Best Anthology for High School?

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?

9 thoughts on “Best Anthology for High School?

  1. Printing up the individual plays isn't cost-free – especially if your district is trying to save money by limiting printing. Think about how much paper it would take to print 15 (if we're going very conservative) copies of one play. And those will probably only last for one or two classes, so… in the long run, it might be cheaper to buy good-quality hardbacks that will last you several years.

    Or if you have a tech-happy high school, maybe you could get kindles with the public domain text. (Still costly, though.)

  2. I'm going to second Folger, too. For that matter, if the school has iPod Touches or the kids have iPhones, they can get an app with the complete works and a glossary for cheap. I think the current price is either $1.99 or 2.99. Also, I work in a private school, and if she's talking about an elective, the flexibility makes sense. In terms of curriculum in required courses, you would be right: most schools or districts kind of lock that down. R&J in 9th, Julius Caesar in 10th, Macbeth or Hamlet in 12th is the norm. We do R&J in 9th, JC in 9th Honors, Macbeth and a comedy (depending on level, either MND, Much Ado, or Twelfth Night) for 11th, and Hamlet for 12th. There was talk for a while that I might teach the Shakespeare elective next year, but I don't think it's going to happen. If I do, I will do Richard III, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest. I am positive that if one of my colleagues does it, the students will four completely different plays.

  3. Yes, many high school teachers do have the freedom to choose. It depends on the district, but often one play will be earmarked for 9th grade and the others are up in the air. We also will occasionally get the opportunity to teach electives using the plays.

    As for why one would need the textbook, I'm not a huge fan of textbooks but having an annotated version of the play is extremely useful. The version I prefer of Hamlet, for instance, includes explanations of phrases we may not be used to. There have been many times when I have had no idea what a particular reference meant, but the book explained it right there on the page.

    Plus, a textbook lasts a few years. Printing copies of each individual play for 30-150 students can take up a huge mass of paper that will get destroyed and need to be replaced the next year, not to mention the time you have to spend making the copies.

    We don't have money to buy complete works. Heck, we don't have money to buy individual editions – my kids had to use three different versions of the play last time we read Hamlet because we didn't have enough copies of one version. Kids don't lose their huge textbooks very often, but small books disappear all the time.

    I really wish we could get one of those big old things. That would be nice.

  4. I would say use the online texts, but for the most part they're basically copies of the Moby, which is really the 1866 Globe Edition. But in effect, not much has changed as far as formatting goes–most of the textual "editing" has been passed down through the centuries and exists in whatever commercial form we see it in today anyway. MIT and UVA both use the Moby or some version of it.

    That being said, if economics is an issue, why not conflate your own version (printing cost only) from the electronic texts–folio, quarto, and Moby, based upon what you like in versions you already know? Last year I conducted a master class for a prep school English professor who conflated his own version of R&J for study and performance from texts available on the net. In comparing his text to folio and quarto versions in a rehearsal I attended before the class, there were important things he found that were non-evident in published editions. These things showed themselves glaringly well in a performance I returned to attend.

    As far as annotations go, I hate to say it after 2 glowing reports but Folger's, although very popular is the worst in my opinion. They're just more "out there" in market visibility. Their blank pages, which would be filled in other editions, leave out way too many references in an effort to be squeaky clean for the "curriculum gods" as Duane called them.They limit a teacher to their decisions on what might or might not be acceptable, trying to be "all-purpose". It changes the whole tenor and meaning of scenes and character in many instances. Nothing about Shakespeare is so limiting and easily categorized or homogenized . If you've already used the Norton, I think you'd be sorely disappointed with Folger's. But again, that's just my opinion.

    Well worth the purchase price with the money which would be saved using electronic collation and conflation, copies of a good glossary or glossaries like David & Ben Crystal's "Shakespeare's Words (A Glossary & Language Companion)" or C.T. Onion's "A Shakespeare Glossary" would be light years more comprehensive than any commercial annotations, and would serve the same purpose.
    It would seem that you already have enough good literary criticism. Although Jonathan Bates (editor) in the RSC version does break some new ground in his attitude toward the importance of the original texts. (available at UVA electronic texts) His treatise is available at the RSC site.

  5. Haley here:

    I teach in a poor community. Not all students have access to computer at home. Also, Gutenburg ? MIT versions don't have footnotes needed. So that's out. Besides, computers in the classroom aren't as great as you'd think. I've done it.

    Printing copies is down because of the cost of paper and ink. Our paper usage is tracked. If it was ONE play, that would be one thing, but we cover 6-7 plays.

    My course is an elective. In Indiana, there is a statewide course description of overall expectations for electives, but content is teacher driven. Students read Romeo and Juliet as freshmen and Julius Caesar as sophomores. Typically Hamlet or Macbeth for seniors. I get to do what I want, pretty much.

    I usually cover Titus, Taming, Henry 4-1, Midsummer, Lear, Much Ado and then if time, I throw in either As You Like It/12th Night/or Merchant. Also, we do a big chunk of the sonnets and do movie analysis.

  6. In my never-ending (and never-seeing-the-light-of-day) list of potential business ideas, I've often thought about a print-on-demand service for Shakespeare text, much like JM describes. You as the educator would go through material, both original and user contributed (lesson ideas, study questions, etc…) and build your own little batch to make up your book. You'd then sent it off to a print-on-demand service and have the text for your class.

    The technology almost certainly exists to do all of this, but unfortunately I expect it would be too expensive for most educators to fully take advantage of.

  7. Listening to the all too familiar laments about finances and funding elicits from me what I'm sure is a similar thought in the minds of many teachers. Even though it might be full of political land mines, I'll say it out loud here.

    Of course, lots of "less important" "too expensive" things would be possible if only some money could be borrowed from..oh,….say… the sports programs. Why is it they never seem to have as much trouble getting what they "need" in order to properly teach the subject? Those "supplies" wear out as fast as paper and are replaced without question ad infinitum. And the bar is held just as high for students when the specialty in colleges and universities happens to be Literature.
    Collectively, where are our Priorities?
    I'm off the soapbox–but still mightily miffed 🙂

  8. Given those parameters, Haley, I personally always have to go with the more performance oriented texts. But that's me. I'd have to say the RSC version is the best bet overall, both for analysis that's not overburdened with too much scholarly jargon and for their handling of the textual format. Otherwise, for the exact opposite reasons I'd go with Arden for "the works" on The Works.
    You probably already know that the RSC is officially sanctioned by the Ministry of Education in Great Britain to teach not only students, but teachers of Shakespeare in alternative approaches to teaching the work. This came after 65% of their students (30,000) scored 50% or less and 5% scored 0% on key stage 3 exams. Things are better after a few years with the RSC approach.–Clearer, I think. But I'm only speaking from the personal viewpoint, after having implemented some of their techniques and having devised my own extracted from their philosophy. You, of course, know your students better than anyone and can choose better than anyone commenting here, based upon that knowledge.

  9. I teach in Australia and you will find most schools do one Shakespeare per grade per year. The cost involved in having these folios per kid per grade would be far too much.

    I agree that having these big fat collections would stop the ease of performances. I love having my boys up and Pucking, Juliet and Nursing, stabbing, philosophising, soliloquying and what not.

    I also find notes on each page in the Cambridge education editions, the activities, pictures and other features. In NSW at least these are the staple of Shakespeare education.

    These books, properly covered will last a good 10 years.

    As laptops are becoming more commmon some students are starting to annotate in a word document which the find helpful since they are not supposed to write in school owned copies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *