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Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists

Preparing for Autumn 2020

Over the summer you should read:

Hamlet

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Taming of the Shrew

Henry IV Part 1

Doctor Faustus, B-text (Christopher Marlowe)

Tamburlaine the Great, Part 1 (Christopher Marlowe)

Lecturers will be drawing on these plays across the first five weeks of the autumn term to write a grammar of the theatre that will set up our year-long module. Shakespeare's four plays explore the early modern business of play-making by themselves putting plays on stage. We will use them to focus on openings and closings, speech-craft, meta-theatre, Shakespeare's books, the 'properties' of play. We will refer to Marlowe's two great plays -- that hit the Elizabethan stage like a ten-force hurricane -- to see what Shakespeare learned from his forerunner, including the making of the warrior v. the making of the scholar. From weeks 7 - 10 we will take a synoptic look at Shakespeare's career by concentrating on his Roman plays, Titus Andronicus (one of his earliest attempts and first experiment in revenge tragedy); Julius Caesar (where he focuses on statecraft and the making of political institutions that are deeply implicated in personalities); Antony and Cleopatra (where the erotic joins the political, masculinity is reframed, and race is represented in Shakespeare's black Egypt); and Coriolanus (Shakespeare's last tragedy and the one that looks most unsparingly at the personal costs of public life, the demands of 'civitas' v. the family). These are big plays. You would be well advised to read them over the summer.

Strongly recommended secondary texts for Summer Reading:
This course pays particularly close attention to Shakespeare plays as performance texts. If you don't know what that means, have a look at:

  • Simon Shepherd and Mick Wallis, Studying Plays (London, 2002)
  • Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage (Cambridge, 1992; 4th ed. 2009)
  • John Styan, Shakespeare's Stagecraft (Cambridge, 1967)

Texts to Buy

  • William Shakespeare, The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York and London: Norton and Co).
  • OR William Shakespeare, The Oxford Shakespeare, ed. Wells and Taylor (Oxford: OUP).
  • AND Christopher Marlowe, Dr Faustus and Other Plays, eds David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen (Oxford: OUP)

Which edition of the Complete Works to buy?

Both editions have their pros and cons. Indeed, the main reason for allowing multiple set texts is to encourage you to compare and critique different versions of editorial and critical authority. There is no ideal or infallible Text of Shakespeare's plays. There are no definitive introductions. All of the above editions are, in their different ways, controversial. The ability to recognise, understand and challenge editorial decisions and critical standpoints is a key skill you will develop over the course of the module.

How, then, do you decide?

  1. Do you want annotated texts? If yes, buy Norton. If not, go for Oxford. The Oxford presents a 'clean' text with a glossary at the back of the book. The virtue of an unannotated text is that it invites you to make meanings for yourself in the absence of a strong editorial steer. The uncluttered layout of the Oxford is very good for some readers and for getting a sense of the long-distance movement of the action. The Norton, on the other hand, offers on-page glosses and notes.
  2. Do you want an introduction to each play? If yes, buy Norton. The virtue of the Norton's introductions is that they are quite full and are also written by four different critics; the drawback (it could be argued) is their almost uniform New Historicist theoretical bent.
  3. Sample each edition. The best thing to do would be to go to the library or a bookshop and dip into each edition. If quality of paper matters to you, you'll feel differences. If you tend to write a lot of notes on your texts, it will quickly be clear which edition offers you the most room for self-expression. If introductions are crucial to you, sit down and read one from each. (You can also 'Click Inside' the books on Amazon, Google Books etc)
  4. Talk to this year's third-years. See what the Shakespearienced advise!

Finally: spend as long or as little time making this decision as you like. You could mull it over or you could click and purchase in seconds. Either way, as long as you buy one of the set editions you will have a book that is wholly adequate to the year's study.