Saturday, May 17, 2008

Penguin (3)

After the introduction come two useful sections - The Play in Performance and Further Reading.

Considering its critical reception, it might be considered surprising that

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

has in fact enjoyed something of a revival in recent years.

Part of the explanation of this is the tendency to set the play in Modern Dress - so contemporary audiences can experience the play as relevant to themselves.

Also it seems to have taken a bit of a bashing in terms of conversions - most horrific sounding being the 'Two Gentlemen' 70's musical version.

There have been 'high heeled' dolce vita' productions, and Byronic late romantic productions; there have been traditional Italian Renaissance, and - a definite favourite sounding one to me - P.G. Wodehousian productions.

The inclusion of this sort of information about the play helps to give a context that is essential- the theatrical. It indicates the tremendous flexibility of the text and also gives an insight into changing attitudes not only to this play, but to the whole canon.

Mr Jackson's treatment of it is also intelligent. Several editions of Shakespeare now carry the 'In the Theatre' section - but too many are the product of 'cut and paste' scholasticism showing little sensitivity to either the theatrical times which produced them, or the theatrical nature of the texts. I would never accuse this edition of The Two Gentlemen of Verona of that.

The same too could be said of the Further Reading section. Curiously this is split into two sections - up to 1997, written by Michael Taylor, and an addenda, up to 2005, by Russell Jackson

Instead of a bibliography and listing, we have an introduction to various important texts related to the play. The two 'standard' editions are mentioned, Arden and New Cambridge - and a pencil sketch outline of the main thrust of their introductory essays given. I have to say there is even a wit at work in the finally selected item of reading - on Crab.

Finally we get to the TEXT itself - and a good, clean, clear text it is too - no clutter of notes, or distracting pictures setting one interpretation in the mind. It is great to just read - and allows for it. There are Act and Scene divisions, and line numbers, for those who want them - or who want to consult the notes at the back.

The edition was prepared back in 1968, by Norman Sanders - and he provides the notes and account of the text (basically, Folio - and nothing much to argue about) to be found at the back of the book.

As you'd expect, this is essentially a lexicon - defining words we now find obscure, making links between ideas and words throughout the play. Chameleon for example, is clearly explained, and anyone wanting to sort out what Speed and Proteus are talking about in the first scene won't be disappointed by a quick look at the back - prostitutes and all.

I didn't make much use of these - although I did find the excerpts from one possible source, La Diana, interesting, but far from essential, reading.

I have to say - I do like the Penguin Shakespeare. It gives me everything I need, essentially the text, and doesn't get in the way of my reading. The introductions are good, the format predictable.

It is going to take something really good to knock it off its 'My First Choice' pedestal.

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