The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0142 Thursday, 28 January 1999.
Date: Tuesday, 26 Jan 1999 14:44:44 +0000
Subject: 10.0132 Re: Editions
Comment: Re: SHK 10.0132 Re: Editions
I'd like to thank those who wrote in with their observations on
Shakespeare editions. A few notes and queries:
Roy Flannagan writes:
"there is a future for the old-spelling edition, but I would add that
Shakespeare seems to be a special case, because [...] modern popular or
undergraduate readers might not want the scholarly challenge or strain
of reading Shakespeare even as he is on the page of the First Folio...I
still think I would argue that any complete edition of Shakespeare
published for general academic use today should be based on a modernized
You are right to suggest that first-time readers neither need nor desire
old-spelling editions-but what I wonder is why these editions are so
rare. Lest the Penguin Renaissance Dramatists series does one of the
plays of Shakespeare (an unlikely feat, considering the project has just
been cancelled "due to an absence of market demand"), we have no readily
available, paperback editions of his plays, complete with scholarly
apparatus. Even the Penguin series was unfortunately inadequate in that
way, presenting the usual glosses to "hard words" and a sketchy
introduction, but nowhere approaching the comprehensiveness of the Arden
editions. The Variorum editions do employ the spellings of the quarto
and folio editions of individual plays, but could hardly be called
either readily available or scholarly current.
I do appreciate the difficulty of reading Shakespeare, particularly in
one's first encounter with a given play, which is why I do not argue for
an abolition of modernised texts. Just the existence of an alternative.
Why not have a series of the quality of Arden, in early modern English,
for those who want it? Despite the market forces against it, as they
often are against worthwhile endeavours.
Rick Beato adds:
"As a high school teacher, I find the Cambridge School Shakespeare
series, [...] to be especially valuable."
From personal recollection in learning Shakespeare, I must agree that
either the Oxford or Cambridge (or other similar series) School
Shakespeare editions are wonderful for one's first encounter with the
text. Even the illustrations, I remember from the first time I read
Macbeth, were helpful to visualise what exactly was being described, or
where the action was taking place.
But (not to be excessively pedantic), what of old spelling editions? Do
they truly serve no scholarly purpose, as their absence from recent
scholarly endeavour would suggest? Or is this simply a question of
outnumbering: those who are buying Shakespeare editions in droves are
students in introductory courses, not single academics. I would suggest
that it is time for professors and teachers to perhaps overestimate the
intelligence of their students, and have at least one early modern
English edition on their reading lists. The Penguin series (what remains
of it) is an excellent start for non-Shakespeare. If anyone is aware of
old-spelling editions of Shakespeare, readily and cheaply available, I
would be buoyed to know of them.