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Set Texts

Texts to Buy (these are the only editions you will be allowed in the open book exam, so it pays to get them now):

  • 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).

Term1, Weeks 1-5: Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Tamburlaine Part One, Dr Faustus (Read the B-text)

Required Summer Reading:
Start with the plays above, but the expectation is that you should read all of the set plays before you start your 3rd year. You will find it a real struggle to read plays for the first time during term, especially since seminar tutors will expect you to read other (secondary) material week-by-week. One of the most commonly expressed concerns of students on this course is how to ensure both breadth and depth of reading; only those who do the summer reading find they can balance the competing demands. So you have been warned!

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)

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.