thy joys too long:
Thou serv’dst distressed Cordelia; take her crowned:
Th’ imperial grace fresh blooming on her brow;
Nay, Gloster, thou hast here a father’s right;
Thy helping hand t’ heap blessings on their head.
KENT. Old Kent throws in his hearty wishes too.
EDGAR. The gods and you too largely recompense
What I have done; the gift strikes merit dumb.
CORDELIA. Nor do I blush to own my self o’er-paid
For all my sufferings past.
GLOSTER. Now, gentle gods, give Gloster his discharge.
LEAR. No, Gloster, Thou hast business yet for life;
Thou, Kent and I, retired to some cool cell
Will gently pass our short reserves of time
In calm reflections on our fortunes past,
Cheered with relation of the prosperous reign
Of this celestial pair; thus our remains
Shall in an even course of thought be past,
Enjoy the present hour, nor fear the last.
EDGAR. Our drooping country now erects her head,
Peace spreads her balmy wings, and plenty blooms.
Divine Cordelia, all the gods can witness
How much thy love to empire I prefer!
Thy bright example shall convince the world
(Whatever storms of fortune are decreed)
That truth and virtue shall at last succeed.
Nahum Tate’s King Lear