Shakespeare editions

Grace Chalhoub, Staff writer; copy editor

Required to read Shakespeare but unsure of which edition of the play to buy? Check out this list of some of the main features of some of the most popular editions.

Annotated editions vs. translations 

It is important to read an annotated edition of Shakespeare over a translation such as No Fear. While annotated copies explain word meanings, connotations, allusions and double entendres, translations lose the finer points of the text that are central to understanding the play and its characters. Readers should only consult translations for further help understanding the text after reading an annotated edition.

Here is a list of some of the most popular annotated editions of Shakespeare and their features:  

Arden Shakespeare: Arden editions contain introductions that explain sources for the play, themes and concepts, and the play in performance, as well as annotations that often make up more than two-thirds of the page. As a scholarly edition, it may confuse novices but would benefit readers with a firm grasp on Shakespeare. Additionally, Arden Performance editions are specifically geared towards those interested in the performance aspect and are of benefit to actors and directors. 

Dover Thrift: Known for being the most inexpensive, Dover Thrift editions supply minimal annotations and no introductions or scholarly notes. It is not recommended to purchase Dover Thrift. If cost is an issue, you’d be better off buying used Shakespeare in other editions, whether online or at library sales.   

Folger’s Shakespeare: The side-by-side annotations are easy to read, and often give full explanations for difficult phrases. Folger’s also gives a description of Shakespeare’s life, Shakespearean language, and Shakespearean theatre, as well as historical context and a modern perspective for the individual play. Folger’s website also contains brief descriptions of Shakespeare and Shakespearean theatre, as well as beautiful pictures for each of Shakespeare’s plays, which are perfect for projects and presentations. 

Norton Shakespeare: Similarly to Arden, Norton Shakespeare is a scholarly edition that supplies an index of supplementary criticisms and other secondary writings pertaining to the play. Because Norton does not supply annotations and focuses on the scholarly reading of the text, Norton is better as a supplementary read to an annotated copy of Shakespeare. 

Pelican Shakespeare: Pelican Shakespeare offers brief descriptions on Shakespearean theatre, Shakespeare’s life, and Shakespearean language, as well as an introduction pertaining to the play. Pelican provides many helpful explanatory annotations that will explain the meaning of a singular word or phrase, rather than of a whole sentence. Additionally, Pelican’s annotations are at the bottom of the page rather than to the side of the text. 

Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC): RSC contains brief descriptions of Shakespearean theatre and Shakespeare’s life, as well as an introduction and helpful annotations, although its most unique feature is an informative section on the history of the play’s theatre productions, including commentary on the play from some of RSC’s directors. RSC’s website also includes teachers’ guides for each of the plays, as well as photos and directors’ notes from past RSC productions for all of the plays.  

Signet Classics: Overall, Signet is about equivalent to Folger’s and Pelican in content, offering a brief overview on Elizabethan England, Shakespeare’s life and the theatre, as well as an introduction on the particular play and detailed notes on notable productions.