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WHAT TEXT DO I USE?
SINCE YOU WILL BE SELECTING YOUR OWN COPIES OF THE PLAYS, A CONCERN MIGHT BE WHICH TEXT WILL BEST MEET YOUR NEEDS. SINCE ROMEO AND JULIET, FOR EXAMPLE, IS CURRENTLY TAUGHT AT SJC IN THE NINTH GRADE, AND PROBABLY RIGHT NOW AT A UNIVERSITY, A GRADUATE STUDENT IS DOING A PH.D. DISSERTATION ON THE SAME PLAY, IT BECOMES IMMEDIATELY OBVIOUS THAT EDITIONS AND APPROACHES VARY WIDELY.
These guidelines might be of help:
You can obtain individual paperback copies of texts at a commercial bookstore. Those such as the FOLGER or SIGNET series are for the general reader. They contain footnotes etc. which annotate the more obscure passages. Recently these texts have appended critical articles and essays, and they generally have introductions that summarize Shakespeare's life and times plus information about the text itself.
Bound hardcover editions of all the plays vary widely in quality. You can get a cheap volume with just the plays and no notes or introductions, so you are on your own, or you can get better quality editions of all the plays. The HARRISON EDITION, for example, is very good with a scholarly introduction and extensive appendices that go into detail regarding Elizabethan life, times and customs.
For working in honors and especially AP, there are very scholarly texts that provide substantially more information including F and Q comparisons, very detailed notes, extensive bibliographies and critical comments. The ARDEN and OXFORD editions are excellent.
For advanced research, specialized editions are published. The Variorum editions offer summaries of critical commentary dating from after the play's publication to this century. F and Q copies of major plays like Hamlet are available for comparative work. The F1 edition of the plays has been reprinted.
Select the text that best meets your needs.