Editions of Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s plays have been edited, re-edited, and re-published countless times over the past few centuries. The number of different editions available for purchase in your local bookstore is frightening to some. Many customers aren’t sure which to buy. I worked in a bookstore once upon a time. Clueless customers aren’t always fun.

I’m not going to be a salesman today and tell you which edition I would purchase. You, if you choose, will tell me. Sort of.

I’ve been paying extra attention to footnotes, introductions, and appendices in editions of Shakespeare’s plays lately. I’ve been hearing and reading what an editor of a text actually DOES. It fascinates me. The editor must choose what they feel is the best spelling/punctuation/definition for this passage. Are they creating what they feel is most “authentic,” “understandable,” or “performable”?

As one who works in theatre, my bias is towards what can be performed. If I were to direct a show I would be creating my own edit of the text, to some extent… but not as pedantic as published editions. Maybe someday I’ll do my own full scholarly edit of a text. Maybe when I have a whole year with nothing else to do. In other words: not anytime soon.

But now I turn my attention toward you, gentle reader. What do you prefer to have in an edition of a play if you were to purchase one? Do you want summaries before each scene? A bio of Shakespeare at the beginning? Commentary on the differences between the Folio and Quarto editions? Do you want a copious cornucopia of footnotes? Definitions? Paraphrases? And what would you use this version for? Study in classroom? Performance? Reading for pleasure? Do you have different requirements for an edition for each of the aforementioned purposes? Maybe you wouldnt buy one at all, but instead download a freely available text from the internet?

If you have a favorite edition or two, tell me! And why? There’s a lot of Shakespeare out there, and a lot of Shakespeare fans out there who all want and need something different. I’ll share with you my preferences and processes of working with the text in an upcoming post. But what do YOU need in your book?