Friday, February 8, 2013

The Arden "Romeo and Juliet"

The Arden Shakespeare: "Romeo and Juliet"
William Shakespeare

Edited by Brian Gibbons

When I was in college I took an intensive monthlong course in "Hamlet," which has always been my favorite play of Shakespeare's. We approached the play through three different scholarly editions. One was Cyrus Hoy's edition for Norton. The second was John Dover Wilson's classic edition for The New Shakespeare. The third was Harold Jenkins's excellent volume for the Arden Shakespeare. This last was extremely memorable as an outstanding, accessible work of scholarship. I was impressed enough to pick up another Arden edition at Harrod's, "The Merchant of Venice."

The first series of the Arden Shakespeare was published between 1899 and 1944. Harold Jenkins and Brian Morris were the general editors of the second series, which began in 1946 and ran through 1982. This second series incorporated a lot of modern scholarship and is the one that won me over. A third series is currently underway.

When I decided to reread "Romeo and Juliet," it was a natural choice for me to look into the Arden Shakespeare. Brian Gibbons edited this edition, first published in 1980, which makes it one of the last works from the monumental second series. I think I made a very good choice here.

The introduction is excellent: 77 well-considered pages encapsulating some 400 years of scholarship. The play, of course, is one of Shakespeare's most enduring. It's presented with the usual textual variants and extensive notes and commentary. The first appendix presents the full text of the Queen Mab speech from Q1, the "bad" quarto. The second appendix is a lengthy excerpt from Arthur Brooke's translation "Romeus and Juliet," Shakespeare's source for the story. I had never seen this before and it gave me an appreciation of how Shakespeare transformed this popular if undistinguished Italian novelle into a dramatic gem with realistic characters, soaring poetry, and unmatched emotional depth.

"Romeo and Juliet" was the very first Shakespeare play I read back in Junior High School. Then, and in college, I was close to the age of Romeo, although never to his temperament. Now, I suppose, I'm more of a Capulet. I suppose that's how it goes.