(book review) Melnikoff: Edward II – A Critical Reader

At £20+, you need a real connection to the play to get your money’s worth.

BH edward ii critical reader

Kirk Melnikoff (ed.), Edward II: A Critical Reader (Arden Early Modern Drama Guides), (Bloomsbury Publishing:  London, 2017)

 

 

 

 

This is my first taste of the Arden Early Modern Drama Guides series; my overall impression was a positive one.

It appears (looking at the contents for the Richard III volume which, inevitably, I have also bought) that they broadly follow the same structure:

  • a critical back-story;
  • a stage history;
  • a ‘state of the art’ survey of recent academic thinking;
  • a series of critical essays under the heading ‘new directions’;
  • an essay containing ideas related to teaching the text; and finally
  • the usual bibliography

The opening two sections – the history of the play, in and out of performance; the redactions, adaptations, and appropriations was interesting and useful – not least given that there are few readily-accessible performances of this work other than Derek Jarman‘s overtly homosexual film version of the play (a version I enjoy but feel does the text a disservice if viewed in isolation).

BH crane flyJudith Haber‘s ‘State of the Art’ chapter was frustrating: it skittered across the surface of literally dozens of critical viewpoints like a crane fly (daddy-long-legs) on a window, never resting long enough to form any subjective judgements on the arguments, or indeed to allow me to.  That said, going through it with a fine-tooth comb will probably yield a host of avenues for further study, for those with the time and inclination.  It probably does what it was intended to do, but I wanted more.

I found the remaining critical essays more or less relevant (James Siemon‘s and Garrett A Sullivan Jr‘s were personally useful) – the issue here, I suspect, is that by necessity it is a small sample, and each reader will approach the text with different interests and viewpoints that they want to pursue.  Some of the essays will prove interesting; others, less so.  In this case, it’s probably worth having a look at the contents page and/or introduction before deciding whether or not to buy the book.

And this specialisation leads to the central dilemma I find with this type of book.  You need to be committed to the play, for whatever reason, to get the most from your £20+ investment.  One for A Level teachers under OCR specification, lecturers or for y2/3 undergraduates to bounce in and out of at their institution library.  Not recommended, at this price, for my A Level students, and to be fair, it would be a challenging read for them.

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Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'. Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Unashamed Socialist; Scrabble Ninja; friend of the Orangutan

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