Book Review: Arden Performance Editions

Arden Performance Editions

At a glance
  • Shakespearian performance texts specifically designed for use in the rehearsal room
  • Developed in association with distinguished scholars, leading actors and drama students
  • Short introductions to the plays
  • Easy-to-read layout with facing-page notes and larger font size
  • Short, clear definitions of words, reduced punctuation and space to write notes
  • Easily accessible information about key textual variants
  • Notes on pronunciation of difficult names and unfamiliar words

The Arden Shakespeare have just released two new performance titles to their thoroughly researched series and they are really rather good.

They hit the spot because they don’t overwhelm us, alienate us or treat us like fools.

One of the editors describes most heavy-duty editions of Shakespeare as being like hit over the head with scholarship.

And methinks he’s right; these dense and bulky texts with their substantial introductions leave you with concussion because in many cases they burden students with information they just don’t need.

But this new series of Arden play texts frees the mind. It has been brilliantly thought through and injects us with energy and intrigue but also makes a masterly job of de-mystifying.

The Tempest: Arden Performance Editions - Arden Performance Editions (Paperback)

Published in association with the Shakespeare Institute, these painstakingly prepared editions prioritise accessibility with facing page notes that include short definitions of words, key textual variants, lineation, guidance on metre and pronunciation.

There are further notes which detail scene locations, scene divisions, stage directions, pronouns, rhetoric, rhyme, verse, prose and sources.

The introductory notes to each of the plays are sublime and written with crackling intelligence and thorough insights that really get to grips with the micro-mechanisms of Shakespeare’s linguistic legacy. They explain, elucidate and empower and make students aware as to the existence of multiple texts of a particular play which offer different choices of words and structure.

Twelfth Night: Arden Performance Editions - Arden Performance Editions (Paperback)

The notes won’t suit Shakespearian Fundamentalists because they don’t encourage actors and students to become slaves to iambic pentameter and to never deviate from the rigid construction of Shakespeare’s verse. These are notes that allow readers to breathe and have the liberty to interpret the text as they see fit.

Reading Shakespeare doesn’t have to be like ploughing a field of clay or like trying to learn a foreign language without talking to anybody.

The Arden Performance series are the polar opposite of difficult, boring and irrelevant and it is their facing page notes that make all the difference to understanding the text because they are at eye level and opposite to the lines they refer.

They are supremely user-friendly because you can scan without losing your way when rehearsing and the glossing is made effortless. There is plenty of space too for adding personal annotations.

These are books that let you decide how to inhabit Shakespeare’s texts, what body language to employ and they avoid dictating how you should read them.

King Lear: Arden Performance Editions cover

Research at the University of Liverpool found that Shakespearean language excites positive brain activity but that’s not always the case.

Student editions need to be accessible and exciting not get bogged down in pedantic debates about punctuation placement, spelling and capitalisation.

They open up a play’s possibilities and meanings to actors and students and they do it with style and erudition.

The verdict
  • Light and practical editions dripping with craft and expertise
  • Helps bring Shakespeare from page to stage without the surplus baggage
  • Dyslexic friendly and easy to read and navigate
  • Informed by the latest textual and historical scholarship
  • Provides a clear sense of the available choices in terms of viable textual variants
  • Ideally suited to the rehearsal room and for durable, robust learning
 Upgrade if…

you are looking to access a reliable authoritative text of each play that will empower readers and allow Shakespeare to come alive through fresh and fizzy features and provide only as much information as students need.

Cost: £7.19

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