Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dover Thrift Editions.

Who's There?

"Thrift, Horatio, thrift!"

One of the features I always meant to bring to the blog, but failed to due to other distractions, was reviews of the various published editions of the play. Let’s begin. As well as the colouring book and paper dolls, Dover were also good enough to send copies of their version of the play itself, part of their Thrift Edition series, publishing the world’s literature at a nominal price. Already out is a straight reprint of just the play, UK price £1.50, which these days is cheaper than a Penguin.

This is a copy of the text from the 1892 complete works published by MacMillan and Co which combines the Second Quarto with the First Folio and means the gravediggers are still listed as Clowns. Some modern thought suggests that the different versions of the play don’t contain errors but an expression of Shakespeare revising his work later, but as a cheap entry level edition this is very good, drafting in annotations from Alexander Schmidt’s Shakespeare-Lexicon and it’s to Dover’s credit that they take the time to list their sources.

Coming to the UK in November is the Dover Thrift Study Edition (pictured), priced £4.95 which includes the same text married with a reprint of the “literary analysis and perspectives from MAXnotes for Hamlet, published in 2000 by Research & Education Association Inc, Piscataway, New Jersey”. Prepared by Joanne K. Miller from the Department of English, Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Indiana (the United States is a big place) the study guide is split into three sections, an introduction to Shakespeare and the play, a tour of the play noting points of interest and a bibliography (which is really a list of sources).


Since I’m a fan, not an educator, I’m not sure how qualified I am to say whether the guide is detailed enough for today’s students (insert discussion about working to the test). Miller’s text is pitched lower than the nerdier excesses of the Arden editions but less arcane than the Signet Classic from which she has sourced some of her material. In other words, it isn’t afraid to throw about the acronyms (Q1, Q3, F1) and is happy to explain that Shakespeare based the play on earlier works. The rest of the ensuing guide is broken up into summary and analysis of each scene, coupled with quiz questions.

The main element I've noticed is that the play is treated very much as a text rather than a script; there's nothing I can see about how the play might be cut for stage and the implications that has on how we view Hamlet’s personality and for example whether he’s aware that he’s being watched during “To Be…” It’s arguable that this is irrelevant for the purposes of secondary education, which is largely about developing the child’s analytical as well as language skills, but its non-inclusion demonstrates a streamlined approach to this study of the play which also lacks the inclusion of previous critical opinion; Dover Wilson and Leavis are nowhere to be seen.

How is it, my lord?

If I was looking for an introduction to the play this would be good enough. One of the problems I encountered at school was because of the weight of critical opinion, the mass of text that surrounded the plays almost submerging them as entities, I did get terribly confused about the essentials of the story and what each scene is basically about. The slightly confusing York Notes lent a hand but ultimately I failed my English Literature A-Level (N-grade). I’m not saying this kind of straightforward study guide would have been the sticky plaster on the gash in my brain were cognitive understanding was spilling out amid exam pressure, but it might have helped

Hamlet. Dover Thrift Edition. Dover Publications. ISBN: 978-0486272788.
Hamlet. Dover Thrift Study Edition. Dover Publications. ISBN: 978-0486475721.

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