Regular reader and contributor Haley writes in with the following question:
I teach a high school survey course for grades 10-12. We normally have around 10 in a class, but enrollment is creeping up. With that bait, I’d like to campaign for a new textbook. When we adopted new books as an English department, we didn’t get Shakespeares because they are always expensive and the ones we have are in good condition.
The first seven years were Nortons, and then were switched to Riverside second editions, which we now have. They aren’t BAD. But they are large, cumbersome, with Bible paper and teeny-text.
I just received–TODAY–the RSC Complete Works based on the Folio. Just looking at the layout and skimming some intro material to the plays, it looks way more accessible for the high school crowd. The Riverside intros are great in the academic sense, but overwhelming for teenagers so it’s never used.
Some have asked me why I don’t get individual copies of what I teach. I don’t because it would actually cost more to by 7-8 sets of paperbacks that won’t last as long. Also, I like having the complete works because I have flexibility in deciding "I feel like ’12th Night’!" over ‘As You Like It."
I’m intrigued by what sort of discussion this post can open up, on a number of levels. A high school teacher with the freedom to decide which play to teach? Really? I would have thought that was pretty firmly locked down by the curriculum gods, especially if Advanced Placement classes are in the picture. I’ve often wondered why, in the interests of keeping expense down, teachers don’t simply hit up the public domain versions available at Project Gutenberg and print up individual plays. Are all the extras really that useful? Which parts, exactly? The glossary and footnotes? The summaries? The questions at the end of each scene? How much of that could we simulate and tack on to the existing public domain stuff?