King Lear was published in quarto form twice. The first quarto was printed in 1608, three years after the play was written. Although probably performed at the Globe from 1605, the first recorded performance of the play was on December 26 1606 at the court of King James. The second quarto was published in 1619, along with a number of other Shakespeare plays, three years after the death of William Shakespeare.
The 1608 first quarto is called the Pied Bull Quarto, as it was printed by Nathaniel Butter at the sign of the Pied Bull: the imprint states 'London, Printed for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Church-yard at the signe of the Pide Bull neere St. Austins Gate. 1608.' The first quarto is considered to be possibly a pre-rehearsal script. The title page of the first quarto shows the emphasis that was placed on the character of Edgar: 'M. William Shak-speare: His True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear and his three Daughters. With the unfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humor of Tom of Bedlam. As it was played before the Kings Majestie at Whitehall upon S. Stephen's Night in Christmas Hollidayes. By his Majesties Servants playing usually at the Globe on the Bancke-side'
The Second Quarto was printed in 1619 with some sheets copied from the first quarto and some sheets that were corrected, possibly by Shakespeare himself.
The Folio text of 1623, possibly taken from a prompt-book of the play, deleted 300 lines of the quarto texts and added 100 lines omitted from the quartos. Amongst the deleted scenes were Lear's mock-trial of Goneril and Regan, Kent's learning of Cordelia's distress, and Gloucester's servants' dialogue after his blinding.
Scholars differ widely in their views of the quartos as faithful versions of Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare probably would not have been involved in the printing of the quarto plays so we have no 'final draft' or authorised versions of the plays. Quarto editions are considered both as the texts most accurate to Shakespeare's time, compiled with probable use of working drafts, actors' remembrances of their performances and even plagerised versions by members of the audience, and as the least accurate of what Shakespeare actually wrote. Therefore their legitimacy is considered both wildly inaccurate as a final version and yet scholarly fascinating as a study of Shakespeare's process. Unlike the plays, Shakespeare's poems in Quarto form are considered to be solid, perhaps even edited by Shakespeare himself.
List of the dates of the plays and poems printed in Quarto editions with King Lear highlighted:
Venus and Adonis 1593, 1594
The Rape of Lucrece 1594
Titus Andronicus 1594, 1600, 1611
Henry VI Part 2 1594, 1600, 1619
Henry VI Part 3 1595, 1600, 1619
Romeo and Juliet 1597, 1599, 1609
The Phoenix and the Turtle 1601, 1611
Richard II 1597, 1598, 1602, 1605, 1612, 1622
Richard III 1597, 1598, 1602, 1605, 1612, 1622
Love's Labour's Lost 1598
Henry IV Part 1 1598, 1599, 1604, 1608, 1613, 1622
Henry IV Part 2 1600
Henry V 1600, 1602, 1619
The Merchant of Venice 1600, 1619
A Midsummer Night's Dream 1600, 1619
Much Ado About Nothing 1600
The Merry Wives of Windsor 1602, 1619
Hamlet 1603, 1604, 1611
King Lear 1608, 1619
The Sonnets and A Lover's Complaint 1609
Troilus and Cressida 1609
Pericles 1609, 1611, 1619
The Two Noble Kinsmen 1634