The Arden Shakespeare Third Series

Plays

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Antony and Cleopatra rival Romeo and Juliet for the title of most famous lovers in Western drama. Shakespeare’s play, probably written around 1606-7 (though not appearing in print until the First Folio of 1623), reflects the popularity of the story in the early modern imagination. Shakespeare’s play is heavily indebted to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans, written in the first century AD, and translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.

Marc Antony is one of three triumvirs ruling Rome following the assassination of Julius Caesar. Neglecting his political duties, he lingers in Egypt with Cleopatra, a queen who sees herself as a demigod, an embodied Isis. When unrest threatens Rome, Antony must leave Cleopatra in order to solidify his power against threats from Pompey and fellow triumvir Octavius Caesar. Despite marrying Octavia, the passive sister of Caesar, for the sake of peace, he soon longs for his ‘wrangling queen’ and returns to Egypt. The ensuing war between the lovers and Octavius Caesar engulfs the Roman world. The eponymous lovers are unable to reconcile their martial defeat and its consequent shame with their hyperbolic self-images, and commit two of the most memorable suicides in the Shakespearean canon.

From its earliest audiences, Antony and Cleopatra has received criticism. Post-Restoration critics knocked the play for the way it disregarded the classical unities of drama, which stated that a play should cover one idea, in one place, at one time. With its action historically spanning a decade, and its scenes ranging from Europe to Africa and back again, the play affronted those who desired a neater retelling of the famous love story. John Dryden took it upon himself to rewrite the tragedy in his play All for Love, first performed in 1677: covering only the last day of the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, the play reaches for a grander love affair, removed from the lust, jealousy and self-inflation of Shakespeare’s play. Scholarly criticism has dwelt upon the play’s use of opposites, the imagery of instability, and the performance of gender on the early modern stage (to which Cleopatra metatheatrically refers, when she fears boy actors will portray her ‘squeaking [. . .] i’th’posture of a whore’ [5.2.219-20].

The staging of the play has long been of special interest to critics and theatre-makers alike: the play calls for a sea-battle, and a colossal monument to Cleopatra up to which the dying Antony must be hoisted. Notable Antonys have included John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Stewart; notable Cleopatras Peggy Ashcroft, Vanessa Redgrave and Mark Rylance, in the 1999 all-male production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London.

As You Like It (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the Forest of Arden where the cross-dressed Rosalind meets her lover Orlando, folklore meets with classical ideals, the pastoral with ribaldry, and love poetry with parody and satire. As You Like It plays witty games with gender roles, and the nature of liberty and love.

As You Like It was probably written at the end of 1598, and perhaps first performed in 1599. This text is based on the Folio, where it was first printed.

Duke Fredrick has usurped his older brother Duke Senior and banished him to the Forest of Arden, where he lives with the faithful members of the court. He has left behind is his daughter Rosalind who is close friends with her cousin Celia, the daughter of Duke Fredrick. The changeable Fredrick banishes Rosalind from his court; Celia accompanies her into the forest, along with the clown Touchstone. Meanwhile Orlando, who Rosalind favours after seeing him wrestle, flees to the forest with his servant Adam after hearing his oldest brother Oliver plots to kill him.

Rosalind disguises herself as a young man called Ganymede, and Celia as ‘Aliena’, while Orlando joins the banished Duke and his men, who include the melancholy Jacques. In the guise of Ganymede, Rosalind meets Orlando and gives him lessons in wooing and women, pretending to be ‘Rosalind’ and receiving his mock-courtship. Secondary romance plots involve the rustic Silvius and Phoebe, and Audrey and Touchstone. When Oliver arrives in the forest too, Rosalind arranges several marriages and the dukedom is restored.

In her introduction to the current edition, Juliet Dusinberre writes ‘As You Like It, with its cross-dressed heroine, gender games and explorations of sexual ambivalence, its Forest of Arden and melancholy Jaques, speaks directly to the twenty-first century. Although the play is rooted in Elizabethan culture – literary, social, political, aesthetic – Shakespeare has placed a prophetic finger on the pulse of the future. Amongst the myths of classical pastoral and of the biblical Garden of Eden are a group of displaced persons fleeing family disruption and political corruption. In raising profound questions about the nature of liverty, renewal and regeneration posed by the new environment of the Forest, Shakespeare has created a comedy of extraordinary flexibility and depth.’

Coriolanus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Coriolanus was first published in the First Folio of 1623; we have no recording of a first performance contemporary with Shakespeare. As a result, dating the play has proven to be a difficult task, with most modern critics placing the writing of the play in the second half of the 1610s.

Affording Coriolanus a genre is similarly tricky: it is ‘The Tragedy of Coriolanus’ in the First Folio, but it is deeply indebted to the sub-genre of ‘Roman plays’ that form a significant part of the Shakespearean oeuvre. As with Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare draws on Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans for both historical detail and literary tropes.

The exploration of the public voice and the body politic in Coriolanus is immediately displayed in the play’s opening, where Roman citizens are rising up against the mounting price of grain. (It has been argued that this is a contemporary reference to the Midland Revolt of 1607, where peasants in the Midlands of Britain rioted against the enclosure of common land.) Menenius, a wise old Roman generally respected by the people, recites a parable narrating the breakdown of the body when its individual parts are not in accord. For the body politic to function, the head (here, the General; in Shakespeare’s England, King James I) and the belly (the people) must support each other.

One of the play’s central explorations, that of the battle between public and private identity, and political and personal duty, is encapsulated in the figure of Coriolanus, much as it is in other Roman figures (e.g. Brutus in Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra). His identity is unfixed, and manipulated by the patricians and his ambitious mother, Volumnia.

Unlike other Shakespearean tragic heroes, Coriolanus only has one lengthy soliloquy, in which he laments the ‘dissension’ and ‘bitterest enmity’ to which ‘friends now fast sworn’ have turned. As his affinity shifts from Romans to Volscians, his own identity gets lost, until he cries at the end of Act IV that ‘only that name remains’ – the irony being that ‘Coriolanus’ is not the name he started off with at the beginning of the play (he was ‘Caius Martius’ until he was granted the toponym Coriolanus, after his defeat of the town of Corioles). He is murdered at the end of the play in a bloody attack perpetrated by conspirators, mirroring Caesar’s death in his eponymous Roman tragedy. The opacity of the play’s central figure has rendered theatrical and cinematic interpretations of Coriolanus manifold in the past century especially: Laurence Olivier (twice), Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Ian McKellan and Ralph Fiennes have all portrayed the general.

Double Falsehood or the Distressed Lovers

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Double Falsehood, or The Distressed Lovers has long been the subject of scholarly and theatrical doubt. In 1728, Lewis Theobald, Shakespeare editor and struggling man of letters, published the play, claiming it to be his revision of a work ‘Written Originally by W. SHAKESPEARE’, of which he happened to be in the possession of three manuscript copies. Whilst many over the years have slammed this work as forgery (perhaps a play by James Shirley or Philip Massinger masquerading as Shakespeare), perhaps an attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the revivifying English theatre in the patriotic cultural politics of the eighteenth century, in the 1780s, Edmond Malone discovered records dating from the 1600s confirming a play by Shakespeare and his sometime collaborator, John Fletcher. This lost play, The History of Cardenio, performed by the King’s Men in 1613, and entered into the Stationer’s Register in 1652, has a plot and characterisation very close to Theobald’s revision. Any manuscripts Theobald may have had are thought to have perished in the fire that destroyed the Covent Garden Theatre Museum in 1808, and thus, the original play remains lost to a modern readership.

A story of passionate love and devastating betrayal, Double Falsehood follows the story of ‘Cardenio’, found in Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605). At the hypothesised time of the play’s composition in the early 1610s, English literary culture was having a Cervantic ‘moment’, with Thomas Shelton translating the novel into English in 1607, publishing it in 1612. A Spanish play based on Cervantes’ work, Don Quixote de la Mancha (?1605-8) by Guillén de Castro, may also have been a direct source. In Theobald’s version, the libertine Henriquez has forced himself on the humble Violante, and abandoned her, leaving a heartless letter. He now sets about pursuing Leonora, who is engaged to his friend Julio. With the collusion of Leonora’s father Don Bernard, he forces her to the altar, having first lured Julio to court on a false errand. Warned by Leonora, Julio turns up in time to prevent the wedding and Leonora’s suicide. Julio is ejected from the house.

The grief-stricken Julio is living in a mountainous plateau. Violante is dressed as a shepherd and living nearby. Leonora has taken refuge in a nunnery in the same region; Henriquez is still pursuing her. Henriquez’s virtuous elder brother Roderick arrives in time to save Violante from being assaulted by the Master of the Flocks, who has seen through her transvestite disguise. Violante and Julio discover that they have both been wronged by Henriquez.

Roderick arranges for Leonora’s father, Julio’s father, Leonora and Violante to meet at a lodge. Violante, who is disguised as a page, confronts Henriquez with his cruel letter to her; she leaves and returns dressed as a woman, and Henriquez seems to fall in love with her anew. Leonora is reunited with Julio.

First produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1727, Double Falsehood has had no subsequent professional stage performance. Put on through the eighteenth century for private entertainment, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries it has been reworked by scholars for private readings or university performances. Oxford general editor Gary Taylor attempted to work back and ‘undo’ Theobald’s emendations in order to recreate a work closer to the hypothesised Shakespeare and Fletcher original: first appearing at a private reading in New York in 2006, the play was staged as a public performance in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2009.

Hamlet (The First Folio, 1623, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The text presented here is taken from the 1623 First Folio, a collection of thirty-six Shakespeare plays collated by John Heminges and Henry Condell (two actors from Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men), where it appears as The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. It is the longest play in the Folio, and, although 4% shorter than Q2, it contains 1,914 words not found in Q2. It has been argued that this version is from a copy prepared for performance, possibly by Shakespeare and fellow company members, as the play contains fuller and more systematic stage directions than Q1 and Q2. It has been posited that F is based partly on a copy of Q2 annotated in the playhouse or after performance, and thus is authoritative given its derivation from the authorial ‘foul papers’ theorised to be the basis of Q2. Character names and the placing of key soliloquies are on the whole consistent between Q2 and F, although F lacks Hamlet’s final soliloquy in Q2, ‘How all occasions do inform against me...’, in which he decides once and for all to ‘be bloody’.

Hamlet (The First Quarto, 1603, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

‘The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET Prince of Denmarke, printed in quarto version (Q1) in 1603, is often known as the ‘bad’ quarto due to its significant differences from both the Q2 and F texts, rendering it ‘artistically inferior’ in the eyes of some readers. The plot, though essentially the same as in the older versions, is much abridged – Q2 is 79% longer than Q1. Several characters names are reworked: ‘Gertred’, ‘Leartes’, ‘Ofelia’, ‘Rossencraft’, ‘Gilderstone’, ‘Voltemar’, ‘Cornelia’ and ‘Fortenbrasse’ are all recognisable alternate spellings of characters familiar from Q2, whilst Polonius and his man Reynaldo undergo a sea-change to become ‘Corambis’ and ‘Montano’ respectively. In addition, many iconic monologues, particularly ‘To be or not to be’, will seem odd, both in position and wording, to readers familiar with Q2 and F. Q1 also includes an important scene between Gertred and Horatio, absolving the queen from knowledge of her new husband’s guilt, that does not appear in either of the other versions of the texts. Since its discovery in 1823, many theories have been posited regarding Q1, with some readers suggesting that it is a ‘first draft’ of the play, others that it is a ‘memorial reconstruction’ compiled from players’ memories, and still others that it is a theatrical abridgement, Q2 and F both being too long to have comfortably appeared on the early Jacobean stage as ‘two hours’ traffic’ (though in recent years the duration of early modern performances has been disputed as anywhere between two hours and up to three and a quarter hours long). Q1’s unique stage directions have, since the quarto’s discovery, become standardised: despite only appearing in Q1, stage business such as Ophelia’s mad lute-playing and Hamlet and Laertes jumping into the grave have become iconic moments in the play.

Hamlet (The Second Quarto, 1604-05, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The second quarto (Q2), the text presented here, was printed in 1604 as The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET, Prince of Denmarke. Despite being nicknamed the ‘second’ quarto, scholars have argued that it is probable that Q2 actually pre-dates Q1, as it is conjectured to be based on Shakespeare’s manuscript copy, his ‘foul papers’. The supposed proximity of Q2 to the authorial hand has therefore led this text frequently to be chosen as the authoritative version of Hamlet. As its titlepage makes no mention of performance (unlike Q1), it has been argued that this Hamlet was a version crafted by Shakespeare’s hand before the cuts required by performance were put into place: a play ‘for the closet, not for the stage’. At 28,628 words, ‘Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie’, it is the longest extant play in the canon. Although it resembles the Folio text, both contain a number of unique lines. Even so, this is the version of Hamlet most familiar to readers in terms of language and scene structure, particularly in relation to iconic monologues such as ‘To be or not to be’.

Julius Caesar (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Shakespeare’s dramatization of the assassination of Julius Caesar sees rhetoric give way to cruelty, revenge and war. The tragedy is a complex treatment of the conspiracy, prompting discussions about power, tyranny, rivalry, gender, religion, the Elizabethan understanding of the Roman world and the continued interpretation of character: is Caesar a hero or a tyrant? Is Brutus a patriot or a murderer?

In a fast-paced opening half, Caesar returns to Rome triumphant following victory over Pompey. The city turns out to hail him as a hero, but Cassius is alarmed by Caesar’s inflated popularity and power, and surreptitiously recruits senators who share his concerns. He persuades the conscientious Brutus to join the conspiracy, which quickly gathers momentum; on the Ides of March, Caesar is stabbed to death in the Senate by the conspirators.

The killing marks a turning point in the play, and the full introduction of a major new character – Mark Antony. At Caesar’s funeral, Brutus explains to the mob that he slew the ambitious Caesar for the good of Rome. But he is outdone when Antony speaks to them, the latter skilfully stirring up outrage and violence through a combination of powerful oratory and the reading of Caesar’s generous will. His words turn the crowd against the conspirators. Driven from the city, Brutus and Cassius go to war against Mark Antony and Caesar’s nephew Octavius, and are defeated at Philippi.

There are no extant quartos of Julius Caesar; our text comes out of the Folio of 1623. The date of composition is likely to be some time between September 1598 and September 1599, based on the play’s absence from the list of Shakespeare plays in Francis Mere’s Palladis Tamia, and a mention of it in Thomas Platter’s diary, recording that he saw the play at the Globe ‘at about two o’clock’ on the 21st September 1599. This composition date has led scholars to herald the play as the first great tragedy – one that paved the way for Shakespeare’s late Elizabethan and early Jacobean tragedies, including Hamlet, which is widely believed to have followed Julius Caesar chronologically. Indeed, there are several references to Caesar in the later play. Based largely on Amyot’s French and North’s English translations of Plutarch’s Lives (1559 and 1579 respectively), Julius Caesar is regarded as an unprecedented kind of political play – of fast action and compelling rhetoric – that pushed the boundaries of conventional dramatic verse and prose.

The play has had a rich and varied performance history, rarely falling out of vogue. Its politics have remained as relevant throughout the past century as they were on its first performance. It comes out of a period great political unease, to which Elizabeth’s treatment of her intimates and rivals, her own image of self-deification and lack of successor all contributed. Insurrection was in the air: a year and a half later, in 1601, the Earl of Essex would lead an unsuccessful rebellion against the ageing ruler.

The play was revived almost every year in the first half of the eighteenth century, and the opportunity for grand staging and large crowds was not lost to nineteenth-century theatre makers. In the twentieth century, the theme of tyrannical rule was ripe fruit for directors of the play. Orson Welles’s 1937 production, subtitled ‘Death of a Dictator’ was the first to cast the Emperor as a fascist ruler.

In the later twentieth century, political literary theory saw New Historicist and Cultural Materialist critics thinking on the staging of alternative political structures, and the representation and subversion of the people. Feminist criticism has looked into the Elizabethan conception of the Roman world as an ideology of maleness. Recent productions have included Greg Doran’s 2012 all-black ‘Pan-African’ Julius Caesar at the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Phyllida Lloyd’s 2013 all-female version at the Donmar Warehouse.

King Henry IV Part 1 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Henry IV Part 1 is the second play in Shakespeare’s Henriad tetralogy, following on from King Richard II.

The play was first printed in the First Quarto of 1598 (Q1), as 'The History of Henrie the Fovrth; With the battell at Shrewsburie, betweene the King and Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Henrie Hotspur of the North. With the humorous conceits of Sir Iohn Falstalffe'. It seems that it was an extremely popular play as it was reissued in a second edition in the same year, a rare occurrence at the time. The Arden text is taken from Q1 and from Q0, the surviving fragment of the quarto from which Q1 appears to have been taken.

The action of the play is based on part of the king's reign, from 1402–3. Shakespeare used multiple historical sources in the writing of King Henry IV Part 1, in particular Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587) and the cautionary The Mirror for Magistrates (1559).

As the play begins, Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV of England, is plagued by guilt at the usurpation and murder of his predecessor, Richard II, and troubled by disquiet from rebellious nobles from two of the highest families in the land, the Percys and the Mortimers.

The king's son, Prince Hal (the future Henry V), has acquired a new friend in the merry-making Sir John Falstaff, a lover of sack (a type of early modern sherry), who takes him round taverns and introduces him to low-lifes and madams. Hal insists he is living this lifestlye only temporarily, so that when he decides to become princely once again, members of the court will have more respect for him.

The opportunity arises when the revolt of the nobles comes to a head at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Hal comes head to head with his foil, Henry Percy (or 'Hotspur'), and eventually kills him in combat. Having been coerced onto the battlefield, Falstaff steals money from fallen men and plays dead when under attack, surviving the battle, but declaring that from then on he will live an honourable life. The play ends with the king commanding his sons and allies to ride towards York and Wales to prepare to fight further rebellious nobles.

As is common in Shakespeare's history plays, King Henry IV Part 1 deals extensively with the idea of kingship: how legitimate is Henry's reign, and is he a good king? Hal learns that he too must decide what kind of prince (and later, king) he wants to be: he rejects his friends in order to become the man that will one day defeat the French at Agincourt, the most glorious of English victories to the early modern mind. Honour, chivalry and courtesy are always brought into question in the play's medieval courtly world view.

Falstaff, the opposite of all that is 'honourable', has remained throughout the centuries one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedic creations. Likely first portrayed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men popular clownish actor, Will Kemp, rumour has it that Queen Elizabeth I was so delighted with the character that she 'commanded' Shakespeare to write a further play that saw Falstaff in love: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

King Henry V (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Henry V is the final play in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy. Having shaken off his less savoury companions at the end of Henry IV Part 2, Hal takes his place on the throne following his father’s death, proving himself a pious and sensible ruler, much to the court’s surprise. Following enquiries into his genealogical right to rule over France as well as England, and taunts from the French Dauphin about his youth in the form of tennis balls, Henry resolves to invade France. His old carousing companions, after hearing of the death of Sir John Falstaff, join Henry’s army, their quarrels forming the comic underbelly of the play. Following the English victory at the siege of Harfleur, the two armies prepare to confront one another at Agincourt. On the eve of battle, Henry disguises himself and goes into the camp, discussing with his soldiers the responsibilities of a king. The English win a spectacular victory, and the play ends with the promise of Henry’s marriage to the French Princess Katherine of Valois.

Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have been familiar with the events at fifteenth-century Agincourt, following the anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (1594/8). At the time of performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1599, the re-telling of the glorious English victory would have been ironically juxtaposed with contemporary attempts by the Earl of Essex to suppress rebellion in Ireland.

The first Quarto (Q1) was not published until 1600. This ‘Cronicle History’ is only half the length of the text printed in the First Folio of 1623 (F); it has been hypothesised that Q1 was the initial write-up of the play, and F the theatrical text pieced together after performance. We cannot be sure where the play was first performed: many have romanticized ‘this wooden O’ as the Globe theatre, newly built in 1599, but it is possible that it was originally performed at the Curtain theatre in Shoreditch, where Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, had been performing since 1596.

The critic William Hazlitt commented that the eponymous king is ‘a very amiable monster, a very splendid pageant’. These contradictions are characteristic of responses to the play itself: its treatment of warfare has been the topic of debate for almost as long as it has been in performance. Does the play speak of national pride and English glory, or of ironic disenchantment and authoritarian kingship? The divergence of twentieth-century screen versions has visualised this contrary nature: Laurence Olivier’s 1944 wartime film, intended as a morale boost for Allied troops before the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, creates a halcyon backdrop for ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’, whereas Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film portrays a starker and less sentimental picture of the potential horrors of war.

King Henry VIII (All is True)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A play obsessed with historical, political and performative truth, King Henry VIII was first performed under the title All is True at the Globe in 1613, when the charging of a small cannon near the end of the play famously set fire to the thatch at the top of the playhouse, and burnt it to the ground. As well as possibly being staged at the indoor Blackfriars theatre (where Henry and Katherine’s divorce trial had been held 84 years previously), it has been hypothesised that the play was performed at the wedding of James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, to the Elector Palatine, in 1613: its Protestant moralising and mythologizing, as well as the significance it places on a young princess named Elizabeth, would have suited such an occasion. With the sudden death of the young Prince Henry the year before, England’s hope of a proselytising Protestant monarch had been shaken. Such a play, with its suggestion of James I as a mythic heir, may have soothed the national consciousness.

As the play begins, Norfolk, Buckingham and Abergavenny are talking about the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. They complain about Cardinal Wolsey, who ensures that Buckingham is accused of high treason and executed. At a dinner given by Wolsey, Anne Bullen (Boleyn) attracts the attention of Henry, who is married to Queen Katherine of Aragon, and is made Marchioness of Pembroke. Henry sets up a court judged by Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius from Rome to consider his divorce; Katherine pleads with him and then leaves. The court is adjourned until she returns; the two Cardinals persuade her to relent.

Henry secretly marries Anne. Some of Wolsey’s letters to the Pope and an account of his wealth have found their way to Henry; Wolsey is disgraced, and Sir Thomas More is appointed Lord Chancellor in his place. Henry’s new marriage is announced, and Anne is crowned. Katherine is dying, and sees a vision of spirits of peace. After commending her daughter Mary to Henry, she dies. Anne falls pregnant. Henry’s secretary Gardiner plans to bring down Cranmer and Cromwell who are close to the King, but Henry intervenes. There is great rejoicing for the christening of Anne’s new-born daughter, who will become Queen Elizabeth I.

The play was a collaboration between the ageing Shakespeare and the young John Fletcher, who would go on to work together on The Two Noble Kinsmen (c.1613-4). It differs from other Henrican plays of the era which focus on or parody ‘Bluff King Harry’; here, the eponymous king is treated with gravitas as his marital meanderings enable a providential outcome for the English church and crown, as implied in Samuel Rowley’s earlier play When You See Me, You Know Me (1605), which was probably the play’s principal source. Generically, the play has been subject to debate: categorised under ‘Histories’ at its first appearance in the 1623 Folio, it has also been labelled a tragicomedy, a romance, and a late play by critics.

The Folio text is uniquely detailed in Shakespeare’s plays for its abundance of stage directions. As a result, the play has often been staged for its theatrical effect over its dramatic content. It was perennially popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in productions dominated by static sequences of tableaux and grandiose set speeches. Throughout the twentieth century, however, this spectacular performance style began to wane in favour of more ‘authentic’ renderings, and the play is now one of the most rarely performed of the Shakespearean canon.

King Henry VI Part 1 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The history play King Henry VI, Part 1 can be seen as a mediation on history itself, on the mechanisms of genealogy, combat and heroism. The dominant character of Joan la Pucelle (otherwise Joan of Arc) is a locus of questions about gender and the supernatural.

Questions of authorship, date and place in a ‘historical cycle’ are attendant on the play, which was first printed in the Folio. Some editors claiming single authorship for Shakespeare; for others it is the result of a collaboration, probably including Thomas Nashe. The Arden edition argues that it was written after Parts 2 and 3. It may be the play which records show was performed in 1592 by the Lord Strange’s Men at the Rose theatre.

The young Henry VI is now king. At the funeral of Henry V, news arrives of military difficulties in France: cities have been lost, the Dauphin Charles has been crowned, and the military captain Talbot has been taken prisoner. The English nobles squabble over power. The rivalry between Richard Plantagenet (later Duke of York) and the Duke of Somerset escalates, and they pluck a white and a red rose respectively to represent the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Henry travels to France to be crowned.

In France, Joan la Pucelle has arrived at the siege of Orléans, promising that heaven-sent powers will help her to lead the French to victory. Put in charge of the army, she fights the English — led first by the Duke of Bedford and then by Talbot – for Orléans and Rouen. Joan also persuades the Duke of Burgundy, Henry’s uncle, to switch to the French side. The feud between Richard and Somerset results in the defeat of the British army at Bordeaux, and the death of Talbot. Joan is captured and condemned to death. The play ends with an uneasy peace, as Henry marries Margaret, the daughter of the Duke of Anjou, instead of the Earl of Armagnac’s daughter.

King Henry VI Part 2 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Discussion of King Henry VI, Part 2 has been dominated by examinations of the providential pattern of God in history and the insurrectional eruption of rebels in society: of the high and the low forces of history. The play has also been viewed from the perspectives of Senecan poetics, feminism, the carnivalesque and burlesque.

This text uses the 1613 Folio as the control text. The play also appeared in a shorter, reconstructed form in three quartos entitled The Contention . . . The play was composed and performed before 1592, an issue that is linked to the dating of Henry VI, Part 1. The question of authorship — whether Shakespeare is the sole author, or collaborated, or revised an earlier play—is unresolved.

The English court is still fractious, and ill at ease with Henry’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou, which was arranged by Margaret’s very close confidant Suffolk. The Cardinal (Bishop of Winchester) and Buckingham are suspicious of the King’s Protector and uncle, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, and they conspire with Margaret and Suffolk to disgrace him, tricking his wife Eleanor into meeting a witch. She is banished, and Henry takes away Gloucester’s Protectorate; the conspirators accuse him of treason and losing the remaining territories in France, and secretly plan to kill him.

Meanwhile York has persuaded Salisbury and Warwick of his claim to the throne, and told them he is biding his time. The King sends him to quell the rebellion in Ireland. York explains that he has persuaded a man called Jack Cade to pose as York’s dead ancestor and start a rebellion against Henry’s rule.

Henry discovers Gloucester’s murder and exiles Suffolk. The Cardinal dies raving; Suffolk is killed at sea. Cade’s violent insurrection swells, until the memory of Henry V quiets the rebels. York returns from Ireland with an army and two of his sons Edward and Richard, and fights the Lancastrians at St Albans. The King and Queen flee the battlefield; the Yorkists pursue them.

King Henry VI Part 3 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Henry VI Part 3 is effectively shaped from dense historical narratives, drawing out the complexities of morality and justice in the chaos of the Wars of the Roses. Criticism has examined integrity of characters, on feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives, on the Senecan influence, on the play’s context, on magical thinking, and on the play’s use of the morality play tradition.

The play was known in the theatre by 1592. Like the two other parts of Henry VI, questions surrounding its authorship remain unsolved. The play exists in a 1595 Octavo called The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York…, and in the Folio, on which this text is based.

In parliament, the victorious Yorkists confront Henry VI and the Lancastrians. They agree that on Henry’s death his crown will pass to Richard, Duke of York, passing over Henry’s son Prince Edward. Queen Margaret is furious, and leaves with their son to join the Northern lords and fight against the agreement. Once alone, York’s sons Edward and Richard persuade him to break his oath.

At the Battle of Wakefield between York and Margaret’s forces, Clifford kills York’s youngest son, and then with Margaret torments and kills York himself. His sons, Edward and Richard, hear first of their deaths and then of the defeat of their ally Warwick at the second Battle of St Albans. At the Battle of Towton, the Lancastrians are defeated, Clifford is killed. Margaret and Prince Edward flee to France; Henry is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London; Edward (York’s son) is made King.

Both the Lancastrian Margaret and the Yorkist Warwick entreat the assistance of the French King Lewis. Warwick confirms Edward’s betrothal to Lewis’s sister, but news arrives that King Edward has married Lady Jane Grey instead, and this turns both Warwick and Lewis to the Lancastrian cause. Warwick returns to England with French reinforcements , captures King Edward, and frees King Henry. King Edward escapes to France, and then returns, capturing King Henry.

King Edward defeats Warwick’s forces at the Battle of Barnet, where Warwick is killed. Margaret returns from France for the Battle of Tewkesbury, where Prince Edward is killed by the three brothers King Edward, Clarence and Richard. Richard goes to the Tower and kills King Henry; Margaret is banished.

King Lear (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Lear is an anguished tragedy of man’s cruelty to man. The play is extremely rich, encompassing every level of society and the extremes of emotion in the human experience. The play is shaken by a radical instability that is political and existential – a vast backdrop to the figure of the mad king, broken by politic flattery and injustice, howling into the wind.

In King Lear, family relations are continually called into question, as the text is concerned with the strength of blood in determining loyalty. The play itself has a corresponding plot and subplot, wherein Lear’s relationship with his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, is mirrored in Gloucester’s relationship with sons Edmund and Edgar.

Critics have commonly focused on the juxtaposition of Edmund, Regan, and Goneril’s valuation of power, property, and inheritance, with Cordelia and Edgar’s familial devotion. The characters assess the importance of family by different means, but they are not immediately ‘greedy’ or ‘moral’, as a result. Moreover, the strain of kinship in the text can be seen as a transition from an old order to a new one; the younger generation is at ideological odds with their elders, explaining their difficulty to connect with one another.

King Lear is thought to have been composed in 1605-6. Two, exceedingly different versions of the play text survive: the Quarto of 1608 and the First Folio of 1623. The choices of the Arden text rely mainly on the Folio, but the editor has also included lines from the Quarto which are not found in the Folio, and has thoughtfully explained such textual variations.

King Richard II (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Richard II is the first play in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, the set of four plays whose events are often regarded as the root of the Wars of the Roses. The play teleologically points to the domestic conflict that haunted the country for generations after Richard’s deposition: ‘The blood of English shall manure the ground … this land be called / The field of Golgotha and dead men’s skulls’.

The play relates the events surrounding the dethronement of the inept (but divinely appointed) Richard II by his more able (but illegitimate) cousin Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV. Following the death of his father, John of Gaunt, during his six-year exile abroad, Bolingbroke returns to England to demand the reinstatement of his estates from Richard. Richard, unpopular due to his court favourites, his arrogant belief in his own pre-ordained right to kingship, and his ever-increasing taxes, is losing supporters. Under duress, he eventually hands over his crown to Bolingbroke. Misinterpreting the words of the new king, one of Bolingbroke’s followers kills Richard in his prison cell. With the murder on his conscience, Henry IV vows to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to clear his troubled soul. Critical discussions of the play often focus on the play’s protagonists and the ambivalence of their characters. Is Richard a tyrant or a martyr? Is Bolingbroke a pious social hero or a self-serving Machiavel?

First performed c. 1595 at the Theatre, the Lord Chamberlain Men’s Shoreditch venue, the play was first titled a ‘tragedie’ in the first quarto of 1597 (Q1), and later a ‘historie’ in the First Folio of 1623 (F). The deposition scene (in this edition, Act 4 Scene 1) was omitted in Q1, not appearing in print until 1608. The final years of the ageing, heirless Elizabeth’s reign were marred by rebellion and uprising. Deposition was a real and present threat: in 1601, supporters of the Earl of Essex, a one-time favourite of Elizabeth’s, paid for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to put on the play (by this point, a relatively agèd production) less than a week before their doomed rebellion. Post-Restoration, the political clout of the play was still being acknowledged, with Nahum Tate attempting to suppress performances at Drury Lane in 1680. In the twentieth century, the role became a favourite of John Gielgud, who performed it three times over four decades. The effeminacy that has come to be associated with the role came to a peak with Deborah Warner’s 1997 production, which saw Fiona Shaw play an androgynous Richard.

King Richard III (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Richard III is the final play of Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, the culmination of the War of the Roses and the inception of the Tudor dynasty. The play picks up where Henry VI Part 3 left off, with the Lancastrian king dead and the house of York in the ascendant. Richard, the youngest son of York, orders the murder of his middle brother, the Duke of Clarence, and awaits the death of the eldest, King Edward IV; he marries the Lady Anne, the late Prince of Wales’ widow, to seal his power. In his role as Lord Protector to Edward’s young sons, Richard rules as a tyrant and orders the deaths of the two princes as they lie in wait at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, the Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, is gaining support in England and France to launch an attack on Richard’s Yorkist army. They come together at the Battle of Bosworth Field, where Richard is killed, and Henry becomes the first Tudor monarch, King Henry II, uniting the houses of York and Lancaster through his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV.

The play first appears in the 1597 first Quarto (Q1) as The Tragedy of King Richard the third. Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his iunocent nephews: his tyrannicall vsuration: with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserued death. While he has been regarded as a medieval Vice, or a Machiavellian devil through and through, the characterization of Richard as a ‘lump of foul deformity’ has come under scrutiny in recent years. Shakespeare’s written sources were all sixteenth-century chronicles or ‘histories’; historians have argued that sources such as Thomas More’s History of King Richard III (1513) present a biased account of disjointed Plantagenet rule in order to emphasise the ‘Tudor myth’ of the harmonious, united reign initiated by Henry VII. By the 1623 First Folio (F), the play is catalogued in the Histories section. F is significantly longer than Q1 (the second longest play in the Folio, after Hamlet), with manifold textual differences; this edition incorporates both, generally deferring to F).

From 1700 until the mid-nineteenth century, the play text used in performance was not Shakespeare’s original, but a revised and abridged version by Colley Cibber, The Tragical History of King Richard III. Twentieth-century performances of Richard ranged from the king as monstrous, bestial caricature (Anthony Sher, 1984) to extreme right-wing dictator (Ian McKellen, 1995 – film based on earlier stage performance).

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy fascinated by the world of the court, by art, and most of all by language, knotted together with jokes, symbols, letters, poems, rhetoric and verbal trickery. It has been linked to contemporary humanist culture and to Sir Philip Sidney’s works, and touches on the traditions of Roman New Comedy and commeddia dell’arte. Written around the time of Shakespeare’s other ‘lyrical plays’, Richard II, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play is generally dated to 1594-5, though evidence is scarce. It follows a vogue for social comedies of humours, epitomised by Ben Jonson by the end of the decade in Every Man in his Humour (1598), and was possibly influenced by the ongoing French Wars of Religion and the recent coronation of Henry of Navarre, King of France. This text is based on the first surviving Quarto, from 1598, from which the Folio text is also taken.

The King of Navarre and three of his lords, Dumaine, Longaville and Berowne, swear to renounce the company of women for three years, and retreat to the forest to study and fast. The Princess of France arrives on an embassy to recover money owed to her father. She is accompanied by a lord, Boyet, and three ladies, Maria, Katherine and Rosaline. The King falls in love with the Princess, Katherine with Dumaine, Maria with Longaville and Berowne with Rosaline. The lords overhear one another reading out their love poems, and excuse themselves from their vows; they dress up as Russians to talk to the ladies, who decisively outwit them. A messenger arrives and tells them of the Princess’s father’s death. Before they leave, the ladies impose year-long tasks on the lords, promising (more or less) after that period to return to marry them.

Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury (1598) lists a supposed sequel to the play, Love’s Labour’s Won. Usually presumed to be a lost play, some scholars have speculated that it may be an alternative title for Much Ado About Nothing or The Taming of the Shrew.

The Merchant of Venice (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Merchant of Venice, technically a comedy, has proven controversial in its portrayal of the complex figure of the money-lender Shylock. Debate continues over the presence of distressing anti-Semitism, and the extent to which Shylock can be considered victimised or villainous. Shylock as a character has in some ways gradually disengaged from the play as a whole, becoming a famous topic of study that stands independent from Shakespeare’s original text.

Like Othello, The Merchant of Venice is a play which has evolved dramatically since its creation due to the changing contexts in which it is now read and performed. Although the texts themselves stay the same, the societal significance of an issue like anti-Semitism, as well as racism more generally, give greater weight to those elements within the play. Therefore, modern productions and interpretations must carefully consider these changes in attitude along with the original contexts of the plays.

Apart from the complicating presence of Shylock and various other anti-Semitic elements, scholars traditionally classify The Merchant of Venice as a comedy because it includes a number of classical comedic conventions, such as a complicated courtship process, mistaken identities, and transvestism. Bassanio needs 3,000 ducats in order to woo a wealthy heiress, Portia. His best friend, the merchant Antonio, is waiting on some ships he has invested in to return to Venice; in the meantime, he arranges a short-term loan with Shylock, a Jewish usurer. Shylock hates Antonio for his past insults, but agrees that the merchant can have 3,000 ducats, but they must be repaid within three months; if not, he may take a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When Antonio’s ships go missing and he defaults on the loan, Shylock demands his flesh. Hearing of her husband’s best friend’s dilemma, Portia disguises herself as a lawyer and defends him in court, overturning the bargain with her own logic. Various other love stories and hijinks ensue amongst the supporting characters while the main action takes place, and as in most comedies, the difficulties faced by the main characters (with the exception of Shylock) are resolved by the close of the play.

The Arden Third Series edition of The Merchant of Venice is based on the first quarto text printed in 1600.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare’s only English comedy (though it has arguably Italianate roots), following the trend for comedies of ‘humours’ that were popular on the late Elizabethan stage. It continues the story of Sir John Falstaff, who the audience had last seen being taken away to the Fleet prison at the end of Henry IV Part 2. Now a poor knight of Windsor (a retired soldier given accommodation and a small allowance), Falstaff once again plays the lovable rogue in this merry conceit of cozening, linguistic delight and social cross-sectioning.

As the play begins, Falstaff has been poaching deer from his old nemesis Justice Shallow. He soon starts on his next scheme: to seduce both Mistress Ford and Mistress Page in order to get at their husbands’ money. He writes identical love letters to each of them, but his companions Pistol and Nim reveal his plans to the wives. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page plan to accept his overtures in order to trick him in return. Meanwhile, Mistress Ford’s jealous husband disguises himself to test her fidelity; as ‘Brook’, he pays Falstaff to woo his wife.

Ford arrives as Falstaff begins to woo Mistress Ford, so the wives hide Falstaff in a laundry basket, and throw him in the Thames, as they’d planned all along. After his dunking, Falstaff once again pursues Mistress Ford; once again Ford arrives, and the wives disguise Falstaff as the ‘fat woman of Brentford’. His final humiliation comes as the wives tell Falstaff to disguise himself as ‘Herne the Hunter’ and wait in Windsor Park that night. There he is confronted by children dressed as fairies, and the two laughing couples.

A secondary plot concerns Anne Page and her several suitors. Her mother wants her to marry the French Doctor Caius; her father wants her to marry the foolish Slender; she loves Fenton, a gentleman. While her suitors squabble and her mother and father both separately plot her elopement, Anne takes matters into her own hands and marries Fenton.

The play’s first performance is uncertain. Some critics argue that it was first conceived as a court entertainment to celebrate the election of five new knights to the Order of the Garter on St. George’s Day in 1597; while it is unlikely that the full-length comedy was acted here, it is possible that the fairy masque was presented for the Queen, with the lecherous Falstaff and his motley crew acting as anti-masque. Most likely written in full after 1599, perhaps ‘compensating’ for Falstaff’s recorded death in Henry , the play first appears in quarto in 1602 (a much abridged ‘acting version’ of that which appears in the 1623 Folio). Its first recorded performance was at the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall in 1604, in front of the new king. Perenially popular onstage, The Merry Wives of Windsor has been operatized several times since the eighteenth century, most famously in English in Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love (1933). Hailing from a medieval English background, the figure of Falstaff has come to be seen, since the twentieth century, as a universally recognizable figure of folklore across cultures.

Much Ado About Nothing (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Much Ado About Nothing, probably composed in 1598-9 and first appearing in quarto in 1600, is a play of two pairs of lovers: the meek Hero and the impressionable Claudio, and the acerbic Beatrice and chauvinistic Benedick.

After Claudio is told by the troublesome Don John that Hero is unfaithful, he humiliates her on her wedding day. Hero faints and is presumed dead. The repentant Claudio agrees to marry whoever Hero’s father chooses for him: he prepares to marry a veiled bride, who, at the last minute, is revealed to be the still-living Hero. Meanwhile, friends trick old sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick into admitting their love for one another, by means of forged letters and overheard conversations.

Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved and most frequently performed comedies. Having its sources in Italianate literature of the preceding centuries, scholars have argued that Shakespeare’s play takes on an expanded psychological scope from the usual tales of mistaken cuckoldry and bawdy flirtation. While earlier writing on the play was exuberant in its delight in Beatrice and Benedick’s ‘merry war’, recent criticism has concentrated just as much on the Hero and Claudio plot, and in particular on the gender conventions that the play propagates. Hero becomes the silent woman, veiled and playing dead, whose worth is lost along with the notion of her chastity to the patriarchal world the play inhabits. Beatrice, on the other hand, becomes the embodiment of the period’s stereotype of the shrew, the overly talkative woman, who must be dealt with by the clichéd banter of the misogynistic Benedick.The play’s performance history has thus been of note more for its portrayals of Beatrice and Benedick than those of Hero and Claudio. A nineteenth-century trend to sentimentalize Beatrice as one who is struck by her own sudden longing gave way, in the twentieth century, to spunkier Beatrices unashamed of their wilful tongues.

Othello (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Quite apart from the brilliance of its language and characters, Othello is remarkable amongst other early modern plays for its inversion of traditional, racially-defined roles in tragedy – the black man, Othello, becomes the hero, whereas the white man, Iago, is the obvious villain. Although ‘black’ characters were common on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, a black hero was unique.

More recent criticism has also expanded this discussion by considering Othello’s identity not just as a Moor, but as a Muslim. In doing so, it allows modern readers to examine the larger question of ‘otherness’ in relation to race, religion, and culture. Othello is now studied as part of a wider tradition of ‘Turk plays’, which also include Philip Massinger’s The Renegado and Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. This critical lens allows scholars to expand their understanding of the relationships between early modern European countries and the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the tendency of modern audiences to focus on the racial element, however, Othello is only partially about race. It is also a deeply moving and tragic depictions of the consequences of passion and the effects of jealousy. The insidious Iago has become the archetypal agent provocateur, and the shocking final scene is one of Shakespeare’s greatest.

The Arden edition prefers to date the play to late 1601-1602, (it is traditionally dated to 1603–4). Two early texts of Othello survive – a Quarto from 1622 and the text in the First Folio of 1623. This edition preferences the Quarto text, but in instances of textual cruxes, the editor has produced a carefully thought-out meditation between the two texts.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Pericles is classed as a ‘late play’ and a ‘romance’, filled sequentially with archetypal episodes of riddles, storms, supernatural intervention and long-lost children, and illuminated by flashes of the hero’s psychology. Thought to have been composed in 1607-8, Pericles first appears in a ‘bad quarto’ of 1609, a badly damaged text that was not included in the First Folio of 1623. In 1664, it appeared in the Third Folio as one of seven apocryphal ‘Shakespeare’ plays ‘never before Printed in Folio’, though it is the only one of these plays to have been accepted into the Shakespearean canon. Based on the tale of Appollonius in the medieval poet John Gower’s narrative poem Confessio Amantis (1393), it is now generally accepted that Shakespeare collaborated on the play with the pamphleteer, inn-keeper and possible bawd George Wilkins, who, in 1608, published a prose reworking of the play, The Painful Adventures of Pericles.

The action of the play is introduced by the poet Gower, who acts like a chorus throughout. He explains how King Antiochus had an incestuous affair with his daughter, and demanded that her suitors answer a riddle to gain her hand. Pericles solves the riddle, which suggests incest, and flees the city in fear of his life – first to his home city of Tyre, then to Tarsus. There he relieves the city from famine, to the joy of the governor Cleon and his wife Dionyza.

Pericles is pursued by Antiochus’ servant Thaliart, so he leaves Tarsus. He is shipwrecked and rescued by fishermen in Pentapolis, who escort him to the court of King Simonides. He wins a tournament and the hand of the princess Thaisa.

Pericles and Thaisa set off for Tyre, but during a storm Thaisa appears to die in childbirth, and her body is thrown overboard. Pericles leaves his newborn daughter Marina with Cleon and Dionyza. Thaisa is washed ashore at Ephesus, where she is revived by Cerimon.

Fourteen years later, Marina is kidnapped by pirates just before Dionyza has her murdered. Marina is sold into prostitution at Mytilene, but she is determinedly chaste. A grief-stricken Pericles, having heard that Marina is dead, arrives at Mytilene, and the governor Lysimachus brings Marina aboard his ship. Father and daughter are reunited. The goddess Diana tells Pericles to go to Ephesus where he finds Thaisa.

Although apparently popular from its first performance to the late seventeenth century, Pericles has been relatively underperformed ever since, perhaps due to the difficulties of its trans-Mediterranean structure. Conversely, the play has been subject to trends in feminist, spatial and perhaps most significantly, psychoanalytic and criticism: the latter reads the play as part of the ‘late play’ dynamic of familial violation, loss, recovery and wish-fulfilment. The play’s ending has been read, alongside other ‘late plays’ such as The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, a Christianized redemption.

Romeo and Juliet (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Unsurpassed and unforgettable, Shakespeare’s tragedy about star-crossed lovers is one of his most frequently performed plays. On first read, Romeo and Juliet is particularly interesting in its subversion of comedic plot devices for tragic ends. Recent criticism has also focused on issues of gender roles and sexuality within the play. Its most enduring features, however, are the brilliance of its incandescent language, and its hauntingly familiar depiction of young love.

The prologue sets out the scheme of the tragedy: in the city of Verona live two families locked in an ancient feud, the Montagues and the Capulets. Juliet, a daughter of the Capulets, is engaged to marry Paris, while Romeo, a Montague, is mooning over his own unrequited love affair. The instant their eyes meet at a party, however, both of their lives are forever changed.

The play is also distinguished by the excellence of its supporting characters. Juliet’s Nurse is an outstanding comedic character whose dialogue is rife with puns and sexual innuendo. Romeo’s friend Mercutio delivers the famous ‘Queen Mab’ speech, and ultimately dies in a spectacular duel sequence.

Romeo and Juliet was first performed at the Curtain in 1596-7. The First Quarto was printed in 1597, and the longer Second Quarto in 1599. This was reprinted in 1609, and followed by the Fourth Quarto in 1622, which was the basis for the Folio text. This text is based on the Second Quarto.

The Taming of the Shrew (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The story of a ‘shrewish’ woman who is roughly courted and subjugated by her husband cannot fail to be controversial, and often disturbing. The Taming of the Shrew has been considered a portrait of the trials of marriage, a love story, a historical treatise on the treatment of women, a sexist polemic, and an exuberant farce - the perceived balance between misogyny and sympathy changing with every production and interpretation. The text is further complicated by its stress on fiction and performance.

The likely period of composition is between 1590-1594. This text is based on the 1623 First Folio text, as the 1594 quarto of an anonymous play entitled The Taming of a Shrew is here considered related but independent.

The drunken Christopher Sly is thrown out of a pub and falls asleep, and a Lord decides to play a trick on him. The Lord’s servants dupe Sly into believing that he is a rich Lord. A group of players act ‘a kind of history’ for him, and the story of Christopher sly becomes a ‘frame narrative’ for their performance.

The play-within-a-play begins with the arrival of Lucentio and his servant Tranio in Padua. Lucentio hopes to court the beautiful Bianca, as do Hortensio and Gremio, but Bianca’s father will not allow her to marry until her sharp-tongued older sister Katherina is married. Both Lucentio and Hortensio disguise themselves as tutors in order to woo Bianca in private, while Tranio takes the place of his master Lucentio.

Petruccio is also newly arrived in Padua and, hearing about Katherina’s wealth, decides that he will marry her. Their combative first meeting ends in Petruccio announcing their engagement. He turns up to their wedding late and ludicrously attired, and whisks Kate away to his house. There he deprives her of food and sleep in order to tame her.

After having the true identities of Hortensio and Lucentio revealed to her, Bianca choses Lucentio. So that they can be married, Tranio tricks a Merchant into pretending he is Vincentio, Lucentio’s father. The plan works for long enough for Bianca and Lucentio to marry; it is spoiled by the appearance of the real Vincentio, but Lucentio confesses and all is settled. At a banquet that evening, Petruccio reveals the newly obedient Katherina.

The Tempest (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Tempest has long been regarded as Shakespeare’s swan-song. Critical readers from Coleridge onward have interpreted Prospero’s epilogue, ending ‘Let your indulgence set me free’, as Shakespeare’s own farewell to the stage; however, this interpretation has since been queried by more recent chronologies that suggest the playwright went on to compose Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen after The Tempest.

In its first publication (in the First Folio of 1623), The Tempest appears in the ‘Comedies’ section. In modern criticism, it is more likely to see The Tempest described as a ‘late play’ (written towards the end of what we perceive to be Shakespeare’s writing career, c. 1607-13) or a ‘romance’ – a group of plays set in an unspecified time and/or place, whose loose plots revolve round familial reunion and fantastical happenings.

Prospero, a magus and the usurped Duke of Milan, and his spirit-servant Ariel, conjure a storm that casts Prospero’s treacherous brother (the current Duke of Milan), the King of Naples and their courtiers onto an unnamed island. The king’s son, Ferdinand, now alone on the island, meets Prospero and falls in love with his daughter, Miranda. Meanwhile, Caliban, the deformed offspring of the island-witch Sycorax, encounters Naples’ jester Trinculo and butler Stephano, who desire to overthrow Prospero and become kings of the island themselves. All parties are eventually reunited, and Prospero forgives his brother and reclaims his dukedom. Miranda and Ferdinand are married, and Ariel is set free, whilst Caliban is castigated for his actions.

The first recorded performance of the play is in November 1611 before King James I at Whitehall. A year previously, in 1610, word had reached England of the shipwreck of an exploratory vessel, the Sea Venture, in the Bermudas. One survivor, William Strachey, wrote a lengthy letter home narrating their encounter of the ‘dreaded I[s]land . . . given over to Devils and wicked Spirits’. His account has been seen as a major influence of The Tempest, along with the essay ‘Of the Caniballes’ by sixteenth-century French humanist Michel de Montaigne, whose Essais (translated into English by John Florio in 1603) have been perceived as a significant influence upon Shakespeare’s Jacobean oeuvre.

The play’s dramatic opening (with the stage direction ‘A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard’), its abundance of music and its lavish masque suggest that The Tempest was written for the indoor theatre at Blackfriars, which Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, had taken over in 1608. Unlike the ‘wooden O’ of outdoor amphitheatre venues such as the Globe on Bankside, Blackfriars offered a much darker, more intimate space, suited not to the large battles of Elizabethan plays such as we see in the Henriad, but to the psychological drama and fantastical set-pieces of ‘romances’ such as The Winter’s Tale.

The trajectory of responses to The Tempest has moved from a Restoration emphasis of the centrality of the patriarchy, to Romantic enthusiasm for the individual creative genius represented by Prospero, to post-colonial readings of the enslaved native Caliban, to feminist re-appropriations of the play’s only living female character, Miranda.

Timon of Athens

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Timon of Athens combines de casibus tragedy and urban satire, and ends in fury and bitter pathos. This probable collaboration between Thomas Middleton and Shakespeare produces a virulent and allegorical critique of the barrenness of economic relations, mocking greed and social pretension with a corrosive irony. First appearing in the ‘Tragedies’ section of the 1623 Folio, it is thought that the play was originally composed around 1606-7.

The brief story of Timon appears in one of Shakespeare’s most frequently used sources, Plutarch’s Lives (translated into English by Thomas North in 1579), in the ‘Life of Antony’, Shakespeare’s principal source for Antony and Cleopatra. It is unknown whether the anonymous Inns of Court revel Timon, based on Lucian’s dialogue on ‘Timon the Misanthrope’ (whose Latin translation by Erasmus was widely used as a school text in early modern England) pre- or post-dated Shakespeare and Middleton’s work. The play’s focus on the destructiveness of economic relations in fifth century Athens simultaneously explores the burgeoning world of transaction, credit and debt in the nascent capitalist society of early modern London; the play’s key themes of money and alienation have ensured that the play has interested Marxist and psychoanalytic criticism throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Timon is the most generous man in the city of Athens, handing out expensive gifts and loans to all who befriend and flatter him. He gives a banquet for the Athenian lords, as well as the cynic Apemantus, who mocks Timon and his fawning companions, and Alcibiades, a military captain.

Timon’s steward Flavius is beset by Timon’s creditors, who are calling in the many loans he has taken out; Timon has been spending far beyond his means, despite Flavius’ warnings. Timon sends to Lucius, Lucullus and Sempronius, but all of them refuse to lend him money, finding various excuses. Timon invites his ‘friends’ to a second banquet, but serves only lukewarm water, and accuses them. He leaves the city in disgust. Alcibiades begs the Senators for mercy for a fellow soldier who is condemned to death; they refuse to revoke the sentence and banish Alcibiades.

In the woods outside Athens, Timon digs in the ground for food and discovers a cache of gold. He gives some away to Alcibiades, who is going to attack Athens, to the whores Timandra and Phrynia, and to some thieves. Apemantus and then Flavius find him in the woods. Having heard the rumour of his wealth, the Poet and the Painter, and then the Senators hoping for help against Alcibiades, seek out Timon, but he drives them away.

A soldier in the woods finds Timon’s tomb. The senator’s surrender to Alcibiades, who promises justice.

There is no record of a performance of Timon contemporary to its authors, and its loose ends and unrefined structure may suggest that it never appeared on the early modern stage. A series of adaptations operatized the tragic pathos of Timon’s situation in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, until George Lamb restored much of the original play in the early 1800s. The twentieth century’s onstage response to Timon was manifold: it has, in different decades, been performed as theatre of the absurd, as a response to various banking crises, and as an apocalyptic nightmare.

Titus Andronicus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dismemberment, rape, cannibalism and murder make Titus Andronicus Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy. The boundless grief and savage justice of Titus explores the expression of tragic passion, the Senecan tradition, Roman history and government, the body and structures of interpretation.

This text is based on the 1594 First Quarto, with corrections from the 1600 Second Quarto and the addition of III.ii from the 1623 First Folio. It has been suggested that the first act shows signs of the involvement of George Peele, whose work Shakespeare may have revised.

Titus returns to Rome from war against the Goths, in which two of his sons have died. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her three sons Alarbus, Chiron and Demetrius, as well as her servant and lover Aaron the Moor. Titus gives Alarbus up for sacrifice. Titus suggests Saturninus for emperor. Saturninus offers to marry Titus’ daughter Lavinia, but her fiancé Bassianus (Saturninus’ brother) claims her. There is a struggle, and Titus kills one of his sons for assisting Bassianus. Saturninus marries Tamora instead, who privately promises to avenge her son.

Demetrius and Chiron fight over Lavinia; Aaron interrupts them and advises them on how they may rape Lavinia during the hunt the next day. Aaron and Tamora conspire to bring Lavinia and Bassianus to a pit, where Bassianus is killed by Chiron and Demetrius. Lavinia begs Tamora for mercy, but is dragged away to be raped by her sons. Aaron and Tamora frame Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus for Bassianus’ murder. They are condemned to death; Titus’ other son Lucius is banished.

Titus’ brother Marcus discovers Lavinia with her tongue cut out and her hands cut off. Aaron brings word that if Titus cuts off his hand his sons will be spared; Titus does so but his sons are executed anyway. Lavinia silently explains who raped her. Aaron flees the city with his son, the black baby that Tamora has given birth to. He meets the army of the Goths outside Rome, who are led by the banished Lucius.

Tamora visits Titus disguised as the spirit of Revenge, with her sons as Rape and Murder. Titus kills her sons and serves them to Tamora baked in a pie. Titus kills Tamora; Saturninus kills Titus; Lucius kills Saturninus and is elected emperor.

Troilus and Cressida

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In staging the famous story of the Trojan war and the doomed relationship of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare stages the demystification of the classical heroes and the deflation of their chivalric ideals. The play is generically indeterminable, combining history, comedy and tragedy into a sceptical analysis of war-politics, potent sexuality and disillusionment.

Troilus and Cressida was written around 1601-2, in the aftermath of the abortive rising of the Earl of Essex. The play’s earliest extant text is the 1609 Quarto, whose preliminary pages exist in two states; this text is based on the 1623 First Folio, supplemented and corrected from the 1609 Quarto.

The city of Troy has been besieged by the Greek army for seven years. The Trojan prince Troilus is preoccupied by his love for Cressida; Cressida’s uncle Pandarus is assisting him. In the Greek camp outside the city walls, the commander Agamemnon complains about his army’s listlessness; Ulysses blames the renowned warrior Achilles, who spends all day in his tent with Patroclus instead of fighting. Hector sends a challenge to single combat, and Ulysses suggests choosing Achilles’ rival Ajax.

The Trojans debate whether keeping Helen (who eloped with the Trojan prince Paris from her husband the Greek Menelaus) is worth the lives that have been lost, but Troilus persuades his brother Hector that it is the honourable thing to do. Pandarus has arranged for Troilus and Cressida to meet privately, attended by himself. But Cressida’s father Calchus, who defected to the Greeks, arranges an exchange: Cressida will come to the Greek camp and the Greeks will release their Trojan prisoner Antenor.

After the lovers’ farewells, Cressida is escorted out of Troy by the Greek Diomedes. The Trojans arrive at the Greek camp for the combat between Hector and Ajax, but it is interrupted because they are cousins. Achilles swears to meet Hector in battle the next day. Having accompanied Hector, Troilus sees Cressida being familiar with Diomedes, and furiously vows to kill the Greek. In battle the next day, Troilus fights with Ajax, Patroclus is killed, and Achilles treacherously kills Hector.

Twelfth Night (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, twelfth night celebrations were a much-anticipated part of the New Year festivities, marking the end of the Christmas period and the coming of Epiphany. The Lord of Misrule would instigate a feast that would revel in the subversion of social roles, accompanied by drinking, merriment and ‘what you will’, as this play’s subtitle suggests. Shakespeare’s play was probably written for one such celebration: its first recorded performance was at Middle Temple Hall in February 1602. It does not appear in print, however, until it is listed under the ‘Comedies’ in the First Folio of 1623. One of his last Elizabethan plays, Twelfth Night shares such tropes of Shakespearean comedy as crossdressing, mistaken identity and ambitious social climbers.

Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked upon the shores of Ilyria, separated following a storm. Viola disguises herself as a eunuch, Cesario, and becomes a trusted servant of the Duke Orsino. Orsino loves the countess Olivia, but she is in mourning for her late brother, and has rejected Orsino’s courtship several times already. Orsino sends Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia falls in love with Cesario, who is in turn falling in love with Orsino.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, is attempting to control the hijinks of the amorous Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia’s drunkard uncle, Sir Toby Belch. After receiving a letter from ‘Olivia’ (actually forged by her waiting-woman, Maria), Malvolio adapts his sober appearance and stern behaviour to please the countess, who he believes is smitten with him: these drastic changes, however, lead to him being declared mad, imprisoned, and tormented by Olivia’s fool, Feste.

Viola’s twin-brother, Sebastian, re-appears with his new-found friend Antonio. On seeing him, Olivia mistakes him for Cesario, and they wed in secret. Viola reveals her true identity, and she and Orsino prepare to marry.

Literary critics and theatre-practitioners alike have returned repeatedly to Tweflth Night for its exploration of identity and acting, encapsulated in Viola’s confessional ‘I am not that I play’. It is a play abounding in disguise and doubling, the crossdressing of Viola (like the crossdressing of Rosalind in As You Like It, first performed c.1599) highlighting the ambiguities of the Elizabethan transvestite theatre, in which a boy actor was, in this instance, playing a woman playing a eunuch. Trends in modern criticism have led to a focus on the subjectivity of the female body, and to an exploration of homoeroticism both within the playtext and within the context of all-male performance of the play. The self-fashioning of upstarts such as Sir Toby Belch, the impact on self-hood of Malvolio’s ‘madness’ and the linguistic trickery of the fool, Feste have also sparked discussions of the flexibility of identity in Twelfth Night.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy with a controversial ending, built around the interruption of male friendship by heterosexual love and the confusion sparked by a cross-dressed heroine. The play probes the early modern discourse of idealised male friendship, explores metamorphosis, constancy and the boundaries of gender identity – and features the only animal role in Shakespeare, the scapegrace dog Crab.

The play was written no later than 1594. It first appears in print in the 1623 First Folio, on which this text is based – no quarto edition is known to have existed.

In his introduction to the current edition, editor William C. Carroll writes ‘Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, Two Gentlemen has attracted the attention, if not the unfailing admiration, of the greatest editors and actors of the past four centuries and its stage history proves surprisingly rich. However, many readers and audiences have judged Two Gentlemen, as one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, to be aesthetically inferior to most of his others: ‘early’ comes to connote ‘immature’, hence relatively incompetent, in contrast to a play written later, which is more ‘mature’ (how could it not be?) and (almost by definition) therefore more successful . . I aim to break this critical cycle, not by mounting a new (and doomed) argument about the play’s aesthetic perfections, but by enlisting and, if possible, augmenting some stimulating recent critical and theoretical work on the early modern period and also related texts to cast light on Shakespeare’s dramatic strategies in Two Gentlemen . . . I hope that this edition, in exploring the early modern discourse of male friendship, will show how Shakespeare’s use of the tradition is more complicated and indeed more searching than what has sometimes been seen as a rather immature, incompetent appropriation of it.’

The Two Noble Kinsmen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Shakespeare and Fletcher rewrite Chaucer’s A Knight’s Tale as a tragicomedy of the limits of chivalry and friendship. Other than discussing the mechanics of the collaboration, critics have examined the play’s treatment of heroism and chivalry, its attitudes to courtly love and sex, its use of Chaucer, and its abrupt reversals and generic ambivalence.

The play is generally dated to 1613-14. This text is based on the 1634 Quarto – the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works.

In Athens, the wedding of King Theseus and Hippolyta is interrupted by three queens, who beg Theseus to make war on Thebes’s ruler Creon, who will not allow them to bury their husbands who were killed in battle. The Theban cousins Palamon and Arcite are resolved to fight for Thebes, despite their hatred of Creon. They are both wounded in the battle, which Theseus wins; they are captured by the Athenians.

From their prison, they see Emilia walking in a garden, and both fall in love with her. Arcite is released and banished by Theseus; he disguises himself and triumphs at a sporting competition, allowing him to meet Emilia. Palamon is released by the Jailer’s Daughter, who has fallen deeply in love with him; he hears Arcite boasting of his meeting with Emilia and they agree to a duel. Theseus, coming across them, declares a tournament instead, at which the winner will marry Emilia and the loser will be executed. Arcite is victorious, but is thrown from his horse, and Theseus declares that Palamon will marry Emilia instead.

The Daughter, who has been driven mad by her love for Palamon, appears to be cured when her devoted Wooer dresses up as him.

The Winter's Tale (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Composed between 1609 and 1611, towards the end of Shakespeare’s career, The Winter’s Tale was recorded by Elizabethan playgoer and astrologer, Simon Forman, as having been performed at the Globe in 1611. The play is not seen in print, however, until the 1623 First Folio.

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and his wife, Hermione, are expecting their second child. Leontes’ childhood friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia, has come to pay a visit, during which, Leontes grows increasingly suspicious of his old friend and his wife. Polixenes flees, and Hermione is imprisoned, where she gives birth to a daughter; during her trial, Hermione hears of the death of her son, Mamillus, faints and is pronounced dead. The baby princess, Perdita, is taken from Sicilia and left with a shepherd and his son. Sixteen years pass, and Perdita is being wooed by the disguised Prince of Bohemia, Florizel, son of Polixenes. Eloping to Sicily, away from the wrath of Polixenes, Perdita’s true paternity is revealed. A lifelike statue of Hermione is unveiled by her perpetual friend Paulina, and, as if by magic, the queen comes to life to be with her husband and daughter once again.

The Winter’s Tale is variously described as a late play, a problem play, a romance, a pastoral, and a tragicomedy. ‘Tragicomedy’ as a genre was relatively new to the English theatre, following the arrival of Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido in England (c.1600), whereas pastoral romance was established, even outdated, by Shakespeare’s time of writing. The play’s first three Acts teeter on the tragic, with the second two encompassing an ending – happy marriages – most commonly seen in Shakespearean comedies. The incorporation of the pastoral romance genre allows the play’s tragic endings to be sublimated into a Golden World setting, and eventually subverted through fantasy and belief in the supernatural.

Shakespeare drew on Robert Greene’s prose work, Pandosto (1588), for the plot of his play, rewriting the deaths of Pandosto (Greene’s Leontes) and Hermione. Scholars have argued that, as with his usage of the resurrected wife trope in Much Ado About Nothing, the impetus for Hermione’s revivification came from Euripides’ Alcestis. In another classical source, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we find the basis for the image of the beloved wife as statue.

Twentieth-century criticism of the play has seen focus shift to the psychological drama behind Leontes’ actions, in particular Freudian discussions of wish-fulfilment and childhood sexuality. The latter became the backdrop for Trevor Nunn’s 1969 RSC production, which saw the play performed in an oversized nursery. A turn back to early modern psychology has led to discussions of Leontes’ ‘affection’ or affectio, the deranged mind. Feminist criticism has explored the trope of the ‘women who won’t die’ in Shakespeare’s late plays, and the unusual protagonism of Perdita in the pastoral setting, where it is more common for the pastoral shepherd to be the focus.

General Editors: Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson, David Scott Kastan and H.R. Woudhuysen

The Arden Shakespeare has long set the gold standard in annotated, scholarly editions of Shakespeare's plays. Each Arden edition in the Third Series offers a modernized text with comprehensive commentary notes glossing meanings, discussing staging issues and explaining literary allusions, together with a lengthy, illustrated introduction by a leading scholar exploring the play's critical, theatrical and historical contexts. The Arden editions thus offer readers an authoritative modernized text with on-screen pop up Commentary and textual notes to aid understanding, complemented by a comprehensive critical and contextual introduction.