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Chuuya Offline
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Shakespeare - December 19th 2015, 11:30 PM

Hi guys,

Next semester I'm taking a Shakespeare class - I'm really excited for it and I looked up the text I need to purchase for the class and I got a little confused.

On our virtual bookstore it gave me the Wadsworth Edition, and I looked it up on amazon and let me say it's pretty expensive. So I looked at the paperbacks also on amazon and it gave me a different edition - the Riverside. Which I have heard is the better edition to get anyway. I was confused and I wanted the cheaper and better edition. So I decided to email my professor and asked him what the difference between the editions was...

I think I might have pissed him off...and I don't think he understood my question. He emailed back with a long written response of as follows

Hello to all!

It’s that time of year when students write me with the following question: “Do I really need that big expensive Riverside edition of Shakespeare, or will any complete works edition do?” It’s a reasonable question, but there’s a long answer.

Well, there’s also a short answer. No. Any edition won’t do. And yes. You probably do need the Riverside, for several reasons.

First, the Riverside isn’t all that expensive as complete works editions go, or as college texts go in general. If you’re in biochemistry or physics, you know what I’m talking about. There are lots of used copies of the Riverside available; get one of those.

Second, all editions of Shakespeare are different—by which I mean, the text itself is different. The differences are very substantial; King Lear exists in two rather different versions, for example, which has been the bane of editors for a long time. The same is true for many of the other plays, such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. There is no one text of Shakespeare’s plays, and no editor simply reproduces the text of the quarto or folio of the play. You’ll find out what those terms mean and why they’re important when you take the class. In fact, you’ll probably know much more about them than you ever wanted, but afterward you will be able to vaunt your superior knowledge of Shakespeare and thereby cow your enemies.

Third, the Riverside has the best set of introductions, critical apparatus and appendixes available. Shockingly, I am a critical traditionalist; I think that many current postmodern, deconstructive and hyper-sexualized readings of Shakespeare’s plays are so much gibberish. The writers on each play in the Riverside are scholars of the highest caliber, and they avoid presenting that kind of critical (mis)interpretation as a basis for undergraduate reading of the text. Their work is instead analytic, well-organized, revealing and useful. Without the Riverside, you don’t get that, and you’ll need it when it’s time to write an essay.

Most importantly, the footnotes for the Riverside are absolutely essential. I cannot stress this enough: if you do not have an edition that is completely annotated, with notes, you will struggle more than need be, and certainly misunderstand some of what you are reading—or, worse yet, you may not realize that you don’t understand.

The point is made, perhaps? You will, incidentally, be asked on occasion to rephrase passages such as this one while retaining the meaning as precisely as possible. Consider yourself warned.

There are other widely used complete works editions of Shakespeare, but not many; the one edited by David Bevington would be acceptable, for example. Stay away from The Oxford Shakespeare by Wells and Taylor; it has no glossary, no footnotes, and plays some weird editorial games with the text. That text is also the basis for the Norton Shakespeare, whose introductions are pretty hilarious examples of trendy deconstructive/queer theory/Marxist materialism--and the publishers decided to print it on paper so thin that you can see the print from the opposite side through the page you’re reading, at least in the version they sent me. Very old editions, such as those edited by George Lyman Kittredge, are not terribly useful, and you have to pay attention to the quality of the footnotes; if they’re sparse, you probably don’t want that book.

And that’s about it for the moment. I haven’t made a course plan yet, but the plays we often read include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, Richard II, Henry IV part 1, King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest. Some that often make it into the course are Henry V, Othello (but we usually cover that in other English courses), and Hamlet (but ditto). I think I am going to try to find room for Coriolanus this time around, as well.

And yes, Shakespeare's plays really were written by William Shakespeare, and not by the Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe or Queen Elizabeth or Sasquatch. You'll hear all about it. Sheesh.
Should I email back and tell him that I didn't want to not buy the riverside edition - actually the opposite - and explain what I really meant? I know that not any edition will do. I know about foot notes and that the Riverside is the better option. I did not know if the Wadsworth or the Riverside were the same edition. Which is what my question was. If I needed to buy the Wadworth - which is what is on the freaking virtual bookstore, or the Riverside which is cheaper and looks exactly the same. or should I just let it be? I don't want him to hate me I was just really confused by the two different editions. I'm really looking forward to this class and I don't want him to think that I'm trying to blow it off...I was just confused?

"You'll have to decide for yourself. Walk on your own. Move forward. You've got a strong pair of legs, Rose. You should get up and use them."
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Re: Shakespeare - December 19th 2015, 11:50 PM

I wouldn't contact him about it again, it sounds like you would get a similar response and I don't think it's worth defending yourself. You're probably the millionth student to ask him a similar question and he's sick of answering it, not your fault, but I wouldn't go further with it if it's going to get on his nerves. It might be worth it to wait until the class starts so he can tell you if these are the kinds of responses he sends out. This also tells you the kind of professor you can probably expect.

I once emailed professors about which books I would need and forgot to tell them which class I was taking from them! When the guy asked for my personal information (I sent it from an email account that didn't include my name) I just didn't because at least that way he would never know who asked him the stupid question.

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