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The Complete Works of Shakespeare

It’s amazing to think that since the publication of the famous First Folio of Shakespeare’s works in 1623, no two versions of the Complete Works currently in and out of print are identical. Each one is unique in terms of its size, shape, and colour, but there are also minor and major textual differences on the pages within.

The red-bound, red-boxed Oxford Shakespeare: the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

When you’re browsing through a copy of the Complete Works, don’t forget that you’re looking at a carefully-planned collection of plays, sonnets, and narrative poems that has been crafted by an editor with his or her own set of goals and procedures.

Many of the plays don’t come from a single, authoritative original version, so the editor is left to choose from a number of early editions that can have many, often substantial, differences in content. There can even be uncertainty about whether or not Shakespeare contributed to a given play at all, since collaboration between writers was such common practice at the time. For example, there is often debate as to whether King Edward III should be included under Shakespeare’s name. 

A Brief History of the Complete Works of Shakespeare

Although he did not claim that his edition was ‘complete,’ Nicholas Rowe was the first to use the term ‘works.’ His 1709, 6-volume edition was “[a]dorn’d with cuts, [. . .] [r]evis’d and corrected”. 

In this sense, Rowe might be called the first editor of Shakespeare’s plays, although many consider Heminges and Condell, the compilers of the First Folio, to be. After Rowe, the likes of Alexander Pope, Lewis Theobald, Samuel Johnson, and Edmond Malone, among many others, published their own versions of the works of Shakespeare. But, it was not until the 20th century when it became fashionable to use the term ‘Complete Works’. 

Here’s a quick buyer’s guide to the editions of the Complete Works of Shakespeare available to purchase from our specialist Shakespeare bookshop. If in doubt, our booksellers would be delighted to help you find the perfect edition for you.

The Oxford Shakespeare (Second Edition)

A ground breaking edition, the Oxford Shakespeare (2nd) is the benchmark for all things textual. Containing plays never before found in a complete works, this edition has redefined the ways in which Shakespeare is edited. There are no notes, but a companion to the text can be purchased separately.

The Riverside Shakespeare

The old-standby. The Riverside is an impressive edition complete with helpful textual notes and a general introduction to Shakespeare.

The Arden Shakespeare

This revised edition is clear and easy to read. It contains no textual notes, but is textually sound.

The RSC Complete Works

This, the most recent edition, is solely based on the First Folio of 1623. It contains the narrative poems and sonnets, textual notes, and ample introductions to each of the works.

The Norton Shakespeare

The Norton is based on the Oxford Shakespeare. It is quite often used in universities for teaching purposes because of its ample textual notes and glosses of difficult words.

The Alexander Text

If it is a quick-and-dirty, cheap, un-annotated edition that you are after, this is the one. The small print may not suit every reader’s taste, but it makes for the perfect traveller’s edition.

Browse for your perfect edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare in our online shop.