Read, Then See

Now that you’ve selected a topic, you should read the whole play quickly. You should do this before working on a performance in detail. For reading a Shakespeare play, single play editions are preferable.

The fullest annotated single play series, with extensive performance histories in their introductions, are those published by Oxford, Cambridge, and Arden (but use recent editions only). The Cambridge University Press Shakespeare in Production series, edited by Julie Hankey, also provides detailed notes about production throughout the text. Handier but slighter are the various Penguin, Pelican, Folger, or Signet single play series: these are less extensively annotated and less attentive to the plays in performance.

Single-volume editions of the collected works of Shakespeare are bulky and often scantily annotated. They rarely include much information about performance, though the new Third Edition of the Norton Shakespeare is trying to remedy this deficiency by including links to online resources in its (hefty) purchase price.

Unfortunately, few texts available on the internet are reliable, contemporary, and concerned with production. In a pinch you might refer to the Folger Digital Texts, which offer the same text as the Folger print volumes, but don’t include the annotations.

After you’ve read the play, see the whole performance of it. The performance might be a local live show, a screening at a movie theater, a DVD from your local or school library, or an online video streamed in the comfort of your own home.

Here are a few online streaming options:

  • YouTube sometimes has whole plays streaming for free.

  • Globe Player (also downloadable as an iPad or iPhone app) offers filmed performances of plays at the reconstructed Globe Theater in London that you can for rent or purchase for under £10.

  • PBS’ Great Performances offers filmed performances of Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth that you can stream for free.

  • Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu often offer Shakespeare plays as part of their selection (monthly fee to access, but they all have free trial offers).

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Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond.