Book Review: The Norton Shakespeare (Stephen Greenblatt) : BH

8/12/2001 • British Heritage Book Reviews

The Norton Shakespeare, Based on the Oxford Edition, Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor; Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus, editors. Published by W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., New York. Tel: 800-233-4830. $65, slipcased hardback, 1997.

The immortality of the world’s greatest playwright has been further assured by the publication of The Norton Shakespeare, the most recent addition to venerable publisher W.W. Norton’s collection of literary anthologies. Based on the authoritative 1986 Oxford edition, the Norton carries Shakespearean scholarship to new heights. A highly respected team of editors, led by Stephen Greenblatt, has revisited the bard’s works, approaching them with a refreshing new historicist treatment that both enhances and enlivens a contemporary reading of the plays.

In his extensive General Introduction, Greenblatt draws on the findings of new scholarship to provide contemporary readers of Shakespeare with an invaluable insight into Shakespeare’s life and times. Exploring issues ranging from ‘Haves and Have-Nots’ to ‘The English and Otherness’, Greenblatt places the bard’s work in its contemporary historical context. He goes on to explore the state of the theatre in Shakespeare’s day as well as a the ‘life and art’ of the playwright himself.

Following this 70-plus-page introduction are the complete works themselves–all 3,194 single-column pages of them. Each is preceded, in trademark Norton-Anthology style, by an enlightening introduction that includes a Note on the text as well as a selected bibliography. Explanatory annotations and marginal glosses throughout the plays help 20th-century readers fully understand and appreciate the nuances of Elizabethan diction.

As if all this were not enough, an appendices section contains an essay on the Shakespearean stage by Andrew Gurr; ‘A Funeral Elegy by W.S.’, the unsigned poem recently attributed to Shakespeare, edited by Donald Foster; a collection of facsimiles of historical documents; a detailed Shakespearean chronicle (1558-1616); a general bibliography, and a glossary. Everything a modern-day reader could possibly need to enhance his or her understanding of the works of Shakespeare contained within two covers.

Anyone who would appreciate a complete collection of Shakespeare’s works should consider investing in The Norton Shakespeare. This beautifully packaged slipcased edition will make both an aesthetically and intellectually valuable addition to your library.

Leigh Ann Berry