Friday 19 April 2024

Cymbeline - William Shakespeare - The Pelican Shakespeare

William Shakespeare
Peter Holland (Editor)
ISBN 9780140714722
eISBN 9781101667255

A few years back I started reading Shakespeare again, as my children were being introduced to it in High school. Then two years ago my son who is now 16 found he had a love for the Bard and for plays, much as I did at that time. We had been sticking to the Oxford School Shakespeare editions as those were the versions they were reading in school. This year we picked up tickets for three Shakespeare plays at The Stratford Festival, including this play. We picked up this edition to read together before going to see the play. The Pelican Classics were among my favourite editions of the plays when I was a youth myself. I often hunted used bookstores for the hard cover edition. I think the last time I read this would have been about 35-40 years ago. And even though I have not yet seen a production it came back quickly. But back to this specific volume. The description of this edition states:

“"I feel that I have spent half my career with one or another Pelican Shakespeare in my back pocket. Convenience, however, is the least important aspect of the new Pelican Shakespeare series. Here is an elegant and clear text for either the study or the rehearsal room, notes where you need them and the distinguished scholarship of the general editors, Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller who understand that these are plays for performance as well as great texts for contemplation." (Patrick Stewart)
The distinguished Pelican Shakespeare series, which has sold more than four million copies, is now completely revised and repackaged.
Each volume features:
     Authoritative, reliable texts
     High quality introductions and notes
     New, more readable trade trim size
     An essay on the theatrical world of Shakespeare and essays on Shakespeare's life and the selection of texts”

Based on the commonly accepted chronological order of Shakespeare’s plays this is one of the last. With either three or four plays following it depending on what side of the argument you fall for the authorship of The Two Noble Kinsmen. The sections in this volume prior to the text of the play are:

Publisher’s Note
The Theatrical World
William Shakespeare Of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Gentleman
The Question Of Authorship
Books About Shakespeare’s Theater
Books About Shakespeare’s Life
The Texts of Shakespeare
Books About the Shakespeare Texts
Note on the Text
Cast of Characters
The Text Of the Play
Peter Holland in the introduction states:

“Modern critics have often resorted to the word “experimental” to describe the remarkable assemblage of different materials that Shakespeare sought - in the view of many, unsuccessfully - to combine into a single play. More than one critic has turned to Polonius’s celebration of the skills of the acting company visiting Elsinore and defined Cymbeline, with varying degrees of irony, as a “tragical-comical-historical-pastoral.” The order in which Shakespeare wrote his last unaided plays is far from clear, and the traditional ordering, in which Cymbeline was followed by The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, is no more than a convention that serves, too neatly, to explain away Cymbeline as Shakespeare’s attempt at a new kind of drama. But such a sequence, even apart from its ignoring both the significance of Pericles and the difficulties in establishing the date of Cymbeline more firmly than that it must have been written before Forman saw it, undervalues the complexity of Shakespeare’s enormously ambitious project in Cymbeline and his accomplishment of so much of it. It is a play that theater audiences have enjoyed and admired far more than critics, and this theatrical success argues that Cymbeline should be seen as an experiment worthy of a more profound admiration than the use of Polonius’s label might suggest. Nonetheless, Polonius’s categories of dramatic genre provide a pattern for considering the play, though I shall, remembering Forman’s difficulties with the sequence of plots, reorder Polonius’s sequence.”

And the introduction concludes with:

“But in Cymbeline Shakespeare makes matters far less improbable; once the audience overcomes the difficulty of accepting that everyone might reasonably turn up near Milford Haven, drawn there by the magnet of the story, the ending of the drama plays out, fully and probably, the consequences of this gathering. It is theatricality of a different kind from the solutions to earlier plays, a pleasure in the joys of ending narratives and of story-telling itself. In the magnificent transfer of the devices of narrative into a new - and often leisurely - dramatic form, Shakespeare accomplished something that was more complex than Simon Forman could record.”

This play comprises 5 acts and a total of 27 scenes. The story is a powerful mix of passion, love, deceit, terror and of course tragedy. It has an interesting overlay of plots and themes, some often only alluded to. And the formatting in this digital edition is well done (See note below)

With a dual form of dyslexia I greatly prefer eBooks. I do so because I can change the colour of the page and the font, and also change the font. I really wish that with eBooks of plays such as this one that there would be 2 copies of the play. One completely unadorned, no footnotes or end notes. And the other with the usual accompanying notes. I want a reader’s edition of the play to just be able to read it. Second if that is not to happen, I wish the notes were at the end of the act or even the end of the whole play. But that is just a personal preference. The Pelican Classics were originally published between 1956 and 1967. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare was first published in 1969. With this edition having copyright dates of 1964, 1979, and 2000. I believe the Pelican if one of the few editions to have released all 38 plays and the volume of Sonnets. Some other academic publishers limited to specific popular editions, and even then have not released eBooks of them all. (OUP School Shakespeare less than half have eBook editions) As such I am thankful that all 39 volumes from this series are available and available digitally. 

I am glad I picked this up to read with my son before going to see a performance later in the year. It reminded me how much I loved these editions when I was young and we have started collecting the eBook versions now. If you are looking for a good copy of the play to read or study I can easily recommend this edition.

Other Posts Related to Shakespeare:

All Pelican Shakespeare Individual Titles

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