Review : The Sourcebooks Shakespeare

The Sourcebooks Shakespeare I stumbled backwards into this fine resource when I saw a Twitter reference that mentioned both iPhone and Shakespeare.  So I wrote to Marie asking if she was doing some sort of software development related to Shakespeare. Long story short, I’ve got books to review :).  Marie was nice enough to send me review copies of King Lear and Macbeth (which I will be giving away next week in some sort of contest). I am very pleasantly surprised by how cool these are.  Let me see if I can break down the layout for you.  First and foremost, each book has a traditional script of the play – on the right hand pages.  Nicely laid out, lots of whitespace, which I like.  It looks visually like the kind of thing that might be read by an actor, rather than something out of an academic textbook with microscopic print. The left-hand pages are where you find all the good stuff.  Not only is there the traditional glossary of odd words, but actual trivia, anecdotes, images, and links to the accompanying audio CD where that particular part of the scene is being read aloud, so you can follow. Think about how cool that is.  We read about Lear and the Fool stumbling across Poor Tom’s hovel, while we flip through images of other people’s interpretations of that scene.  Where we don’t get images we get descriptions, like the story about a Cordelia who plays guitar through the opening scene, showing either that she was completely not paying attention to what was going on around her and thus completely taken off guard, or else that she knew exactly and was deliberately being rude.  I couldn’t get enough of that sort of thing, and only wish there was a way that they could imbed video right in there with everything else. Also strewn throughout are editorial comments that aren’t afraid to say things as they should be, like “Lear might be referring to _____ here, or possibly ______.”  I worry for textbooks that make factual statements to impressionable students, when another book might say something different with equal confidence that their answer is the only one.  Some of the editorial choices are interesting as well, and those too are called out in the comments.  I saw several times “Some editors place a scene break here, but Kent stays on stage the whole time so we chose not to.”  Cool – explanation of editor’s decisions, and not buried someplace in an appendix that I’ll never read. The book opens with a lengthy description of Shakespeare in performance, including stories about some of the more popular interpretations (like Kurosawa’s Ran, obviously).  It ends with a lesson on how to perform Shakespeare, and the importance of the spoken presentation.  This makes sense, of course because the books each come with an audio CD containing selections of well known Shakespearean actors performing key scenes from the play.  (I am deliberately not tearing into the book to listen to those, as I want to reward some of my readers with pristine copies.) I think this is a great idea.  From the web site we see that these are clearly intended for classroom use, and I’m glad to see it.  Personally as someone long out of school I think I’d boil down all the stories and images into a single volume, leaving only key passages from the play, and do it like “King Lear in Performance” or something.  After all, I already have many copies of the play and don’t need the book to be twice as long just so I know what scene they’re talking about when they talk about Gloucester’s eyes.  But maybe that’s just me? Excellent resource, fun to read.  It’s not often I get to say this about a Shakespeare book, but this is one that you can pick up just to look at the pictures!

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