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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well

I knew that in 1687 the Irish poet and hymn writer Nahum Tate was asked to do a re-write of Shakespeare's "King Lear". What they needed was a version that wouldn't rattle the cage of recently restored monarchy and sat more comfortably with the advance of the Enlightenment. They couldn't face the bleakness of Shakespeare's original. Tate's version has a happy ending with Cordelia marrying Edgar and everybody begging each other's pardon for the misunderstanding. What I didn't know until this morning's In Our Time on Radio Four was that for the next 150 years this was the accepted and most widely performed version. Presumably the original was regarded as a mistake. Which makes me wonder, what works from the Canon will we change our mind about in the future?