There were FOUR versions of the play: the 1608 First Quarto (possibly from Shakespeare’s ‘foul papers’); the 1608 (although printed in 1619), Second Quarto; the 1623 First Folio; and the 1632 Second Folio. The modern text of the play is a conflation of the two quarto versions and the first of the folios, thanks to early editors, like Alexander Pope. In fact, though, the versions differ wildly, with nearly three hundred lines of Quarto One that are not in Folio One, and around a hundred lines of Folio One that aren’t in Quarto One. It’s thought that Shakespeare may have made one of those revision when The King’s Men shifted premises to the indoor Blackfriars Theatre.
As if four versions weren’t enough, in the 17th century, Nahum Tate decided that Shakespeare’s interpretation of the tragedy was just too…well, tragic. Tate offered a much happier ending. Most shocking is that Tate’s ‘cheerful’ version of the play was the version for nearly a century and a half!
King Lear was written by William Shakespeare. It was first published in 1603.