Which Shakespeare Edition Would You Recommend?

I love when I get questions like this. An unnamed reader (I’m not sure if she’s supposed to be asking this) has just been placed in charge with ordering copies of Shakespeare’s plays to be made available in the gift shop of the theatre company she works with.  So she’s asked me, and by extension us, for recommendations on which publisher’s editions to get.  In her own words she’s looking for something that, “stays true to the bard but would be readable for people new to Shakespeare.”

I know you’ll all have some great suggestions!  Earlier this year we had discussion of carrying around your own copy of the First Folio and people seemed to land on the Norton version – but would this satisfy our questioner’s requirements? Is it still approachable in the way she’s looking for?

UPDATE: My source says thank you for all the ideas!  We can keep discussing favorites, of course, but she’s thinking about going with Folger editions for her needs. 

On a different note does anybody know if any of these versions are available in an online / iPhone edition? That’s how I do all my reading these days.

14 thoughts on “Which Shakespeare Edition Would You Recommend?

  1. I like the Folger.

    As an actor, I usually go with Arden and First Folio. I studied the First Folio method (where you use the original punctuation as guidelines to act by). Arden has the most thorough footnotes for actors. (I've heard people make cases about Riverside footnotes as well.)

    But when I'm reading a play quickly (like when I need to prepare a scene for acting class without a lot of notice), I grab the Folger. Something about the layout (notes on the left, text on the right) is very user-friendly, accessible, digestible, and somehow less intimidating than a cluttered Arden text. And I find that it gives me the translation notes I need without getting too far into the complicated notes about editing and context. The layout also leaves room for me to write in my own notes if need be.

  2. I like the Royal Shakespeare Company's modern edition of the First Folio. I reach for it whenever I want to look something up, or read one of the plays. There are single-play books of the Royal Shakespeare Company edition too.

  3. I agree that Folger would probably be most suitable for the situation you described. I recommend Folger versions to my students who need an annotated text for at home study. As Angela stated, it is organized in a logical manner with clear and concise annotations.

  4. I love the Pelican editions–Pelican being Penguin's Shakespeare publishing group. I find the pages and print more readable than Folger's, and the footnotes (at the bottom of the page) are very helpful, although they don't replace the OED of course.

  5. Factors for buying editions of plays for a Theatre bookstore are different than for buy plays for a classroom. It may be best to get the Dover Thrift because its cheep and easy and you wont get too bogged down with everything in it.

    I agree with everything Angela says (though that's not surprising since I just graduated from NCF… Angela, I loved watching the students at the Asolo during my time there and will miss it now that I'm gone.) Folger is great for College students, and they often include a brief production history at the front so the audience members who read it could compare the production they saw to the descriptions of past performances. The Folger is nice for convenient reading.

    It's really hard to say.

  6. I've seen several theatres with the Prestwick House Literary Classics. I know the ASC has personalized them with their logo–I'm not sure if this is something any theatre can do or if they just sponsored the printing–or if you can order generic copies.

    For some reason, I've never personally been a fan of the widely circulated editions–Arden, Folger, or Pelican (though I admit the size of Pelican is nice). My go-to editions are definitely the Signets, so much so that I tracked down the Signet Complete Works. They have a clean reading and great (and un-obnoxious) footnotes.
    However, for a theatre, if they're going to account for those who (for some unknown reason) would want to "read along," one of the smaller, flatter editions (like the Pelican) would probably be best.

    1. Does the Signet Complete Works version have little circles next to the words in the text that are referenced by footnotes? I like those a lot.

  7. That was uncanny Duane. o_O

    Also uncanny: I too am a CS geek who discovered Shakespeare solo in college! So needless to say, I was very happy to find this blog. Stunned, really. I thought I was one of a kind (how silly of me to forget that nothing new's under the sun).

    Btw, p-e-s = planet-express-ship (from a very geeky show)

    PS To stay OT, I would ask: what about stocking up on something like the Oxford editions, or the Arden series? The amount of footnotes in them is not conducive to practicing live, but they are the next best thing to actually having a copy of the OED for close study of the action and characters. They're probably more useful for directors than anything…

  8. I agree with Stacie about the Signet edition, with Pelican as a second. They both have a good balance between enough annotation without too much. I think the glosses in the signet are high quality. I do not like the Folger. I has a tendency to paraphrase rather than explain the text and that takes away from any ability to understand the poetry.

    I think both the Arden and New Cambridge are top-notch critical editions if you want everything, but as with any comprehensive collection, they vary by editor, so some plays are better than others. They are very dense and not for the casual reader. I am new to the Riverside, so I have no comment on that.

  9. I disagree with Carl. Though different editors work on each play for the Arden and Cambridge editions, I have yet to notice any difference in quality between the different volumes of the Arden and Cambridge editions. The general editors of both are professionals and have seen to a thorough consistency in standards. Having worked closely with Arden, all of them are well prepared with excellent introductions, comprehensible notes and useful supplements – not to mention readable texts. I may be wrong about Cambridge though but I don't think so.

    With regards to which text to get, I'm not so sure if I agree that casual readers won't appreciate Arden or Cambridge or whatever. It really depends on what kind of "casual reader" you are. If you are the type of casual reader that loves history and context (even if you aren't a grad student or academic studying Shakespeare), Arden or Cambridge may be for you. In fact, I've known several casual readers of Shakespeare who really enjoy these volumes and have little difficulty with the notes and introductions. If you are the type of casual reader that doesn't care so much for history or notes and just want the text, than Folger or Signet may work for you, though I'd probably prefer Folger. Plus there are many other editions left out of the discussion on this thread. People who are most concerned with the plays as performance texts would love the Royal Shakespeare Company's edition of the complete works, put out by Modern Library in the US and Palgrave Macmillan in the UK. The performance histories in the RSC volumes are really nice. Oxford World Classics also has nice editions of Shakespeare's individual plays.

    With regards to complete works, you could always get the complete tomes of Arden or Cambridge or RSC (ML in America or Palgrave in Britain). But there's also the classic Oxford Shakespeare, which is considered authoritative. Or its derivative – The Norton Shakespeare prepared by Stephen Greenblatt – one of the greatest Shakespeare scholars of our time. That may be my favorite complete tome. There's the Yale Shakespeare too. Riverside Shakespeare is a classic one as well. And if you like illustrations, The Complete Illustrated Shakespeare illustrated by John Gilbert and Ray Abel is an excellent tome to get. It's a huge hardcover from the 70's. I don't think it's in print but there are many MANY copies available second-hand that you can get. Each play in that volume comes accompanied by critical afterwords prepared by classic Shakespeare scholars like Schlegel, Coleridge, Johnson and Drake.

    My biggest advice to newcomers however who want to have the chance to decide whether to like Shakespeare or not would be to read the plays individually and not in some huge complete tome. Those are for the already converted who have some experience and would like to read a play or two from one big tome. Reading them individually allows you to engage each play and decide on its own terms whether you like it or not. Less intimidating, especially for a beginner. The best single editions for beginners, imho, are those prepared by Penguin via its Pelican Shakespeare series. They provide a critical apparatus that isn't extensive but ample enough to provide detailed contextual background info to the general reader without drowning him or her in it. The texts they use are accurate and the introductions are by competent and well-respected scholars. And the best part – in the grand tradition of Penguin, they are insanely affordable! Anyone wanting to start Shakespeare for the first time who wants a serious introduction to him should get these. I much prefer them to Folger or Signet.

  10. I appreciate your comments, Chathan Vemuri, and I thank you for pointing out the consistently high scholarship of the Arden and New Cambridge editions, a point which I would not argue. However, especially if one is to recommend them to the adventurous beginner, I do find that, although the scholarship is always high, the various editorial tasks are handled better or worse by various editors. (I should mention I have been through perhaps 15-20 of the Arden plays and a handful of the New Cambridge.) My concerns are with the adequacy of glosses, the transmission of the text (not fiddling with it too much, and at least being careful to explain when and why one is fiddling), avoiding extraneous digressions, and avoiding unsupportable suppositions. Perhaps I am more demanding than many, but the intent of my statement was merely to warn that if one picks up a play from these highly regarded scholarly editions and finds oneself disappointed or struggling, the best course may be to move on to another volume (or another edition).

Leave a Reply

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