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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Skilful advocacy, 16 Nov 2008
By 
Jon Chambers (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shakespeare's Poems: Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and The Shorter Poems (Arden Shakespeare: Third Edition) (Paperback)
In the opinion of the two editors of this volume (Katherine Duncan-Jones and HR Woudhuysen) Shakespeare's narrative poems are 'the most neglected items in the Shakespeare canon'. Ironically, it was as poet rather than dramatist that Shakespeare made his name, and both 'Venus and Adonis' and 'The Rape of Lucrece' were immediate 'hits' with Elizabethan readers. As advocates of the poems, the editors of this 3rd edition Arden hope to attract a new generation of enthusiastic readers. (The previous editor, HT Prince was, by contrast, one of their many detractors.) The expectation here, moreover, is that these new readers will make up their own minds about the arguments being presented, rather than, simply, being passive recipients of scholarly wisdom - a laudably democratic ideal characteristic of Arden3.

But what of the arguments? The poems are presented as works which offer things that the plays either cannot or do not: a more comprehensive anatomising of inner mental states and a stronger affinity with the visual arts. However, the Introduction's attempt to link Shakespeare with Renaissance painting - even going as far as to suggest that he had an acquaintance with art theory - lacks concrete evidence. Assertions like 'He could ... have seen an example of an Italian painted battle scene in a nobleman's house', seem over-speculative, an impression that is reinforced by the next sentence: 'Such access is not implausible.' Not implausible, perhaps, but not entirely convincing, either.

One of the real strengths of Duncan-Jones' previous Arden edition (Shakespeare's Sonnets, 1997) was its richly insightful analysis of the sequence. Its section on numerological significance was, I thought, profound and persuasive. She makes a similar attempt here (for Duncan-Jones' hand played the greater part in the Introduction, we learn; Woudhuysen's in the Commentary). She considers that the total number of stanzas in 'Venus' - 199 - is suggestive of incompleteness, while the poem's exact mid-point, with Adonis atop Venus but refusing to consummate, has special importance because of its pivotal positioning. Were Elizabethan readers so alert as to pick up on such mathematical and structurally abstruse matters? Possibly, but again the arguments seem more hopeful than convincing here.

Yet this Introduction has its own undoubted strengths. It is particularly successful in placing the poems in their historical context (plague-ridden London, in the case of the 1593-4 narrative poems). As one of the most recent (2007) additions to the Arden series, this edition is able to refer to such events as Greg Doran's critically acclaimed 2004 'Venus and Adonis: A Masque for Puppets' production at The Other Place, Stratford, as well as influential criticism from the first decade of the C21, in which (often) feminist writers have helped to restore Shakespeare's non-dramatic work to the limelight.

Yet again, then, it is Arden that sets the standard. This third edition represents a significant advance on the second and is currently unrivalled as a comprehensive guide to this hitherto neglected facet of the Shakespeare canon (and apocrypha).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arden Shakespeare, 3 Nov 2007
By 
Spider Monkey (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shakespeare's Poems: Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and The Shorter Poems (Arden Shakespeare: Third Edition) (Paperback)
In some respects I think it'd be rather presumptuous of me to attempt to review Shakespeare. Someone so well known and influential wouldn't benefit from my opinions on their work, plus there are more scholarly and concise reviews out there. But I can comment on these Arden versions. Of all the Shakespeare I've read I've always found the Arden copies to be well laid out and to have excellent commentary and notes on the text. They really add to your understanding of Shakespeares outstanding plays and introduce you to the depth in his work. They have superb paper quality and are bound well, withstanding repeated readings and intensive study. For your collection of Shakespeare you can't do much better than Arden publications, some are quite hard to get hold of but it's worth the effort.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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