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The edition vs. the content, a reviewer’s dilemma...
on July 24, 2015
How can a reviewer give Shakespeare a three-star review, other than all those high school students who prefer to write two sentence 1-star reviews because they were forced to read it? Ah, there’s the rub, to coin a phrase, but I am NOT giving Shakespeare 3-stars: rather the edition I have just read, and even less than three stars for the manner in which Amazon displays the editions. It is just flat confusing, and wrong. Since I started my effort to read all of Shakespeare, at the pace of one work a month, I have been purchasing all the works for Kindle reading. The edition I purchased does have a cover which corresponds with the cover (currently) displayed on Amazon – the statue in the fountain, with the portico in the background. But the edition is (maddeningly!) incomplete – the last few pages are missing! At least the confirmation was comforting – a couple other reviewers gave it a 1-star review – for incompleteness, and not because they were forced to read it. And who could quibble with that?
Then there is the matter that at least two other hardcopy editions are displayed on the same page, and the “editorial reviews” that are associated with the Kindle edition seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the edition since they speak of “copious and concise explanatory notes” et al., with the other review mentioning appendixes that relate to Plutarch, Montaigne, et al. And none of this exists in the edition I purchased, admitted for only 99 cents... but still. If this was a page on Wikipedia, there would be three separate whisk brooms, with the admonition that “this page needs to be (really!) cleaned up.
Oh yes, was there an actual play involved in all the above grousing? Definitely, and I must have read 95% percent of the complete play, which poses its own sort of dilemma in terms of recording the play as “read.” It is yet another classic story – historically based – of power, corruption, intrigue, and death. The death of Julius Caesar marked a key transition in Roman history, from Republic, in its faded forms, to Empire.
As with so much Greek and Roman drama, Shakespeare commences with a prophecy warning of the ides of March. A prime plotter against Caesar, Cassius, brings in Brutus (of “et tu?” fame) and seeks the “respectability” of bringing in the “silver hair” of Cicero. There are refreshingly “modern” and straightforward details such as Cassius relating incidents from his youth together with Caesar, a swim in the Tiber (in which the latter almost drown) to an illness in Spain, all proof, he says, that Caesar is not a god. There is a discussion among the plotters about killing Mark Anthony too, but then the consensus is that it would be too much like a butchery, and not a “seasoned excise” of this ugly boil upon the Republic.
Caesar is killed, literally on the floor of the Senate, obviously long before those ubiquitous metal detectors. He is killed half way through the play, so the remainder is devoted to the (naturally inevitable?) falling out among the plotters, including a key division between Cassius and Brutus. Anthony performs a brilliant funeral oration, that seems to argue on the justice of the killing, but actually turns the tide against the plotters. He allies himself with Octavius, who would become Emperor.
At one level, an “exhausting read” of intrigue and perfidy that makes “hanging chads” a much preferable method for power transitions. Who would have thought I’d say that? The plotters do lose out in the end... if I only knew what that actually end was! 3-stars, reflecting a “triangulation” between an excellent play and an incomplete edition that did not live up to its advertising.