It is unlikely that even the erudite readers of the Literary Review know much about Nahum Tate (1652–1715), one of our dimmer Poet Laureates in a crowded field. Historians remember Tate for a walk-on part in Pope’s Dunciad, but he does have a better claim to fame – apart, that is, from writing a poem about tea called Panacea. For it was Nahum who had the bright idea of cheering up King Lear by chopping out the difficult bits and allowing Cordelia to survive and marry Edmund, in a version of the play which held the stage for more than a century.
Mucking about with Shakespeare was something of a national pastime in Tate’s day. It fell into disfavour with readers when the Bard was canonised by Romantic poets, but survives in the theatre, though there are now tacit limits to what you can do: make Hamlet a dog or transfer Othello