The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0068  Tuesday, 16 February 2010


From:         John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         February 15, 2010 1:44:37 PM EST

Subject:      Musings on the Arden Shakespeare


Late last year the most recent volume was published in the Arden Shakespeare Third Series: "King Richard III", edited by James R. Siemon (if the image on the Amazon website is to be believed, there was a last-minute title change from "Richard III"...) This has the dubious honour of marking the fourth or fifth publishing company for the Arden Shakespeare since the commencement of the Third Series in 1995. It also marks the re-uniting of the Arden Shakespeare with the Methuen name in the somewhat nebulous form of the "Methuen Drama" list. (How the present publishers acquired the Methuen Drama name is a bit of a mystery, since Methuen Publishing is once more an independent company, albeit one shorn of most of its famous backlist.) Another dubious honour is that the paperback of King Richard III is the first of the third series to be perfect-bound -- a doubtful economy in a 500 page book. Sewn binding for the paperbacks was introduced with the last of the Second Series, Harold Jenkins' magisterial Hamlet -- probably because it had a magisterial 592 pages...


The Arden Shakespeare began with the first series which started in 1899 and limped on until 1944. The texts of its plays were based on that of the Cambridge Shakespeare of 1863-6 (the predecessor of John Dover Wilson's Cambridge New Shakespeare and the present New Cambridge Shakespeare [1984-]) When the Second Series was planned in 1946 -- in an Age of Austerity -- someone had the bright idea of keeping the text and page layout of the First Series, and the new editors inserting their notes and commentary into the available space. Eventually it was realised that the editions employed stereotype plates rather than standing type, and it would cost more to change them than reset from scratch! The first editors had to start all over again...


The Second Series established itself as a scholarly and authoritative modern-spelling series, with increasingly detailed introductions and notes -- the later volumes are particularly fine. But this only showed up the relative inadequacy of the earliest volumes, and the typographical conventions for the text itself were becoming increasingly outdated. The series ground to a halt in 1982 (the Sonnets volume was never published.) Competition immediately arose with Oxford and Cambridge both launching rival series with a much more modern appearance. Both were initially 'leaner', but have become more detailed over the years.


The First Series and the Second Series were published by Methuen & Co. The second series was a stablemate of the Revels Plays, but the latter were sold to Manchester University Press in the 1970s. This was probably around the time of the merger with Eyre & Spottiswode, and later absorption into the bloated conglomerate Associated British Publishers -- which later absorbed Routledge and was itself to fall into the clutches of International Thomson.


As a result of all this, when the Third Series was launched in 1995 it was under the Routledge imprint. Thomson soon tired, however, of trying to make the former ABP imprints profitable and divested itself of them, retaining the Arden Shakespeare, which became a separate imprint under Thomson's publishing company Thomas Nelson & Sons. A few years later, however, Thomson sold Nelson while retaining the educational arm which was re-named Thomson Learning, and still included the Arden Shakespeare. In 2007 Thomson Learning was sold to vulture capitalists, who re-named it Cengage Learning. Cengage Learning only managed to publish two AS volumes under their imprint -- they are chiefly noted for trying to make the AS both leaner (in terms of costs -- sacking wayward editors in the process) and fatter (in terms of profits), with a view to selling it off. This duly happened in 2009, when it was purchased by Bloomsbury Publishing, who placed it with their A & C Black company where it became a stablemate of the New Mermaids!


The Third Series imprints have thus been:



Arden Shakespeare (International Thomson/Thomas Nelson & Sons)

Thomson Learning

Cengage Learning

Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury/A&C Black)


If you are confused by all this, how do you think I feel?


John Briggs



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