The footnotes included in the Pelican Shakespeare Edition of Macbeth seem to be suited to a high school/casual reader. The footnotes, while helpful in understanding some of the archaic language in the text, were at times obvious. A few of the phrases the editors chose to define—for example “catalogue” is defined as “inventory, classification” and “mummy” means “mummified flesh”—were unnecessary. The footnotes became distracting and cumbersome at places like this. Other phrases, however, were very useful when trying to understand the text. (For example, I had no idea that “chawdron” means “guts.”) I think a basic understanding of the text is what this edition was ultimately trying to accomplish. The footnotes, while not abundant or particularly in-depth, seem geared toward giving the reader a clear picture of what is happening in the text and what the text, at its most basic level, means. That is why I think this text would be best suited for the casual high school reader who has no background in Shakespeare and who, with their teacher’s guidance, is slowly making their way through their first Shakespeare.
As You Like It
The footnotes in The Arden Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” are in-depth, to say the least. Context notes, entries from the OED, explanations of archaic language, notes on the printing of the text, and much more are included in the footnotes. This edition seems more geared towards an academic, scholarly audience than a high school or even an undergraduate audience. The footnotes take up half the page and don’t just explain what the language of a line means but often they cross-reference other works or take a moment for a cultural explanation of that line. The footnotes seem almost as important as the actual text, in this edition, which makes it obvious that the editors expect the readers of this edition to be people who are well versed in Shakespeare and who are coming to their edition for an even deeper understanding of a play they already know well.
The footnotes of Gerald Graff and James Phelan’s edition of The Tempest are overall fairly basic, providing essential definitions for your average undergraduate student to understand the text. A few definitions throughout the footnotes include not only a definition, but an explanation with relation to the text, which can be very helpful when trying to understand and translate the Shakespearean text. At times, some definitions and explanations seemed a bit cumbersome and overbearing for the text, addressing some words and phrases that need not be addressed. However, most annotations made would most likely be useful to an average undergraduate student. The annotations in this edition, however, do not match the audience of the essays included after the text, many of which seem above the understanding of an undergraduate audience. This edition does not seem to be able to decide what its intended audience is, but the annotations appear to have decided on an undergraduate student.
In the Norton Critical edition of Richard III, the footnotes are perfectly suited for your average undergraduate Shakespeare reader. The annotations are made with the understanding that those reading probably have some background Shakespearean knowledge and a fairly wide vocabulary, but still basically defines the words and phrases that the average undergraduate student may not know. The footnotes are not overdone for its intended audience; in fact, a few defining footnotes included probably did not have to be. If you were looking for a deep scholarly view of the play during your reading, then this edition would not be for you. However, for an undergraduate student probably just looking to understand the play at a basic but educated level, the Norton Critical edition is perfect.
Measure for Measure
This Bedford Shakespeares Series edition’s purpose is to help connect students with the text through exploration of other texts and documents of Shakespeare’s time. The edition seems catered to an undergraduate audience and is probably more suitable for a class or student more focused on Shakespeare’s works, perhaps more of an upper-level course. There are a significant amount of annotations, which seems appropriate for an undergraduate audience. College students would be more willing to put in the work (as opposed to say high school students) and seek for a fuller understanding of the text. The advantage for the undergraduate student is to be able to delve into the words of the text so as to understand the words as Shakespeare intended, to understand his word usage. However, some of the annotations might be already clear to an upper-level undergraduate student. The disadvantage of so many annotations might influence the reader to either become frustrated with so many footnotes or to see the meaning in the particular way in which the editor annotes it. In the About This Volume section of the edition, the editors note that they have “silently modernized spelling and punctuation...but we have also limited our editorial intervention to preserve their early modern flavor” (IX). All in all, it seems appropriate for their intended audience because it aids in the reader’s understanding of Shakespeare’s meaning in a context that’s slightly modernized.
Ways of Annotating
There appear to be two schools of thought with regards to annotations: the first that footnotes be used to translate and explain the meaning of words that may have otherwise changed in their usage since the time they were written; and the second, that footnotes be used to provide commentary on a given phrase, or provide cultural and background context for the phrase/word. Naturally, the latter consumes far more space than the former, since the first method entails only clarification, while the second provides explication.Some editions employ only clarification, while others delve into explication, and a number employ both in a mix. Depending upon what one desires from reading an annotated text, one or the other may be preferable; say, for example, a college freshman or high school student is delving into a Shakespearean work; they will likely want the annotated version of the text that explains the multitude of words and phrases that they have not encountered yet. Conversely, a graduate student or a college senior may desire the edition of the text that annotates with cultural context and explications for certain phrases, as they likely understand the more basic terms present in the text and will find the explication annotations to be useful and citable in a paper or dissertation. Depending on one’s audience and the anticipated usage of the text in concern, one may prefer one style of annotation