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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2009
I was quite interested in this volume, wanting something less bulky and more convenient than the full Norton Shakespeare (which I own), but having the same layout and editorial content. This volume looks ideal, but none of the reviews that I've seen list the contents. How can we decide if we're interested if we don't know what it contains?

After some searching on the internet, I found a copy of the contents hidden away on the Norton site. According to Norton, here is what is contained in "The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays / The Sonnets":
----------------------------------------------
List of Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments

General Introduction
Stephen Greenblatt
Shakespeare's World
The Playing Field
Shakespeare's Life and Art
The Dream of the Master Text

The Shakespearean Stage, Andrew Gurr

Comedies
Shakespearean Comedy, Katharine Eisaman Maus
The Taming of the Shrew
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the
Jew of Venice
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
Twelfth Night, or What You Will
Measure for Measure

Histories
Shakespearean History, Jean E. Howard
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third
The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
The History of Henry the Fourth (1 Henry IV)
The Life of Henry the Fifth

Tragedies
Shakespearean Tragedy, Stephen Greenblatt
The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
The Tragedy of King Lear: A Conflated Text
From The History of King Lear, Scene 8
From The Tragedy of King Lear 3.1
The Tragedy of Macbeth
The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra

Romances
Shakespearean Romance, Walter Cohen
The Winter's Tale
The Tempest

The Sonnets

Appendices
MAPS
Early Modern Map Culture, Jean E. Howard
Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, and Western France: Places
Important to Shakespeare's Plays
London: Places Important to Shakespeare's Plays and London
Playgoing
The Mediterranean World: Places Important to Shakespeare's Plays
The "Kingdome of Great Britaine and Ireland," from John Speed's The
Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (1612)
Printed map of London, from Braun and Hogenberg's atlas of European
cities (1574)
Map of the Holy Land, from the Théodore de Bèze Bible (1592)

DOCUMENTS
Robert Greene on Shakespeare (1592)
Thomas Nashe on 1 Henry VI (1592)
Francis Meres on Shakespeare (1598)
Thomas Platter on Julius Caesar (September 21, 1599)
Gabriel Harvey on Hamlet, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of
Lucrece (1598-1603)
Contract for the Building of the Fortune Theatre (1600)
Augustine Phillips, Francis Bacon, et al. on Richard II (1601)
John Manningham on Twelfth Night and Richard III (1602)
Letters Patent Formalizing the Adoption of the Lord Chamberlain's Men
as the King's Men (May 19, 1603)
Master of the Wardrobe's Account (March 1604)
Simon Forman on Macbeth, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale (1611)
Sir Henry Wotton on All Is True (Henry VIII) and the Burning of the
Globe (1613)
Ben Jonson on The Tempest (and Titus Andronicus) (1614)
Shakespeare's Will (March 25, 1616)
Front Matter from the First Folio of Shakespeare's Plays (1623)
John Milton on Shakespeare (1630)
Ben Jonson on Shakespeare (1623-37)
John Aubrey on Shakespeare (1681)

Timeline
Textual Variants
General Bibliography
Glossary
Index of Sonnets
Index of Songs
Index of Plays
---------------------------------------

I don't quite understand why the currently listed Amazon price ($70.31) is higher than the complete Norton Shakespeare, and I'll be waiting to order until the price is corrected.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2009
This book is clearly meant to "compete" with David Bevington's _The Necessary Shakespeare._ Both books cover the same 21 plays and the complete sonnets...which can hardly be a coincidence. Both include background and performance material that is meant to contextualize the material for the intended audience (primarily students in undergraduate Shakespeare courses).

The Bevington book is superior. The prefatory material is better and more wide-ranging (the section on Shakespeare in performance is particularly good), the accompanying illustrations are far superior, and the plays themselves are better annotated. Even functional details lean toward the Bevington...the book is more bulky, but easier to read, with far higher quality paper and binding. Part of this is certainly because the Bevington book is now in its third edition and has been gradually improved in each subsequent edition.

My main problem with all volumes/editions of the Norton Shakespeare is the average (at best) editing of Stephen Greenblatt at this time. Dr. Greenblatt is certainly a gifted theorist and commentator; he does not, however, edit these plays in a consistent manner. His work on King Lear is particularly spotty. The distinctions and differences between Quarto 1 and Quarto 2 of Lear are known to every serious Shakespearean scholar. The way that an individual editor chooses to combine or edit or disregard these works could, indeed, be interesting and informative to students . Greenblatt reprints extra material from Q1 without indicating that the rest of his play has several passages from and emendations resulting from Q1. He goes into depth to "show" the non-standard material in some places without indicating how, in other places, it is used (and useful). It is puzzling and, unfortunately, somewhat typical of the haphazard way the plays have been edited here.

Which is not to say that this (or any) version of the Norton Shakespeare is completely ruined by these issues. But the problem is that there are several very good Shakespeare compilations the Norton(s) compete with...and this edition, in particular, is obviously a response to a single edition from another publisher/editor. And in this case, the Norton edition is inferior to the Bevington.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2012
A major flaw infects the Oxford Shakespeare, from which the Norton Shakespeare is derived: the editing of Shakespeare's texts themselves. The editors seem to have been driven by a desire to make a splash, even if this meant questionable and arbitrary editing of the texts, and so the Oxford/Norton Shakespeare features such oddness as:

* Two versions of King Lear, 90% identical and each missing some familiar lines (the Norton has three versions)
* A Macbeth that has had non-Shakespearean material added in to it, allowing it to be co-credited to Thomas Middleton (one editor is a Middleton fan)
* A Hamlet that has lost some of its most significant passages to an appendix
* Significant, damaging cuts to many of the other plays
* A Pericles with huge chunks of non-Shakespearean material added in, all of it terrible.
* Falstaff renamed to "Oldcastle" in Henry IV Part 1, though not in Part 2
* Wholly new stage directions that have been added in without note
* A horribly inept poem, "Shall I die", near-universally agreed upon not to be by Shakespeare, yet claimed as such

Yes: good Shakespeare material has been removed from the plays, and bad non-Shakespeare material has been added in.

So be aware that you will be reading versions of the plays that are substantially different than from what most people have read over the last century, or indeed, the last few centuries. And, usually, substantially worse versions. The changes tend to damage the plays, not improve them. The Norton Edition removes some of the most grotesque alterations (like Falstaff/Oldcastle), but hardly enough to undo the damage. It also raises the question of why Norton chose to use Oxford in the first place.

David Bevington's The Complete Works of Shakespeare (6th Edition) is an entirely more reasonable, thoughtful, and better-produced choice. Jonathan Bate's William Shakespeare Complete Works (Modern Library) is similarly sensible and somewhat cheaper.

For evidence on the specifics, I will turn matters over to expert Shakespeareans, who have complained loudly about this edition for the last 25 years:

David Bevington: "Hamlet is another matter, for here we deal primarily not with duplicatory passages but with whole speeches that the Oxford editors remove (or banish to an appendix) on the hypothesis that Shakespeare wished to excise them in his revised (Folio) version of the play. My problem with the adoption of this bold option is in being uncertain that Shakespeare made these particular cuts willingly. Many familiar passages from Richard III are missing from the text now given to us, having been relegated to a supplementary list of additional passages where they are out of context. A note at the head of these additional passages states that they were 'apparently omitted from performances,' but I question whether they were omitted from all performances, and, even if so, whether Shakespeare really preferred things that way. This edition cuts some Q materials from its text of Troilus and Cressida, along with Pandarus's epilogue. The text of Measure for Measure will surprise some of its readers by its omission of certain well-known passages."

Brian Vickers: "The editors' evidence (only published in 1993) for Middleton's hand in Measure for Measure mostly concerns Act One Scene Two, where several stylistic features, and some dramaturgical loose ends, suggest a revision by Middleton in about 1621. While accepting their attribution, I find it perverse that the Oxford-Norton editors should have printed Middleton's revised scene in their text, knowing that it was "made for Shakespeare's company after his death", and consequently relegating Shakespeare's briefer and wittier original to an appendix called "Additional Passages". But this textual waste bin should really be called "Passages Deducted by the Oxford Editors"."

Grace Ioppolo: "Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, William Montgomery and John Jowett, the editors of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, constructed their edition from two unsustainable arguments about scribal copy. First, these editors argued that any manuscript copy that contained act notations could not be authorial but must be scribal prior to 1609, when they assume Shakespeare's company moved into the private Blackfriars theatre at which music was played between acts. Second, they argued that scribes routinely introduced `interference' into the manuscripts they were copying, either by extensively adding their own or cutting the author's material."
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on June 9, 2014
This was a required textbook for a core English class, that I had intended to sell back as soon as the class is finished. The collection of Shakespeare's works included here goes well past the 7 plays we had to read. This book was very helpful for class and will remain with me for years to come as I am digging deeper into the bard's great legacy. I have used other books but this version is the most helpful to students as it has many footnotes that make it easier to understand the text and get the jokes.
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on January 25, 2013
There is just about every work I could ever want to read by the Bard in this book. It was a wonderful companion during my Shakespeare class, and I couldn't be happier to put this on my shelf. I'm especially happy with the footnotes and quick definitions, which were definitely the best tool to use to ease my understanding on Shakespearian language. No more of that No Fear Shakespeare junk, this book has helped me to decipher Early Modern English on my own.
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on December 23, 2014
I bought this book as a textbook for one of my classes. I love Norton books. The footnotes and side notes are very helpful. The Introductions give background about the plays and sonnets. The only problem I had is that I only needed it for the tragedies and it included all of the plays. So, if you want all of Shakespeare's plays, then Norton is your book!
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on May 12, 2015
This book is an extensive collection of all of Shakespeare works. I am using it for a class on his works and although, as I told the professor, I do not understand his comedies; I can appreciate the talent of this man and his ability to engage his audience.
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on October 24, 2014
Even though the book I got was used it was still in pretty good condition. As for the book itself it's great having so many works in one place.
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on September 4, 2013
Needed this for a class. The introductions in it are really cool. Was much less expensive on here than my school bookstore (saved like $40)
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on February 9, 2014
The book was in brand new condition. Font is small and the book is huge - everything you need to know about Shakespeare is in here.
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