The students in my Shakespeare in Context course have just embarked on Part 3 of their semester-long Adopt-A-Book Assignment. This third—and final—installment asks them to engage with a very short passage of the playtext as it appears in their adopted edition and in the relevant Folger Shakespeare Library edition we've been using in class. This part of the assignment builds off of Part 1 and Part 2, which invited students to describe the material features of their adopted book before contextualizing one of those features via original research.
I was pleased by the range of research topics that the adopted books inspired, not least because it gave me a sense of how diverse my students' interests and investments in "Shakespeare" are developing. While I won't provide an exhaustive list of topics born from my students' observations about the material features of their books, here's a small sampling of questions that my students used to spur their research (note that I'm paraphrasing):
- Who is Edmond Malone? Why is he cited all over The Dramatic Works Of William Shakespeare, In Ten Volumes (Collins & Hannay, 1823)?
- Why does the Barron's "Shakespeare Made Easy" series print the text of the play in a serif font and the modern "translation" in a sans-serif font?
- Why was graphic designer Milton Glaser hired to illustrate the Signet Classics editions of Shakespeare in the 1960s?
- What other books can be traced to the Richmond-based bookbinder Joseph Martin (see below for an image of his ticket)? What can we learn about him in local archives?
- Who is Mary Cowden Clarke? How did she come to write prequels to Shakespeare's plays?
My only regret about the way Part 2 went this first time round was not leaving time in class for students to present their research to each other. In future iterations of the assignment, I might make Part 2 a presentation assignment so that others in the class—not just me!—can learn about the range of contexts in which the adopted books situate "Shakespeare."
Part 3 of the assignment is designed to illustrate how editorial interventions (both "substantive" and "accidental") can affect meaning. Students will compare how the Folger editors handle their chosen passage with how it's handled in their adopted edition. I have been modeling this mode of reading throughout the semester. For example, we recently spent a whole class period on the regularization of "weyward"/"weyard" to "weïrd" to describe the witches in the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Macbeth. The assignment breaks the assignment down into manageable steps before asking students to synthesize conclusions about how the editorial differences could lead to different interpretations of action, character, circumstance, plot, theme, &c.
If you have feedback on the assignment, ideas for how to modify it, or accounts of having done something similar in your classes, please leave a comment below!
PART 3: ANALYZE YOUR EDITION
The previous two parts of the assignment asked you to study the material features of the book—to describe them (PART 1) and to give them some context (PART 2). Now, it’s time to engage with the text of the edition. To do so, please follow the prompts below:
1. Start by selecting a 5- to 10-line speech or passage of dialogue from your FSL edition of the relevant play. (It’s absolutely fine if you choose a passage we’ve discussed in class.) Then, identify the version of that speech or passage of dialogue in your adopted book. You must choose a passage that appears in both your FSL edition and your adopted book. If you’ve chosen a passage that doesn’t have an analog in your adopted book, please choose another passage.
2. Paraphrase the passage as it appears in your FSL edition of the play.
3. Transcribe (that is, type out word-for-word, punctuation-mark-for-punctuation-mark, etc.) both versions of the speech or passage. In your transcription, you should replicate line breaks, indents, ALL CAPS, Italic, and all other design features of the page to the best of your ability. If you are working with a comic or an edition that replaces some of the language of the play with images, you should write detailed descriptions of the images and [place these descriptions in square brackets].
4. Now, begin comparing the two texts, listing every single way in which they differ. The difference could be as small as one edition using a period where the other uses a comma or the variant spelling of a word, where one spelling yields a double meaning while the other forecloses more than one meaning (ex, “weird” vs. “weyward” or “solid” vs. “sallied”). I strongly suggest making a table to organize your list and finding a way to indicate the difference visually:
For this part of the assignment, you should be able to come up with at least three differences. If you can’t identify at least three differences, you should choose another passage.
5. Then, choose three differences to discuss at more length. For each of these differences, write a 200-word paragraph that illuminates how the given difference affects our understanding of the passage. This means you’ll be writing three ¶s of 200 words each. You can focus on character, action, circumstance, theme, plot, etc. I strongly encourage you to use the Oxford English Dictionary (available in the “Shakespeare Resources” folder on the course Bb site) for this part of the assignment.
6. Finally, write a 500-word conclusion in which you explain how/whether the three differences you’ve discussed as a collective give us a difference impression of action, character, circumstance, theme, plot, etc. Does it make us see “Shakespeare” in a different light? Does it make you rethink any of the readings we’ve done in class? Which edition do you prefer? Why? In responding to these questions, please make sure to cite direct textual evidence to illuminate your claims. The more specific you are about how you arrive at your conclusions, the better!