Sally Minogue writes in praise of the influential English writer. ...
William Shakespeare is generally regarded as the finest playwright that has ever lived and his popularity shows sign of diminishing, with countless adaptations of his work in theatre, the movies and on TV. It is difficult to imagine how many editions of his plays and sonnets have appeared in the nearly four hundred years since his death, and you could be forgiven for assuming that there is little to choose between the many editions of his work currently in print; you would, however, be wrong.
When Wordsworth Editions first launched the £1 Classic paperback series in 1992, it was natural that Shakespeare’s works featured heavily in the initial selection of titles. However, although the books offered unprecedented value for money, in truth the contents were the same as many other, albeit more expensive, editions.
It was in 2000 that Professor Cedric Watts, now Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Sussex, agreed to become the editor of the Wordsworth Shakespeare series, and began a process that transformed it into something unique. Starting with Henry V, Professor Watts has written introductions, notes and glossaries for all twenty of the key Shakespeare plays that we publish in our Classics series, including our editions of Richard II and Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 being published in June.
The quality of Professor Watts’ introductions is best summed up by David Hopkins MA PhD, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Bristol, who wrote to us:
‘These introductions strike me as quite outstandingly good… [they] seem to me to be particularly valuable in that (unlike lots of academic literary criticism) they offer plenty of interpretative leads, while being very careful to avoid (as it were) pre-empting readers' own responses to the text. So they are GENUINE 'Introductions', rather than the take-it-or-leave-it 'readings' of the texts which one finds in a lot of student editions. They are thus perfect material to prompt students' own work… Cedric Watts is, in my view, a star’.
Professor Watts’ contribution to our editions does not end there. Working from original sources, he painstakingly edits the texts, making corrections and restoring lines (and in the case of Much Ado About Nothing a character) missing from more recent editions of the plays. Thus the texts can be considered as close to definitive versions as it is possible to be.
We started this article with a borrowed advertising slogan so, with all due modesty, we will close with one:
The Wordsworth Shakespeare Editions: Probably the best Shakespeare in the world.
Readers wishing to know more of Cedric Watts’ work should buy his ‘Shakespeare Puzzles’, published by PublishNation (ISBN 978-1-291-66410-2), available from Amazon (both in printed and Kindle editions) and through all good bookshops.