For everyone from A-level students to theatre-goers, footnotes are part and parcel of most people’s experience of reading Shakespeare’s plays. Equally, in the hands of a series editor, newer editions of his texts often bring spellings up to date in an attempt to help the modern reader.
Which is partly what makes Penguin‘s slim new edition of The Tempest, thought to be Shakespeare’s last play, so interesting. Stripping out the supporting structures that can guide readers through some rather challenging writing, while making use of the original spelling from 1610, understandably makes for a different experience of the work.
In the hands of graphic designer and typographer David Pearson, however, this small project shows how typesetting and design is a vital component to the delivery of words and language.
The play, says the edition’s coverline, is ‘Published according to the true originall copy’ but Pearson’s use of František Štorm’s Baskerville Text makes for a highly legible reading experience which counters some of the more unusual spelling.
“The original idea behind this edition was to present Shakespeare in his original language, providing the reader with a chance to enjoy the work afresh, without modern editorial intervention,” says Pearson.
“What it wasn’t about, particularly, was a chance to marvel at the vagaries of early seventeenth-century typesetting – fun as it was to include some suggestion of this.
“We didn’t feel the need to match the perverse line breaks of the original. These were the born out of the typesetting process after all, not Shakespeare’s writing. I used the cover to make a suggestion towards this (irresponsible hyphenation) but, in literary terms, they seemed to provide an unnecessary barrier.”
“So this is not an edition that ultimately concerns itself with scholarly, bibliographic or indeed typographic integrity – for that you need only consult a facsimile – rather it is intended to present Shakespeare writing to his original beat. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to the unusual colour and rhythm of the writing.”
Talking of unusual colour – as a counterpoint to the black and white of the cover and text within, the play’s end pages are a vibrant fucshia.