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The best and most helpful single-volume edition
on April 2, 2001
Students and various e-mail correspondents often ask me which single-volume Shakespeare edition I would recommend, and I never hesitate in naming this one, as I think it has a long lead over its rivals. I have myself used the 1992 printing with amazing frequency both in research and in teaching, and always with advantage.
Why is this the best edition for a reader who wants as much as possible within the confines of a single book? First, it should be pointed out that unannotated editions such as the Oxford Complete Works are all in all of comparatively little use as even expert Renaissance scholars - leave alone inexpert readers - cannot read Shakespeare's language unaided; there are simply far too many words, features of grammar, etc., which a modern reader is certain to interpret inaccurately or not to understand at all. So it is essential to have intelligent and well-informed annotation that will help one to understand the text. Bevington's is extraordinarily good: knowledgeable, precise, and helpfully clear.
Second, an editor needs to be able to produce a responsible modernised text. Shakespeare cannot be understood by many unless he is read in modern spelling, and the punctuation of his period, too, often leads most modern readers astray. Bevington's modernisation of the text is exemplary. Furthermore, his handling of the many thorny textual problems is also outstanding for the knowledge and the judgement that he brings to bear. For example, the Oxford people unwisely and on poor grounds print two separate versions of *King Lear*, and Bevington has been exceptional in rejecting that approach and producing a persuasively and intelligibly "conflated" text (much better, by the way, than the conflated version in the Arden text edited in 1997 by R.A. Foakes).
Most readers of the plays who are not already quite familar with them will want good, perceptive and comprehensive introductions to them, and in this area, too, Bevington excels, demonstrating an awareness of modern approaches and interests without falling victim to trendiness. He offers introductions which are never dull but, however exciting and illuminating, always sensible.
The general introductory and accompanying material made available elsewhere in the book is equally useful, revealing, and accurate; and the book is well produced. It is amazingly cheap for the remarkable value it offers.
This, then, is not only the best single-volume Shakespeare available, but is by any standard as good an edition as anyone could possibly expect. I add that in my personal view Bevington is probably the only scholar at present alive who could have produced so excellent a single-volume edition. Unreservedly recommended.