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Sunday, February 7, 2016

A "Heavy" Read: A Single-Volume Shakespeare

Because 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I’ve decided that throughout the year, I will occasionally focus on some Shakespeare books to be found on Schatje’s Shelves.

Today I’m featuring The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington.  I have the 6th edition, published in 2008, though I gather that there is now a 7th edition available – published in 2012.  This is not a cheap text; the most recent edition costs over $150(CAN).  It is well worth the price; I think it’s the best single-volume Shakespeare.

Bevington is an American literary scholar who has been called "One of the most learned and devoted of Shakespeareans," by Harold Bloom. Apparently, he is the only living scholar to have personally edited Shakespeare's complete corpus.

The introduction of The Complete Works of Shakespeare is 106 pages long with sections on Life in Shakespeare’s England, Drama before Shakespeare, London Theaters and Dramatic Companies, Shakespeare’s Life, Shakespeare’s Language and Development as Poet and Dramatist, Editions and Editors of Shakespeare, and Shakespeare Criticism. 

The text is organized by genre:  comedies, histories, tragedies, romances, and poems. 
Each play is introduced by a descriptive essay which outlines the themes to be found.  Extensive footnotes appear throughout; they are complete, concise and accurate.  The annotations are, as a rule, helpful without being intrusive.
One useful feature of the layout is that, instead of being given the usual style of line numbering (10, 20, 30, etc.), numbers occur only at the end of lines which have footnotes.  This approach eliminates the tedious and time-wasting hassle of line counting, and the frustration of searching through footnotes only to find that no note exists.  If a line has a note, the reader will know at once, and the notes are easy for the eye to locate as the keywords preceding notes are in bold type.

At the end of the book, there are four appendices.  One discusses the dates and early texts of each of the plays; the second explains the sources of each of the plays; the third focuses on performances of the plays throughout the ages; and the last lists, play by play, the various film versions of the plays.

So in this year of celebrating The Bard, if you are interested in purchasing a really good single-volume edition of Shakespeare’s works, I’d recommend this one.