Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shakespeare: anthology or individual editions

I'm behind on book orders for the courses I'm teaching next term. But I'm nearly caught up on my grading for this term, so maybe there's justice and balance in the universe after all.

Here's the book ordering question of the day: for my Shakespeare class, an anthology or individual editions?

If I order an anthology, then I don't actually have to choose the texts until near the beginning of the semester. This obviously appeals to my inner procrastinator.

But, there are other considerations, and let's face it, it's not all that difficult to choose a representative selection of Shakespeare's texts. As difficult problems go, this surely has to be very low on the list. At any rate, I do use Russ McDonald's wonderful Bedford Companion, so even without an anthology, my students have general introductory information.

Another consideration is book rental; NWU has a system wherein instructors can have the university buy a supply of books that they plan to use and reuse; students in a given class "rent" the books from the university, except that they pay one overall fee, whether or not they're in any class with rental texts. NWU has several Shakespeare anthologies from over the years, mostly rather aged, with an archeological nightmare of layers of notes and highlighting. If I choose an anthology, then my students don't have to buy books for the class, and it saves them a fair bit of money.

One the other hand, rental texts mean they don't buy books. That may make some sense for an intro level chem class where textbooks change every three years and are really expensive, but I'm not sure it makes good sense in a literature class of any sort where relatively cheap paperbacks are readily available. I want my students to own books because I value books in that sort of way. I want them to write in their books, to keep their books, and to reread the notes in their books in 20 years, perhaps to be amused by their insights as young adults. For the average reader, a Shakespeare play isn't going to change much in 20 years.

When I took my very first ever Shakespeare class, I remember admiring greatly Professor J's Riverside Shakespeare, covered in notes, rebound at least once. Just the penned glossings seemed magical.

When I teach Shakespeare, though, I use paperback editions, usually the New Cambridge or Oxford, with the occasional Bedford Contexts or Arden 3. It depends on how much time I've spent with the text, how many editions I've worked with, how my notes are layered. My edition of The Tempest, for example, has a rough map of the Mediterranean drawn on the inside cover, so that I can more or less put it up on the board to give my students an idea of the relative positions of Algiers, Tunis, and Italy are. I'm loath to replace that text even though it's falling apart.

The state of our rental texts demonstrates pretty amply that students feel free to write or highlight those texts, but they don't get ownership of the text, they aren't the ones who've written the notes, and they're likely to get waylaid by reading other students' notes at times.

At this point, I tend to write in just about any text I own, but I think it's easier for students to write in paperbacks; paperbacks are also easier in their backbacks. I'm more likely to bring along a paperback to read with my coffee than a big anthology, and I hope my students are, too.

I remember fondly, during my years at Big Urban Comprehensive U, sitting in the Ec-House across Main Drag from campus, reading Shakespeare, novels, poetry while I drank coffee and felt like part of a community of people who cared about literature and ideas. (The Ec-House had a great reading atmosphere, one I've never seen equaled at another university.) So I want my students to have the sensual pleasures of reading their Shakespeare's in some coffee house (we have a couple good ones not far from campus) or lounging in some random reading chair on campus.


  1. But you know what? I STILL have my Riverside Shakespeare from when I was an undergrad, and it lives in my office, and I often find it useful to consult, and I'm NOT a Shakespeare specialist. Everything you say about paperback editions is true, but I actually really loved having to buy the Riverside, and I love that I still own it. I don't know... I kind of feel like English majors should own all of Shakespeare's works - not just the few plays that one professor might choose to cover in a semester. Sure, the anthologies can be back-breaking, but isn't that what being an English major is? Carrying around bags that are far too heavy?

  2. Anonymous2:30 PM

    Not only do I have my undergrad Riverside, but also my Grad Program Pelican, and my first lit-class Norton. (Not to mention a facsimile edition). I'm not a Ren Scholar, but I likes me some Shakespeare.

    Have you considered Bevington's The Necessary Shakespeare? If not it's a sort of Greatest Hits anthology, which, when paired with the McDonald, helps keep costs down a bit.

  3. Complete Shakespeares are too big to comfortably use and skimp on notes. Arden are lovely, more expensive, but have univ. level notes. The Penguin style texts have school-level notes. Second hand copies of WS are now widely and cheaply available from online bookstores-I doubt they'll go hungry buying a few. Quality literature instead of junk food. Do 'em good. For passages, use print-offs from the free-online Shakespeare editions, and add your own notes.

    I'm surprised you draw a map for The Tempest. I've never heard of anyone getting that geographical with it before. If you do the WT, make sure you indicate the sea-coast of Bohemia. ;-)

    Jarman's Tempest is always worth a screening.

  4. jrochest8:01 PM

    I'm with Clanger: I do the single-volume editions, mostly Oxford Worlds Classics. They're cheap enough to be dragged about and loved to death, and small enough to be portable. Plus the introductions and notes are excellent. The anthologies are nice, but too heavy for the students to regularly bring to class, and the annotation is awful.

    Apparently the Norton people are doing splits of their Complete Shakespeare, so the students can bring just the Histories and or the comedies, assuming you divide the year by genre.

    I can see a map for the Tempest: I can also see a map for the Histories -- how does the Severn cantle in, anyway?