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4.4 out of 5 stars17
4.4 out of 5 stars
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I'm one of those people afraid of Shakespeare - partly because English is not my first language and partly because my English teacher at high school had us skip most of it. However in recent months, references to 'Hamlet' have been cropping up all around me - from David Foster Wallace's novel 'Infinite Jest' to TV show 'Sons of Anarchy' - so I decided to bite the bullet and read Hamlet.

I agonised over what edition to pick because I wanted something 'idiot proof', with notes, explanations and summaries so that I could actually understand what I was reading. I eventually settled on the RSC edition and I'm really glad that I did. It's very well laid out, without being specifically targeted at A Level students (which for some reason I tend to find offputting).

Main features:

- It has a great overall introduction which goes into some detail about the various versions of the play;
- List of characters;
- The play itself has footnotes throughout;
- Summary for each scene
- Chapter about Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre
- History of the many 'Hamlets' who played the lead character over the centuries;
- Q&A with major theatre directors.

I thought I'd struggle with the play, but I actually found myself not needing to read all the footnotes - although it was great to know that they were there.
One small tip: keep some post-it notes handy so that you can easily flick back and forth to the characters list, scene summary and main body of the play.

I'll definitely buy an RSC edition of a Shakespeare play again - maybe the next one will be Macbeth!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 July 2009
The RSC Complete works is an impressive tome, but it is inevitably a bulky item - not something you want to carry around with you! The individual plays are being gradually issued and these are far more user friendly. For me the most insightful part - and the bit that really adds value to this edition - is the directors' comments on various productions. It is fascinating to hear the different views and interpretations and reveals why these great plays continue to have a life after all these years.

The layout of the book is clear and the notes on the text are on the same page - thereby overcoming the problem of having to keep turning to the notes elsewhere. The notes tend to also be quite brief - unlike say the Arden series - which is usually all you need. Some of the notes are very useful, although some make you think "why didn't the editor think I wouldn't understand that word?".

Other editions do contain more depth, but this series puts the plays into context and feel like a more modern approach than some of the other series.

I am replacing all my versions with this series.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2009
This play is extracted from Bate's complete RSC Shakespeare, with some additional material. The short notes are by far the most important, and these are also in the "complete" Shakespeare. If all you want is to 'read all the plays with minimum pain' then, on this evidence, the RSC Complete Shakespeare should be considered. If you want a bit more background with your Hamlet, but not technical overkill, then get this.

Many versions of Hamlet are rather formidable for the general reader. My "Arden playgoers edition" has 159 pages of introduction, 150 pages of appended long notes, and the 'short notes' take up more space than the actual text of the play! Useful, no doubt, for PhD students specialising in the technicalities and alternative versions of Hamlet, but this general reader will not be reading the Arden introduction again any time soon! ('Playgoers' version indeed!)

Anyway, back to this edition, edited by Jonathan Bate. It has a superb 20 page introduction (that I will be re-reading) and some nice short articles at the back of the book. But it has no 'long notes' at the back. All the (very short) notes are on the page you are reading, leading to a much better reading experience.

The very short notes never disrupt the reading, and only ever enhance it. Any archaic words are translated, and complicated phrases are *briefly* re-phrased for 'adequate' understanding. These notes are a remarkable exercise in concise explanation. Jonathan Bate has a great reputation as an approachable Shakespeare scholar, and these notes prove that this is deserved.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2013
We had to order this copy for school, and it was actually perfect. The only thing is, they have omitted some of the play. Nothing important, just perhaps to tidy it up a bit. So good for a clean, concise read, but if you need an exact play, each word there, then this one isn't ideal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2011
This is helping me a lot in the preparation of an exam abut Hamlet. I didn't go to school in an English speaking country so this is the first time I read Shakespeare. It does what it promises: makes you understand everything. Definitely a good buy
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on 3 September 2015
I didn't buy my copy of no fear Shakespeare from Amazon, but felt I needed to post a review in reaction to W Shardlow's review. I disagree with the "no understanding" title. I have read Shakespeare in the RSC format, and been to see performances. The No Fear titles are a good place to start if the original language baffles you. These books are not for those who prefer their thees, thous, thys, and want their words to be spoken trippingly! The great thing about this range is that you get the original next to the updated version. Despite the fact, as in all attempts to translate, something is lost I feel that loss is offset by the enjoyment of the reader getting into the play. I read the No Fear Merchant of Venice and I really enjoyed the movement of the characters, and it also made want to read the original text now that I had some idea of what was being said. Plays are difficult as they do not always have the ease of scene setting as ordinary books have. I don't read a play to marvel at the use of words, but to enjoy the situation being played out. I read somewhere if you want to show something write a play, to tell something write a book. Imagine if Hamlet had been translated into the original Klingon, I wonder what would be said about that? Better still you would certainly see something to tell people!
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2009
I'll use one line to show the problem with this text. Many other lines have a similar problem. Shakespeare has:

"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you,
trippingly on the tongue."

'No Fear' has:

"Perform the speech just as I taught you, musically and smoothly."

Do you really have to translate "Speak the speech" as "Perform the speech"? If you can't understand "Speak the speech" then you need more help than any book can give (e.g., a very good teacher!)

Also, Shakespeare is being more exact than "no fear" here. "Perform" is too vague. Shakespeare is talking precisely about speech and pronunciation. Note how 'no fear' translates 'as I pronounced it to you' as 'as I taught you', again losing Shakespeare's stress on vocalisation, and again wrongly translating something that should be left as obvious.

'Musically and smoothly' is an even graver error. Trippingly is used in a sense that might trip up students here, so they certainly need help. But all 'no fear' does is confuse them. Does trippingly literally mean musically and smoothly? No it doesn't. If you look 'trip' up in a good concise dictionary you are given the main literal meaning that Shakespeare is using as a metaphor. That is: 'walk or dance with quick light steps'(concise OED).

Then again, although this is the main meaning, Hamlet might be joking with the player. That is, using both (or all 10!) meanings of 'trip' in a multiple metaphor. But I digress, one meaning will do for the first run through in a 'non-honours' class.

But 'no fear' will do for no one.

Shakespeare is hard. Students need help. But not this kind of help.

Check out the "Oxford School Shakespeare" series to see a better approach. If you like a more "adult", and more lightly annotated, text then try the RSC Shakespeare version edited by Jonathan Bate. If you want heavyweight commentary then Arden might be best (though Oxford UP and Cambridge UP also publish detailed versions worth looking at.)

I gave an extra star for the attempt to make Shakespeare a smoother read for the general reader and school child. This is something that publishers should certainly attempt. It is certainly needed. But this isn't a very good attempt.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2014
I chose this rating becuase the book helped me to understand the language of the time. I also found that I could argue with some of the meanings if I felt that I could see a different slant on the words.
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on 16 October 2015
Great concept, great book. Doesn't take long to read, and very helpful in illucidating some of the denser passages. It won't be for everyone - purists will hate some of the neologisms in the modern version, and it misses some of the subtlety and most of the beauty of the original - but I got plenty from it. It is in no way a replacement for reading the original, but it's a great substitute if you don't happen to have a professor of literature on hand to answer your questions.
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on 26 February 2013
I found this version of Hamlet incredibly useful as it contained a scene by scene summary for those having difficulty comprehending the Shakespearian language, as well as a glossary, contextual notes and key quotes and points to refer to, perfect for anyone who, like me, is studying this play.
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