Shakespeare For Dummies and “Smarties”

On numerous occasions I have been reading an edition of one of Shakespeare’s plays and come across an unfamiliar word. I find the corresponding footnote, and lo and behold! the unfamiliar word is defined with an other unfamiliar, albeit more modern, word. If I didn’t have internet access or my healthy library of research materials on my bookshelf I would be very very very peeved. With all the aforementioned at my disposal, I usually am only just peeved.

All of the “standard” editions of Shakespeare (Arden, Penguin, etc) have a few of these in there. I should call them scholarly editions. There is another type of Shakespeare edition out there where this does not occur. I call these the “for dummies” editions. But these editions attempt to translate Shakespeare’s words, and I have already discussed how I feel about that. One of the problems with this type of editions is that Shakespeare seems inaccessible without of one these editions. To the student (or perhaps the average adult) who picks up a scholarly edition may find Shakespeare completely inaccessible and the book they have may not help at all. Some of them are packed so full of definitions that one can easily read the definition of every word and not understand the story at all. So the published edition may be partly to blame for the common assumption that Shakespeare is only accessible to the intellectual snob. If you had little to no Shakespeare experience wouldn’t you be frustrated too? Maybe give up halfway and read the sparknotes summary and try your luck on the quiz at school, if you happen to still be in school.

So where is the marriage between the intellectual and the creative parts of the Shakespeare’s plays? I don’t really have a good answer for that. It seems to be a zig-zag or roundabout way to find it — and it’s unique to every person I’ve talked to — and some do give up along the way before getting too far. If you’re reading this and have any recommendations please share. I’d love to let the masses know, “This is what you need to read,” and end the Bardophobic pandemic.

I’m almost inspired to create my own edition of a Shakespeare play to see if I can do a good one. One that is readable by the young student, actor, and “smartie.” Might be fun! I’ll find the time some day… some year.