Monday, June 28, 2010

Hamlet (Spinebreakers). Edited by Dr. G B Harrison.

Who's There?

Spine Breakers from the Puffin Books imprint is an online book community for teenagers between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, with editorial control and content produced by people from within that age group. Penguin are now using the initiative to publicise some classic books, Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, Jane Eyre and Hamlet giving each the trappings of a modern novel with a day-glo cover and a zeitgeisty quote on this back, in this case, David Tennant saying that it’s “Probably the most famous play there’s ever been.”


The motivation for choosing Hamlet (for which a review copy was supplied) is right there on the cover. Penguin are refreshingly taking the logical assumption from the first Folio as explained by Steve Roth in 'Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country' that based on evidence in the gravedigger scene, the Danish prince is a teenager, just sixteen years (and not thirty as theatrical tradition has it), which means that the play has a better chance of resonating with the target audience. So there he is, a fresh faced Justin Bieber lookalike, clutching Yorrik’s skull. The synopsis on the back emphasises this by describing Hamlet up-front as a “young prince”.

The Text

Open the cover, though, and after the title page we find a reprint of GB Harrison’s original Penguin edition from 1937 which I previously reviewed at this link under its other guise in the Penguin Popular Classic edition. Short of a whole new editorial, this is a fairly good choice because of its simple but detailed approach to Shakespeare’s biography and Elizabethan staging. In this context, the handy glossary at the back of the book also reads like the Urban Dictionary and included words which would be no less unusual in teen speak now: “drossy: scummy”, “fordo: destroy” and “milch: moist”.

How is it, my lord?

My few reservations about the text are carried over as well, if not moreso since in this context its more likely to find use in an educational context were the information being given to a student and what they believe could effect their exam marks. Plus, however lush the cover, this is still the repackaging of material which is available for five pounds less elsewhere. Nevertheless, the philosophy behind the Spine Breakers editions is to be applauded and I’m sure Harrison would be pleased to see his work still being used to help introduce Shakespeare to a new audience all of these years later.

Hamlet (Spinebreakers). Edited by Dr. G B Harrison. Published by Puffin Books. £6.99 paperback. ISBN: 9780141331836 (for which a review copy was supplied)

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