Arden Shakespeare and Slings & Arrows

I’ve bought my last non-Arden edition of a Shakespeare play. I picked up a Yale edition of Hamlet to supplement the first season of Slings & Arrows. Yale is a fairly reputable institution and I’m inclined to respect their publications, but this is obviously designed for high school students, and not very good students at that.

The in-line index numbers for notes are intrusive enough, but when in Act 3, Scene 2, line 279, the note for “recorder” read “a wooden flute played in vertical position (modern flutes are metal and played transversely)”, I nearly threw the book across the room. Except that would have awakened my sleeping wife.

I’ve had similar experiences with a couple of other editions of Shakespeare, but not with the Arden Shakespeare. The editions cost two or three times as much, even in paperback, but are worth about 10X as much to a reader competent in modern English. For one thing, they don’t use in-line index numbers. If you want help, there are notes keyed to the line number. And those notes don’t stoop to explaining words that should be obvious to the educated reader.

The introductory essays in the Arden editions are extensive and detailed and helpful, if you are into that (I am), but the key difference for me is that the notes do not break the flow of my reading.

Oh, and watch Slings & Arrows. Three seasons of six shows each, set in a fictional theatre festival in Canada. Each season is built around a play — Hamlet, then Macbeth, then King Lear.

I especially enjoy three aspects of this series, the backstage action, the way they use Shakespeare, and the occasional shading away from realism. If you’ve ever worked on stage or backstage, parts of the series will feel very real. Shakespeare is pervasive in the series, in interesting ways. If you don’t know Hamlet, you can enjoy the series and learn a lot about the play. If you’ve studied Hamlet extensively, you might notice lines quoted and elements remixed in the “real life” action — betrayals, a ghost, people talking to themselves, pretense, hasty marriages, the list goes on. It could almost be a drinking game. Finally, I love how the cinematography gets caught up in the magic. At one point, a character nails his part in rehearsal and the set and costumes appear for a short while because he is creating the whole play on a bare stage.

Tina and I have watched two seasons and it is already in our top ten TV series of all time. That puts it with My So-Called Life, thirtysomething, the good episodes of The X-Files, the first few years of Saturday Night Live, The Carol Burnett Show, and Sesame Street.

If you get it from Netflix, I strongly recommend getting both discs for a season at once. I also recommend setting aside a couple of hours, because by the fourth episode you might need to finish the entire season. That has happened to us with both the first and second season.

Give it at least three episodes. The first one is a bit slow, but by the third, oh my.

If you’ve ever worked on stage or backstage, you’ll recognize the good and the bad, the awful and the magical. I’ll give you one lovely clip with a terrible actress and marvelous directing. Watch Geoffrey Tennant desparately try to elicit a real performance from Claire Donner playing Ophelia.

If you don’t believe me, read Tim Goodman’s review of Slings & Arrows, since that is what convinced me to watch it.

1 thought on “Arden Shakespeare and Slings & Arrows

  1. The recorder thing is way too funny. I went to an Early Music Festival recorder concert, and the things really gifted musicians can get out of the instrument are amazing. I’d never considered the instrument capable of the things they were doing. So, HAH, Yale.
    (PS you may want to warn people that they need to sign in to typekey before commenting. The error message is quote opaque.)


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