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Reviewed by:
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare, and: A Midsummer Night's Dream. by William Shakespeare, and: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, and: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • Bailey Sincox
Hamlet. By William Shakespeare, ed. Abigail Rokison-Woodall. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. Pp. liii + 375. $9.95 (paperback).
A Midsummer Night's Dream. By William Shakespeare, ed. Abigail Rokison-Woodall. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. Pp. xlvi + 207. $9.95 (paperback).
Much Ado About Nothing. By William Shakespeare, ed. Anna Kamaralli. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. Pp. li + 285. $9.95 (paperback).
Romeo and Juliet. By William Shakespeare, ed. Paul Menzer. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. Pp. xlvi + 303. $9.95 (paperback).

The first four Arden Performance Editions announce the series's immediate contribution to the classroom and to the rehearsal studio. These editions are working texts striving, above all, for utility; they place emphasis on making textual scholarship accessible, presenting multiple performance choices, and minimizing editorial apparatus.

This series's overarching goal is best described in the words of general editors Michael Dobson, Abigail Rokison-Woodall, and Simon Russell Beale: "to set our actor-readers' imaginations free" (x). Indeed, readers will note that "free" and its synonyms are remarkably pervasive in the plays' introductions. A sense of excitement, of near-limitless dramatic possibility radiates from every page––precisely because of the editors' commitment to making the text's sense clear while simultaneously problematizing the notion of "the text" itself. This framework seems to engage thoughtfully with the question of what exactly it means to perform "Shakespeare." In the midst of ongoing conversations surrounding the theatricality of modern productions (particularly those elements of theatricality under the umbrella of "original practices"), the general editors centralize the textuality of modern productions with acuity and expertise.

What is Shakespearean about Shakespearean performance? The editions respond to this implicit question with an even-handed approach. Though there is a marked interest in originality––the series introduction, for instance, encourages readers to consider the impact of parts, cues, and lineation on the "delivery" of "early modern actors"––the playwright, players, and others throughout history are almost always accorded equal agency (xv). For example, when Abigail Rokison-Woodall compares the variant stage directions for Helena at 1.1.19 of [End Page 305] A Midsummer Night's Dream, she balances what "Shakespeare originally intended" with the possibility of what transpired "on the early modern stage" (xxxii). Similarly, in her introduction to Hamlet Rokison-Woodall makes a case for the Q1 stage direction "Hamlet leapes in after Leartes" by informing readers that "Richard Burbage, the original Hamlet" may have performed it (xxxviii). In an equally significant move, Paul Menzer reminds readers that the location of the "balcony scene" in Romeo and Juliet "emerges from the play's performance history" yet insists that "however textually supported or not, in performance the play's 'balcony scene' features as a central, even the central visual icon" (xlv). While the Preface and Series Introduction do, at points, elevate Shakespeare's "meaning" and "intention," the editions hold to their "aim:" "to inform and assist rather than to dictate" (xvii). Ultimately, they privilege the fluid multiplicity of performance, unmooring the actor from concerns about the "right" way to perform a character, a scene, or indeed a play.

What is Shakespearean about the Shakespearean text? The editors answer this question primarily by pointing out what in the text does not derive from the playwright––that is, by making visible the material processes and editorial decisions that shape any modern edition. Orientation to the principles of bibliography is masterful and precise. Terms like "folio," "quarto," "foul papers," and "copy text" are explicated in short order. Subsequently, each edition contains an overview of the variant texts, their major differences, and a simplified stemma; all these become tools in the hands of the actor to interpret the play itself. In a particularly emblematic statement, Menzer writes of Romeo and Juliet that while scholarly arguments surrounding the three substantively different texts of the play are "complex…there is a simple explanation for what can happen to a play between the time it is written and the time it is printed: almost anything" (xxix). Menzer goes on to explain that even though the edition...


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