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30 June 2015 @ 12:54 pm
new edition of the Norton Shakespeare  
It looks like you can get the one-volume in hardcover with the option of purchasing the digital edition, but if you buy the two-volume set, you get the digital edition registration card automatically.

Snippets from the book copy on the Norton website (for the two-volume edition):

The attractive print and digital bundle offers students a great reading experience at an affordable price in two ways—a hardcover volume for their dorm shelf and lifetime library, and a digital edition ideal for in-class use. Students can access the ebook from their computer, tablet, or smartphone via the registration code included in the print volume at no additional charge. As one instructor summed it up, “It’s a long overdue step forward in the way Shakespeare is taught.”

The digital edition features all of the texts, introductions, glosses, and notes in the print book, plus additional versions of many texts for comparison. Students are able to compare the Folio and Quarto texts of King Lear and scenes from other plays using an innovative side-by-side scrolling view option. Students can also compare the text to corresponding facsimile pages from the Hinman First Folio and from the quartos. Performance Comments highlight how a director or actor’s choices in performance affect meaning, while Textual Comments focus on the impact of textual-editing decisions. Students can also listen to recordings of all of the songs in the plays and over 8 hours of specially recorded spoken-word audio by the highly regarded Actors from the London Stage. The digital edition also includes an appendix of documents, maps, genealogies, bibliographies, and a timeline.

Hmm… The digital features seem interesting, especially for teachers who don't teach Shakespeare that often; a lot of this is material that I already bring in for my students (although many of the "performance comments" are hypothetical, based on performances I've seen, rather than from actors or directors themselves). But I do a lot of Shakespeare, so I already know to make use of the Internet Shakespeare Editions for facsimile pages, and various audio recordings that I like; I can see how this would be helpful for people who don't spend as much time teaching Shakespeare as I do.

But…I think it's not necessarily fair to expect students to have a smartphone or tablet or computer to bring to class. And I worry about saying that the physical text is for use at home, and the digital edition is for in-class use - because I expect my students to take notes in their physical copy, and then bring those notes to class so that they can use them in discussion. I also expect them to add to their notes in class, which is not going to happen with the digital edition. What I think will actually happen is that they will only use the digital edition, and therefore never take notes.

The problem with digital editions, to my mind, is that no one seems to be working on improving the note-taking features. The Folger Digital Texts don't have a note-taking feature, as far as I can tell, and it doesn't seem clear whether the new Norton digital edition has one either. Which is a real problem. There are so many additional elements added to digital editions, but they're in real danger of leaving the basic elements behind. Surely learning how to take notes on a text has to be a part of "active reading"? What's going to happen when it comes time for students to write an essay or study for an exam, and they have no record of what they thought about the text? Even assuming that they take notes in class in a separate document or a notebook (which they should be doing, but…), they're unlikely to have a record of specific passages they found interesting or wanted to think more about. They won't have written down a quick summary in the margin when the class figured out a tricky passage together, so they'll have to remember it or reconstruct it, or likely just not bother. They might have excellent notes on what the teacher said was important, which is fine I guess if you just want their exams and essays to spit back exactly what they were told, but there's no push here for them to record and care about their own ideas. (I know that you can take notes on a PDF, but it's a clunky solution, and not good for fine-grained analysis of literary texts. Don't even ask me what you're supposed to do with a digital edition on a smartphone.)

I also worry that we won't give students enough time to just be alone with the text and their own thoughts and observations, if every part of the text is supplemented with digital features. I choose when to have students think about textual variants or performance possibilities in class or in their essays; this means that there is plenty of time when they don't have those elements, and they're relying on their own ways of thinking, developing their interpretive muscles. I worry that it's possible for students to lose the thread of a speech or scene if they're being pulled in different directions all the time. Actually, much of this sounds like it could create a sense of passive reading: here are more tools to do the interpretation for you. You might have to choose between one interpretation and another, one performance and another, but you don't have to come up with one yourself.

There's also a feeling of... discovery that seems to be missing from new editions of Shakespeare plays, not just digital ones. I thought I might be teaching The Winter's Tale next year (sadly, 'tis not to be), so I checked out two editions besides the one I owned, to see which edition I wanted to order for my students. I thought the Arden 3 would win, because of the thoroughness of its footnotes - but as I spent a bit more time with the text, I found that the footnotes kept making connections for the reader that I would have wanted my students to discover (or at least have the option to discover) on their own. They weren't just explanations of a tricky line, or even contextual notes about a particular word's use in other contemporary sources; they gave away recurring themes and points of analysis that I might have wanted to set an essay question about. After teaching Macbeth for a second year out of the Pelican edition, I was feeling a little bit concerned about how the notes can occasionally jump to paraphrase in ways that can be hard for students to follow because the notes have essentially skipped over a step; this came up once or twice in class this year, where students couldn't figure out how the editor had gotten to that particular understanding of a line. But after looking at the Arden 3 of The Winter's Tale with an eye toward teaching out of it rather than using it as a scholarly resource - at least there weren't any notes that gave away the fact that children are an important theme in Macbeth or that the Macbeths keep using the euphemism "business" for "murder," I guess. Because it's so lovely to watch students see those patterns for themselves - and I remember how proud I was of myself, when I noticed those sorts of things. Why remove that possibility? I suppose it's possible that not every student will notice, say, the recurrence of children in Macbeth (although it ought to come up in class at some point, right?) - but so what if they don't? What is the point of reading Shakespeare? Is it just to be told what everyone else knows, or is it to work toward whatever understandings you can uncover for yourself and with your classmates? I'm certainly not advocating for no footnotes at all, but what is the point of giving away points of interpretation in those footnotes? What is the editor trying to guard against by including such a note - and is that thing such a bad thing?
a_t_raina_t_rain on June 30th, 2015 09:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, ugh, I hate the digital add-on thing, because it usually only works for books bought new and through "official" channels. Quite apart from the not-everyone-has-a-digital-device-they-can-bring-to-class problem, it really screws people over if they buy a used text from Amazon or the thrift store or wherever.

Do you still get the option of buying a paperback "early plays" or "late plays" volume with the new edition? Because if you can't, I'm very seriously thinking of abandoning the Norton Shakespeare altogether.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on July 1st, 2015 01:12 am (UTC)
Yes, you can still buy the "early plays" and "late plays" volumes as well - so at least that's still there! But yeah - if an instructor decides to use the digital edition, students can't buy used editions, which is Not Great.