Customer Review

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent edition of the most thrilling of Shakespeare's tragedies, 6 Sep 2008
This review is from: The Oxford Shakespeare: Othello (Paperback)
In writing a review of this book, I will make a (possibly rather dangerous) assumption; namely, that you will already know the story of Othello and his awful downfall at the hands of the utterly unscrupulous Iago. If not, then I won't spoil the story, but will say that it is a remarkable and very moving tale indeed.

However, most people looking for a copy of the play are likely to be in the business of studying or performing it, so my review will focus on this particular edition's merits and drawbacks. Of the former there are a great many, and of the latter there are a few.

To start with the practicalities of the book, the layout follows the pattern of the Arden Shakespeare, with the text at the top of the page, below that alternative readings, and on the lower half or so, explanatory notes. This works very well for me, but some readers prefer to work with editions which have facing page annotations, so they might be advised to look elsewhere. Moreover, the book itself is very well made, printed on excellent paper and strongly bound, so if it will be in your company for some time, you won't suffer the annoyances of pages falling out. Lastly, it is clearly typeset in the distinctive font used by all Oxford editions (and is infinitely more legible than the Oxford edition of the collected plays and sonnets).

This edition was first published in 2006, so it is admirably up-to-date in scholarship and approach. Some Oxford editions (such as that of "Hamlet") are over twenty years old, and feel a little dated, but this is very fresh. The editor is Michael Neill, professor of English at Auckland, and he has done an outstanding job. The introduction is almost 180 pages long, and falls into two parts, the first dealing with the play and its characters in performance, and the second with critical approaches to the play and its themes. Both parts are very thorough, but there is not a trace of jargon, and Neill seems not to have approached the edition with an intellectual axe to grind.

There is, though, a strong sense that Neill is determined not to let the reader forget that they are encountering a piece of drama, and not just an academic text on the page, so his explanatory notes quite frequently draw our attention back to questions of stagecraft, which has revealed to me layers of meaning that I would otherwise have overlooked. Equally refreshingly, he does at times take a scalpel to those odd pieces of received wisdom and critical contortionism that have accrued around Shakespeare's plays over the generations, such as the idea of "double time" which some critics have invented to explain the slightly problematic fact that events which feel like they are separated by little more than a few hours, are, in fact, spread over several months. Neill's point is that time was a flexible commodity on the Jacobean stage, and that we should not look for chronological verisimilitude as would be found in a novel. It is well worth reminding us that, despite the profound resonances that this story carries for readers in any era, Shakespeare's age was markedly different to our own, and we should not attempt to twist his work to fit our own preconceptions of how art should function.

The only drawback with this edition is that it is pitched at readers who are comfortable with studying Shakespeare, and I would advise readers in years 12 and 13 of school to consider other editions, such as the New Swan edition, which might meet their needs better. However, for those at under- and postgraduate level, and experienced readers of Shakespeare, this is an excellent book.
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