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).
Judith 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.