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World of Shakespeare: The Complete Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare (38 Volume Library) Hardcover – May, 2006
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World of Shakespeare: The Complete Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare (38 Volume Library)
The set contains all the plays, excluding Two Noble Kinsmen--wherein they agree with the single-volume Pelican Shakespeare second edition--and the Sonnets, but not the other non-dramatic poetry, which the single volume does contain. Why the editors chose to exclude the other non-dramatic poetry is not clear, unless it was simply volume-size considerations. Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, The Passionate Pilgrim and A Lover's Complaint would perhaps have been too thin to place in their own volume, and added to the Sonnets would have made that volume too thick. Surely they could have been accommodated somewhere, however. This is the only complaint I have about this outstanding edition.
Each of the volumes are individually bound in navy cloth covers with silver stamped titles on front covers and spines. From the outside they are not things of great beauty, but serviceable and pleasant. They feel good in the hand, their covers giving them the substantiality the Pelican (and most other paperbacks) lack. They are tightly and attractively bound, with head ribbons, decorative endpapers (pale blue leaves on cream-colored paper) and long navy-blue ribbon place markers. The pages are attractive, with ample margins for note-taking (something I feel is essential in a Shakespeare) without binding the text too close to the gutter (a second essential). The paper is thick, off-white, and the type Adobe Garamond, the same as in the single volume Pelican Works, but larger and consequently more clear. Most single volume editions--and the Pelican is no exception--are printed on paper so thin that the image of the text bleeds through from the back of the page. Not so with these volumes where the paper is noticeably thicker. The real advantage of these volumes, however, is a single column layout. I dislike the two column layout of single-volume collected editions, and much prefer the single column layout followed by individually bound plays. Physically, then, these volumes are winners.
Each volume is printed with the same front matter: a illustrated front page (sometimes different than the one you will get in the single-volume Pelican); a "Publisher's Note" explaining the layout of the work and its apparatus; an article on Shakespeare's "Theatrical World"; a brief statement on "The Question of Authorship"; and an explanatory note on "The Texts of Shakespeare". These materials are valuable, and the same as you receive in the single-volume Pelican (which is in its second edition). I question the need to print this material in each volume, but of course since the volumes might be sold individually rather than in a set it must be so. It is too bad, though, that when purchased as a set a single volume could have been provided with these introductory materials in it once only, perhaps filled with the non-dramatic poetry I remarked on above. The only difference between the single volume edition and these is that in the single volume work there are some facsimile pages from the First Folio, and a couple of charts not present in the individually bound volumes.
The physical layout of the page I like very much. every tenth line is numbered, whether it has a gloss or not (and placed in italics when it does not have a gloss), but lines containing glosses are also numbered in the right margin. This is a great solution to the problem of adding numbered footnotes or symbols within lines. Rather than lines bristling with superscripted daggers, stars or other wingdings we get in these volumes a clean, undistracted line with an indicator to our eye when it reaches the end of the line about whether a gloss exists or not. The glosses are mostly straightforward, rarely extensive, and mostly used to define obscure terms with a minimum of editorializing. Location indicators have also been removed from the heads of scenes, but, for those who want them, are moved to the first annotation in each scene. Speech prefixes are fully spelled out (a blessing to new students and a luxury for old). They are placed above each line of speech unless the line is a continuation of the one above, in which case they are placed on the same line as the continued speech.
The article on "The Theatrical World" is practical and straightforward, placing Shakespeare's works in the economic system professional theatres between 1590 and 1620. A brief glance is taken back at the development of the professional companies, and then the conditions of acting and play writing for the professional companies is addressed. London, we are told, had a population of between 150,000 and 200,000 during Shakespeare's career, and when the theatres were permitted to play (which was always except for notable gaps for plague and Lent) approximately 10% of the city's population would attend a play each week. It's a good guess, but only a guess. Not much attention is paid to touring. The use of properties and effects within the theatre are covered (visual effects, sound effects, scenery, props, music); the role of women--or rather boys playing women is discussed; and a longish section on the children's companies is also provided. It is brief, but to the point, concluding by recommending more thoroughgoing studies by Bentley, Chambers, and, of course, Andrew Gurr.
The article on "William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, Gentlemen" is commendably brief and clear. It takes the tack that "...we know more about Shakespeare's life than we do about almost any other English writer's of his era," which is true and often forgotten in our lust to know ever more. The article reviews the bare, documented facts of births, baptisms, marriages, occupations, children and grandchildren, on through the direct documents dealing with Shakespeare's career: the Greene-Chettle episode, the payments to Shakespeare as a chief sharer in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men, the coat-of-arms, property purchased (New Place, the Blackfriar's Gatehouse, Stratford fields and tithes), Palladis Tamia, the Mountjoy testimony, Rutland's impresa, finally death and the will: Clear, concise, compelling.
A note is provided on "The Question of Authorship", and few saner notes will be found anywhere. It reviews the history of some of the more prominent hair brained attributions--those of Delia Bacon and J. Thomas Looney (Baconian and Oxfordian, respectively)--and notes that authorship attributions tend to gain momentum "among people whose conviction was the greater in proportion to their ignorance of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, history, and society." It is hard to say it better. The article goes on, "The Baconians, the Oxfordians, and supporters of other candidates have one trait in common--thy are snobs. Every pro-Bacon or pro-Oxford tract sooner or later claims that the historical William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon could not have written the plays because he could not have had the training, the university education, the experience, and indeed the imagination or background their author supposedly possessed." The arguments are all too familiar and all to fallacious. The editors put end to the article with this: "Besides snobbery, one other quality characterizes the authorship controversy: lack of evidence. A great deal of testimony from Shakespeare's time shows that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays and that his contemporaries recognized them as distinctive and distinctly superior." QED.
The article on "The Texts of Shakespeare" reviews the history of various printed works attributed to Shakespeare, the quartos and then the Folio of 1623. The issues of the famous variants are discussed, particularly Lear, Hamlet, Othello and Troilus and Cressida. The article points out that Shakespeare, because of his popularity and the unique nature of his contribution, was far more popular than his peers: "...most of the playwrights of Shakespeare's time were as anonymous as most screenwriters are today." And really, it was because of his poetry--primarily the two long narrative poems--that he was so well known, that and his smash, irresistible box office hits like Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. In our own day we might remember that William Faulkner was one of the screenwriters of the 1946 The Big Chill, but we would be hard pressed to identify the other two. Shakespeare was unique in his own day because he was so well known (publishers often attached his name to works not his own hoping to take advantage of the sales power of the name, or the bare initials); he was among the leading sharers of his company ("literally his own boss"); and he was, in his acting days, a well known actor also. The article on the texts ends with an eye opening comparison of the quartos of Romeo and Juliet, concluding "There is in fact no early text that reads as our modern text does...The transcendently beautiful passage [the rose by any other name speech] in modern editions is an editorial invention..."
The general editors of the Pelican Shakespeare are Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller. The contributing editors are among the best and brightest, including John Hollander, Russ McDonald and Frances Dolan. The introductions to each play (and the sonnets) in these collected, individually bound volumes are the same as in the single-volume Pelican edition. I must confess a soft spot for the first single-bound Pelican edition, under the general editorship of the great Alfred Harbage. It does my heart good to read, in this second edition, "New introductions and notes have been provided in all the volumes. But the new Shakespeare is also designed as a successor to the original series; the previous editions have been taken into account, and the advice of the previous editors has been solicited where it was feasible to do so." That is a remarkable statement, one that should inspire confidence in the healthy conservatism and scholarly foundation of these editions. The previous editors include such greats as Cyrus Hoy, Fredson Bowers, R. C. Bald, David Bevington, G. Blakemore Evans, G. E. Bentley, Charlton Hinman, Maynard Mack, Harry Levin, Robert Heilman, Northrup Frye (!), and even Richard Wilbur. Those are stars among stars, amounting to quite a lineup. The new edition has much to live up to. From what I've seen so far, it has.
One last point. I can't quite get over it: for price and value this edition is phenomenal. The thirty-eight hard bound volumes of this quality edition are being offered for a total of $89.70. That's $2.36 per volume. When was the last time you were able to acquire a new, quality hardback--in this case an exceptional scholarly investment as well--at such a price? Even the individually bound Pelican paperbacks are priced at $5 or $6 each, themselves being a special value in the paperback market. The trade Folger editions go for $7.95, the Arden second and third series paperbacks for $13.99 and the New Cambridge paperbacks for $15.99. You could buy the single-volume Pelican collected works in hardback discounted at Amazon to $40.95, but how much more convenient to have the same editions with the same editors and notes, in individually hardbound books for $2.36 apiece. It is an extraordinary value. I highly recommend it.
+It's hard bound in good plain cloth, not snobby leather;
+the text is handsomely layed out and easy to read;
+the footnotes are informative without getting in the way of the text;
+at $3.95 per volume, the collection is a bargain;
+the covers and end pages are blue, my favourite colour;
+sturdy construction ensures the collection will last a few decades (but at this price, I doubt it's printed on acid free paper)*;
+individual volumes for each play are easier to carry around than a single volume "Complete Works".
-The collection is so pretty you won't want to write in the margins (doesn't everyone take notes?);
-the collection takes up much more shelf space than a single volume edition;
-individual volumes for each play means that the collection will be dismembered by friends and family borrowing their favourite plays. (But be selfish, don't lend these!)
It's also worth getting a single volume edition of the works. It will be useful as a reference and that way you can be sure to have a copy available if one of your plays goes missing.
Vincent Poirier, Tokyo
*I was wrong! It _is_ printed on acid free paper. Wow! Thanks to James Smith for pointing out that fact as stated in the editorial review.
VP, Tokyo, 30 April 2009
What it is missing:
It does have King Lear, but not the other King Lear(s), from the paperback that contains the 1608 original long quarto version and the 1623 scaled down First Folio version, both in the same book. The King Lear contained in the set is from the paperback that contains the more common conflated text, in popular use since Alexander Pope. So, there were two King Lear paperbacks published, and you get one of them in hardcover -- the most commonly used one.
The Narrative Poems (Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, The Passionate Pilgrim, and A Lover's Complaint) are not in this set. I have no idea why this was left out, and it seems inexcusable.
All of these are available in the one-volume Complete Pelican Shakespeare, but both sets are missing The Two Noble Kinsmen, partially authored by Shakespeare (maybe because it appeared in no folio?). This is available in the Riverside, which is a very good, scholarly edition, but the Riverside has its own set of problems.
The Pelican version is easier to read than the Riverside, is also based on good scholarship, has better print quality (at least with the volumes I possess), has full character names throughout the play rather than three letter abbreviations, and has a numbering system that lets you know when there is a note on the text to explain difficult or out of date words or phrasing. It also updates the spelling of a few of the words, like "murther" to "murder" and "owe" to "own" where appropriate, but does not overdo it. All of this makes it worth getting this set.
I ordered this set two days ago for $59.60, on 7/7/08, and apparently the price went up today (7/9/08) to $119.60. It is worth it at either price in my opinion, to have the plays in separate books, in hardcover, and in larger print than in the complete sets. I would recommend watching for price decreases, but who knows? It may never fall that low again. I just know it was about $89 and lower for many months.
Having the plays in individual books is very convenient and increases the enjoyment, but I would still recommend, for the enthusiast, to get one of the complete sets even if you have the single editions, for they always come with extra materials that are interesting and are great references. They are just not as easy to carry with you wherever you go.