The Arden Shakespeare Second Series

Plays

The Comedy Of Errors (Arden Shakespeare Second Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Shakespeare’s dextrous comedy of two twin masters and two twin servants continually mistaken for one another is both farce and more than farce. The Comedy of Errors examines the interplay between personal and commercial relationships, and the breakdown of social order that follows the disruption of identity, until the nightmarish cross-purpose dialogue ends in harmonious reunion.

The play is set in Ephesus, a city where anyone who is from Syracuse will be executed, unless he can pay the ransom. Egeon, who is from Syracuse, is arrested accordingly; he explains to the Duke that he is looking for his lost family. He and his wife Emilia had identical twin sons (both called Antipholus), but in a shipwreck Egeon and one son were separated from Emilia and the other. The son who grew up with Egeon, Antipholus of Ephesus, set off to search for his lost brother, accompanied by his servant Dromio of Ephesus, who had similarly lost a twin.

Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus have also arrived in Ephesus where, unknown to them, their twin brothers both live. Antipholus sends Dromio away on an errand, and the two sets of twins become muddled up. A jeweller presents the newly-arrived Antipholus with an expensive chain, and then pursues the native Antipholus for payment. The wife of Antipholus of Ephesus mistakes the stranger for her husband, and locks her real husband out of the house. Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with the woman everyone else thinks is his sister-in-law. Both masters beat each other’s servants regularly for their apparent disobedience – the two Dromios try to obey the apparently contradictory instructions of a single master.

Eventually, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse take refuge in a priory. The Duke arrives with Egeon, who is going to be executed. Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, having just escaped arrest, also arrive. The Abbess of the priory brings out Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, and the confusion is cleared when the Abbess herself is revealed to be Emilia, Egeon’s long lost wife and the mother of the Antipholuses. Egeon is reprieved, and Antipholus of Syracuse proposes to his brother’s sister-in-law.

Cymbeline

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The intricate plot of Cymbeline folds comic, romantic, tragic and historical modes into a bittersweet and experimental play. Though listed under the ‘Tragedies’ in its first appearance in the 1623 First Folio, the play’s diverse elements of murderous jealousy, Roman invasion, dark schemes of sexual assault, female transvestism, passionate love, court, country and fairy-tale are all harmoniously and peacefully reconciled in marriage. Thought to have been written around 1608-10, the playgoing doctor Simon Forman noted seeing the play at the Globe in April 1611. Some critics have wondered if Cymbeline, as other late Shakespeare plays, could be a collaboration; the play’s similarity to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster (c.1608-10) has led to debate as to which may have borrowed from which. Sources for Cymbeline include Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c.1136), Boccaccio’s Decameron (1353), Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577-87), and the anonymous romantic drama The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (1582).

Cymbeline, King of Britain is furious with his daughter Imogen for marrying Posthumus, because he wanted to marry her step-brother Cloten (son of Cymbeline’s second wife, the Queen). Posthumus is banished. In Rome, he meets Iachimo, who wagers that he will be able to sleep with Imogen.

Iachimo, failing to seduce Imogen, hides in a chest and is carried into her bedchamber. Once she is asleep he steals a bracelet given to her by Posthumus. Back in Rome, this convinces Posthumus of Imogen’s infidelity.

Cymbeline refuses to pay the tribute due to Augustus Caesar, and the Roman ambassador Lucius promises war. Posthumus writes to his servant Pisanio instructing him to kill Imogen; instead Pisanio advises Imogen to dress as a man and accompany Lucius to Rome. She goes as ‘Fidele’ to Milford-Haven to meet the departing Lucius. Cloten, believing that Posthumus will also be at Milford-Haven, wears Posthumus’ clothes and follows Imogen there. He intends to kill her husband and rape her.

On her way ‘Fidele’ meets Belarius and his two sons Guiderius and Arviragus – who are actually Cymbeline’s sons, stolen away in their infancy. Cloten arrives and Guiderius kills him.

‘Fidele’ is ill, and drinks a potion given to her by Pisanio, thinking it is a remedy. The Queen thought it was poison and intended it for Posthumus, but the potion creates the only the appearance of death. Her brothers, believing ‘Fidele’ to be dead, place her next to Cloten’s body - still in Posthumus’ clothes. Imogen wakes to what appears to be her husband’s headless corpse. She is found by Lucius and taken into his service.

The returned Posthumus, disguised as a peasant, fights against the Roman invaders. Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus also fight, saving Cymbeline. Posthumus re-disguises as a Roman, hoping for death; in prison he has an apparition of ghosts and Jupiter. The characters gather in front of Cymbeline. The Queen has died and her trick with the poison is exposed, as is Iachimo’s deception. Posthumus and Imogen are reunited, the identity of Belarius and Cymbeline’s sons is revealed, and Cymbeline makes peace with Rome.

King Henry IV Part 2 (Arden Shakespeare Second Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

More troubled and troubling than King Henry IV Part 1, King Henry IV Part 2 is the second play in the Henriad tetralogy, continuing the story of King Henry’s decline and Hal’s reform. Though Part 2 echoes the structure of the earlier play, its is a darker and more unsettling world, in which even Falstaff’s revelry is more tired and cynical, and the once-merry Hal sloughs off his tavern companions to become King Henry V. Though probably less written about and performed, critics have nevertheless praised the play for its mature style.

The play was written soon after Part 1, probably in 1598. This text, based on the 1600 First Quarto, is supplemented by additional sequences from the 1623 First Folio. It is uncertain whether the play was conceived as a second part, a sequel, or an independent play in its own right. Unlike the popular Part 1, there were no reprints of Part 2 before the Folio, perhaps due to censorship. It uses similar source matter to Part 1, including Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), The Mirror for Magistrates (1559) and Daniel’s Civile Wars (1595), and thematically it also echoes Part 1, in its concerns about kingship, miscalculation, trust and unrest.

Rumour opens the play with an Induction on the rifeness of slander. After hearing one such false report of victory, the rebel Northumberland learns of the death of his son Hotspur, and the defeat of his army at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Morton tells him that the Archbishop of York is taking up the fight against King Henry.

Falstaff is arrested for a debt to Mistress Quickly – but manages to wriggle out of it by promising (again) to marry her. An anxious Prince Hal is distracted from his ailing father’s by Poins’, who persuades him to help spy on Falstaff at dinner by pretending to be waiters. After they reveal themselves, Hal is summoned to court. The king broods on his position as his health deteriorates.

The rebel forces are at Gaultree Forest, led by the Archbishop of York, Mowbray and Hastings. Northumberland, a crucial ally, has opted against joining them and instead has fled to Scotland. Prince John of Lancaster, Hal’s younger brother, leads an army against them, but sends an envoy to suggest a parley. To the rebel leaders’ great surprise, Lancaster agrees to the terms of their peace – but once they have dismissed their army, he turns on them anyway, arresting them for treason. Falstaff, having recruited unfit soldiers, nevertheless manages to capture an enemy.

Henry collapses at the news of the victory. Mistakenly assuming his father dead, Hal tries on the crown at his bedside. Upon waking Henry is furious at this irreverence, but the two are at last reconciled before he dies, and Hal becomes King Henry V. In a heartbreaking moment, Falstaff travels hastily to London to see his old friend (and secure a royal favour or two), but the new king dismisses him with the famous lines: ‘I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers. / How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester!’ For all his misspent hours with the fat knight, Hal has finally thrown off his youth and embraced the responsibilities of royalty. He will rise to great heights over the course of his reign.

Macbeth (Arden Shakespeare Second Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘The Scottish Play’ is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, but its characters are some of the most memorable in his oeuvre: the misguided Macbeth, the ruthless Lady Macbeth and the otherworldly Weird Sisters are recognisable as classic Shakespearean roles. Saturated with blood and despair, the tragedy of Macbeth is a concentrated study of guilt and ambition inflamed by the supernatural. The protagonists’ visceral soliloquies are much prized as revelations of desperate and harrowed psychology, and as Shakespearean reflections on the multifaceted nature of good and evil.

On their return from battle, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches, who prophesise both Macbeth’s rise to the Scottish crown, and that of Banquo’s ancestors (including the monarch at Shakespeare’s time of writing, James I and VI of England and Scotland). Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to murder the current king of Scotland, Duncan, and as the dead king’s sons flee the country, Macbeth continues on a murderous and paranoid rampage, removing anyone who threatens his vision of a lengthy rule.

Desperate to know more, Macbeth revisits the witches, who warn him to beware Macduff and tell him that his life will remain unthreatened until Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane. They say that he is safe from any man ‘of woman born’. Meanwhile, Macduff and Malcolm join together in England to raise an army against Macbeth. Their army carries branches from the trees of Birnham wood towards Dunsinane to disguise themselves – thus fulfilling part of the witches’ prophecy. Before the armies meet, Macbeth receives word that Lady Macbeth, having lost her mind, is dead. The armies meet: Macbeth fights with Macduff, discovering in the course of the action that he was delivered by Caesarean section, and is therefore not ‘of woman’. Macduff kills Macbeth, and Malcolm is made king.

Witchcraft was a real and frightening concern in Shakespeare’s England. King James I was himself fascinated by and fearful of witches, and had even published a book, Daemonologie, in 1597, advocating witch-hunts. Criticism of the play has frequently noted, however, that it is not the Weird Sisters who force Macbeth’s hand; they merely prophesise events, and have no physical effect. This leaves us with troubling and unanswerable questions about free will, and how and why good people can be led down dark and evil paths – how ‘Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.’

Macbeth first appears in the 1623 Folio, though its date of composition is usually agreed at 1606: several plays appear around that date (including Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607)) which make reference to and/or parody the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. Simon Forman, a doctor and diarist from Salisbury, records seeing ‘Mackbeth at the Glob’ in 1611. The Folio text is thought to be taken from a prompt book, due to its many stage directions. Shakespeare’s play takes the entries for Duncan, Macbeth and Banquo in Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) as its source matter, although it plays with these historical narratives to a great extent. Several of the witches’ scenes and songs, and the introduction of the queen of the witches, Hecate, have been credited to another playwright, Thomas Middleton, as they also feature in his later tragicomedy The Witch, produced by the King’s Men in the later 1610s. It is thought that these extracts were inserted around 1618.

Measure for Measure

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In a city swamped by impotent law and sexual decadence, Shakespeare reveals repressed desire, skewed hypocrisy and arbitrary justice. His only play to be set in Vienna, Measure for Measure has, along with Troilus and Cressida and All’s Well That Ends Well, been labelled a ‘problem play’, although in its first appearance in print in the 1623 First Folio, it is listed under the ‘Comedies’. Using conventional literary and dramatic devices such as the bed trick and the disguised ruler (whose humanist piety some critics have seen as a direct nod to the newly crowned James I), the play’s main source lies in the Italian writer Cinthio’s prose Hecatommithi (1565) (whence Shakespeare had also drawn the inspiration for Othello). Shakespeare reworks Cinthio’s tragic ending of rape and execution so that his play ends, as is usual for a comedy, in multiple marriages.

The Duke of Vienna lends his power to the uncompromising Angelo and pretends to leave the city, but remains disguised as a friar. Angelo begins to enforce the city’s neglected laws, and condemns Claudio to death for getting Juliet pregnant out of wedlock. Claudio’s sister Isabella, who is about to become a nun, begs Angelo for mercy, but he falls in love with her. He offers her a bargain: Claudio will be released if Isabella sleeps with Angelo. Isabella will not consent, even when her brother encourages her.

The Duke, who was visiting Claudio in prison still disguised as a friar, overhears Isabella talking to Claudio. He suggests they trick Angelo into thinking that he is sleeping with Isabella, but he will really be sleeping with Marianna, his ex-fiancée whom he abandoned.

Their trick is successful but Angelo does not pardon Claudio: he is still to be executed, and his head sent to Angelo. The Duke intervenes, and gets the Provost to agree to send another prisoner’s head instead – initially Barnadine’s, but then Ragozine’s when Barnardine refuses to be executed.

The Duke ‘returns’ to the city as himself. Isabella, not recognising him as the Friar who helped her, begs him for justice. The Duke pretends to dismiss her. Mariana arrives as a witness. The Duke re-enters as the Friar. When he reveals himself, Angelo confesses and the Duke orders him to marry Mariana then condemns him to death: Angelo is pardoned when Mariana pleads for him. Claudio is revealed to be alive. The Duke proposes to Isabella.

The first record of performance for Measure for Measure was at the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall, on 26th December 1604, though it was probably composed and performed earlier that year. The play’s exploration of illicit sexuality led to it being underperformed or bowdlerised throughout the centuries that followed its publication; at the start of the twentieth century, critics and practitioners ‘uncovered’ the play’s emphasis on grace and divine atonement.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Arden Shakespeare Second Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Midsummer was a significant part of the early modern calendar, falling between 21st and 24th June. The point of the year when the sun is at its highest in relation to the equator, by Shakespeare’s time, the festival was a Christianized pagan celebration of life, love and fertility. Midsummer’s Eve was a night of mirthful misrule, where bonfires were lit and spirits thought to roam freely.

Written c.1590-1595, around the time of Shakespeare’s other ‘lyrical plays’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Romeo and Juliet and Richard II), A Midsummer Night’s Dream is unusual in Shakespeare, in that it has no direct source for the narrative of the play, although it draws on Chaucer, Lyly and Spenser for some of its characters and imagery.

Theseus, Duke of Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Egeus wants his daughter Hermia to be married to Demetrius, but she is in love with Lysander. Theseus rules that she must decide between Demetrius, a nunnery or death. Lysander and Hermia plan to elope; they confide in Hermia’s friend, Helena. Helena is hopelessly in love with Demetrius, and informs him of the lovers’ plan.

In the woods outside the city, the ‘mechanicals’ Quince, Snug, Bottom, Flute, Snout and Starveling are rehearsing a play about Pyramus and Thisbe to be performed at the Duke’s wedding. Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies, are quarrelling over Titania’s adoption of a human boy. In retaliation, Oberon orders his servant, the mischievous fairy Puck, to drop the juice of the flower ‘love-in-idleness’ into her eyes. This will make her love the first thing she sees – Puck ensures that this is Bottom, with an ass’s head instead of his own.

Oberon overhears Helena pleading with the uninterested Demetrius, and orders Puck to anoint Demetrius’ eyes also. But Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, and it is Lysander that falls in love with Helena. Puck tries to fix his error, and makes Demetrius fall in love with Helena as well; both men who were pursuing Hermia now pursue Helen.

Oberon discovers the quarrelling four, and commands Puck to fix everything. Oberon removes the spell from Titania and they are reconciled. Theseus finds the four lovers asleep in the forest, now neatly paired off: Demetrius with Helena, and Hermia with Lysander. The triple wedding is celebrated with a ludicrous performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’.

Though no record of first performance exists, it has been hypothesised that the play was composed for an aristocratic wedding, possibly in the presence of the queen, who would have been flattered by Oberon’s reference to the ‘imperial votress’. During the Interregnum, the mechanicals’ subplot was often played as a ‘droll’, and in 1692, Henry Purcell adapted the play as a new masque, The Fairy Queen. It has spawned multiple ballets, operettas and film versions, whilst remaining perennially popular onstage thanks to its mirth and magic. Recent criticism, however, has challenged the play’s reliance on male dominance and the sublimation of female independence in inevitable marriage.

The Arden Shakespeare Second series began publishing in 1946, with a new group of distinguished scholars freshly re-editing the plays from the original series, and was completed in the mid 1980s. The Second Series General Editors were Una Ellis-Fermor, Harold F. Brooks, Harold Jenkins and Brian Morris. Unlike the First Series, where each volume was based on the same textual source, the individual editors of each volume of the Second Series were responsible for editing the text of the play in that edition, a tradition that continues into the Third Series which launched in 1995.