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Title: Othello
Author: William Shakespeare; Marie Macaisa, Series Editor
Rating: Must Read!
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.
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Reviewed by: MaryBeth MacDonald

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  • A revolutionary new series in Shakespeare publishing, the Sourcebooks Shakespeare brings the Bard's time-honored plays to life. Each edition includes the complete text with easy to read and understand annotations as well as detailed notes on Shakespeare in performance. The emphasis on performance constantly sets these books apart from other Shakespeare editions, and interesting photographs from historic and contemporary productions offer an unprecedented view of Shakespeare on the stage and in film. The emphasis on performance certainly makes these editions more accessible and more meaningful than other text-only versions.

    Most notably, the inclusion of a full-length audio CD makes these books unlike any other. The audio, which is carefully chosen for its ability to showcase great performers and provide alternative interpretations of famous scenes, is a delight. The audio for Othello includes a recording from Paul Robeson's ground-breaking performance (1944) as well as historic recordings by Edwin Booth (ca. 1890) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (ca. 1940). It is an unparalleled collection of historic and contemporary recordings that not only delight the ear but also enrich the text, adding nuances unspoken by the page alone.

    The essays, written by Shakespeare scholars and performers who clearly love to share their expertise, are an invaluable feature. Written somewhat colloquially, they are approachable and informative, peeling away the layers of scholarly mystique that keep newer and younger readers from enjoying the study of Shakespeare. Additionally, they shed an interesting light on the text, underscoring its history in performance as well as common thematic issues and how various productions have highlighted those issues in performance.

    The Sourcebooks Shakespeare Othello is no exception to these rules. In the essay section, Janet Suzman, noted Shakespearean actor and director, discusses her 1987 production of Othello in apartheid South Africa. Lois Potter provides an overview of the play in performance, highlighting major themes and discussing their treatment throughout history. She encourages the reader to explore the gray areas of emotion found within the play, rather than focusing on the black and white dynamic exclusively. Similarly, for film, music and pop culture buffs, Douglas Lanier's essay provides an excellent overview of Othello in popular culture. He covers a variety of stage and film adaptations as well as rock operas and hip hop dramas. His essay provides an excellent point of departure for anyone wishing to delve into the world of Shakespeare. Overall, the essays encourage the reader to find the multiplicity of the play—its many possible interpretations and its diverse themes. They offer a unique voice unheard in Shakespeare scholarship without belittling the play or simplifying its themes. For the student, they provide an excellent introduction to the play's major themes and a platform from which any novice (or expert) can explore the text.

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