Best Shakespeare publisher

I like to read the Shakespeare plays from individual paperbacks, rather than from a single ribcage-crushing hardbound volume. What’s the best publisher? I’m fond of Arden Shakespeares, but mostly because they look cool. I also seem to remember the Folger Shakespeares being pretty good.

For study purposes, my favorite is Arden - their forewords are always comprehensive and informative, and the footnotes are on the page instead of being all lumped together at the end. (And yes, I think they look cool as well.)

“We’ve secretly replaced these actors’ Pelican editions with Folger’s Shakespeare. Let’s see if they can tell the difference.”

                            ---one of my old sig lines

Couldn’t help it – the title of this thread made me think of it.

I’ve never read the Arden series, so I can’t comment on it. I was brought up on the Folger series published by Washington Square Press, and really like them – “footnotes” are on facing pages, in large print, and they have a lot of woodcut reproductions. Not really highbrow, with textual variants and the like, but appropriate for the general audience, and perfect for high school and undergrads.
The worst Shakespeare series I saw was one that had paraphrases of the text in modern English on the facing page. In Hamlet, “Angels and Ministers of Gracve defend us!” becomwes a weak and silly “Help!” It’s Shakespeare with all the potry and imagery sucked out of it, leaving a lifeless husk. I wish I’d bought a copy, just so we could read it and make fun of it. Somebody seems to be doing something similar nowadays, but I haven’t read any.

When I was in an English Lit Ph.D. program 20 years ago, the Arden editions (2nd series) were the default for scholarly work, mainly because of the full textual apparatus on the page. The introductions were long enough to provide pretty complete coverage of the issues around the play, even if they did sometimes stray into the arcana of scholarly debates. The appendices provided useful additional material from contemporary sources, etc. And they did look good.

For a general reading/study edition, the Pelicans were the standard choice in my day. Decent notes, compact size, useful but not exhaustive (or exhausting) introductions. I understand Penguin overhauled the Pelican editions in 1999 or so, and I have no experience with the new ones.

The defaults at our school are Folger and Pelican, depending on the play. Mostly Folger.

Whichever edition you chose (I’d go with Arden), Isaac Asimov’s commentaries on Shakespeare are very worthwhile and insightful. He doesn’t include the full text of the plays in his books, so I suggest you read what Asimov had to say after you’ve finished reading each play.