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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not one of Shakespeare's best known plays, 5 Sep 2005
This review is from: Much Ado about Nothing (Cambridge School Shakespeare) (Paperback)
By no means a well-known play compared to Shakespeare's tragedies, or even many of his history plays, "Much Ado About Nothing" remains a popular theatrical production, a play which offers dynamic, meaty parts and provides actors with challenging vehicles for the display of their talents. In a sense, it is a play driven by its players, its text bristling with wit and energy, its themes and concepts regularly re-interpreted and re-presented by the great actors and producers of succeeding ages.
"Much Ado" is a play about courtly society and its preoccupation with love and marriage, with 'form', and with the appropriateness of suitors and matches. Love is one thing, but marriage involves power, money, and property rights and succession. It's a play about rules - often unwritten, usually unspoken, but which are learned by social osmosis and which appear in the niceties of etiquette, manners, and social trivia, providing fragile bastions to status and breeding. Despite their apparently ephemeral nature, these are rules which are very real, and not without severe sanction.
But "Much Ado" is also a play about the breaking of rules, about their use and transformation, obeying, instead, the demands and commands of love. Much of the dynamic of the play lies in the contrast between the two couples, Beatrice & Benedick and Claudio and Hero. The former are the liberated archetypes, the latter a more classical pairing.
It's a play which has been repeatedly interpreted and reinterpreted in the light of changing social mores and tastes. Much of the difficulty in studying the play lies in teasing out Shakespeare's intent from the layers of meaning and interpretation with which it has been lacquered.
There are numerous editions of the text available - Amazon doesn't seem to enable individual reviews to appear (indeed, the book section of "Much Ado" seems to be dominated by comments on a film version). However, for the student, there are distinct advantages in getting the right text.
Of the various versions available on the market, I have to say that the Arden edition presents an authoritative text and extensive set of notes - notes on context and language also appear at the foot of each page of the play, itself. The long introduction is extremely rewarding and informative, and further notes on the play are included in appendices. Overall, I'd rate this the best edition for the serious scholar.
The New Cambridge Shakespeare is a sophisticated resource - it provides some sixty pages of an Introduction, analysing the play and providing the sort of intellectual baseline sixth form and first year university students need. It offers further analysis at the end of the play. The text, itself, is beautifully printed, with tight little notes at the foot of each page (you may find you need glasses to follow these, however). Still, an edition to be recommended.
The Cambridge School Shakespeare provides lots of ideas for groupwork and class analysis of text and themes, and must provide teachers with an excellent practical resource with which to engage their class. The text appears on the right hand page, notes and commentary are kept to the left hand page - making it very accessible and readable. There is also a quality feel to the paper and printing.
The Longman's School Shakespeare also provides notes on the left hand page, text on the right. The text is, perhaps, better presented than the Cambridge 'School' edition - it is slightly more expansive and lucid. The notes, however, don't feel as robust as in the Cambridge edition - they're more limited and less comprehensive.
The Oxford School Shakespeare is, I feel, the weakest of the 'school' editions. Overall, I didn't find it as dynamic or thought-provoking as the others. It provides a brief synopsis, a scene by scene analysis, and some useful notes. But text and notes run together on the same page, giving it a congested, claustrophobic feel which I found disconcerting.
The New Penguin version bears the imprimatur of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's the most portable version - it'll fit in a pocket or bag. The text is presented without benefit of notes on the page - you have to keep referring to the back of the book to find these. The notes are comprehensive and thought provoking. Given that the play is largely written in prose, there can be dense blocks of dialogue on the page and, with the smaller size of the Penguin, it can make it look more daunting than needs be. The introduction can also be a touch dense and academic in places - it is worth persevering with it, for it does have some excellent points to make. The Penguin edition is an excellent, portable one, but it has its drawbacks.
The Dover Thrift edition, meanwhile, is precisely that. The bare bones of the text, no notes to speak of, and a very 'economical' feel to print and paper quality.
For school work, I'd go for the Cambridge or Longman's, for the keen student, the Arden edition is my top recommendation, followed by the New Cambridge. However, if you are studying the play, it is worth collaborating with some of your fellow students - you each acquire a different edition of the text, then you can compare and contrast the notes and commentaries.
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Location: Troon, Scotland

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