26th May 2000 at 01:00
CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL SHAKESPEARE - Coriolanus. Edited by Rex Gibson, Cambridge University Press, pound;6.95. NEW LONGMAN SHAKESPEARE - Romeo and Juliet. Edited by John O'Connor, Longman pound;3.99.

The widening price difference between these two series perhaps tells us something about their respective markets and appeal. On the surface they are very similar. Each omits a conventional introduction and presents the text with a left-hand facing page containing a brief plot summary, short glossarial notes and several dramatic or interpretative activities. Both end each act with a recap, also activity-based, called Looking Back (Cambridge) and Exam Practice (Longman). Sections on topics such as Themes, Language and Background follow at the end.

Their use of this common format is quite different. New Longman Shakespeare is explicitly tailored for students up to GCSE. The editorial language and suggested tasks are much simpler and more elementary than those i Cambridge, and neatly tied to national curriculum requirements. Cambridge is more exacting and imaginative. A full range of required activities is there, but the editor does not defer to officialdom and respects the student's independent intelligence.

Horses for courses. Longman is excellent for average groups up to GCSE. For able students of any age, and everyone post-GCSE, Cambridge is the outright winner. For Longman, Shakespeare is a classic to be studied; for Cambridge a living dramatic presence. Each of these two plays is in the right series here. Romeo and Juliet is read by many inexperienced students for whom Longman's introductory skill gives strong support. Coriolanus, by comparison, has minority appeal. It is usually set for more advanced students, and the uncompromising rigour of its political vision calls for the more sophisticated treatment possible in the Cambridge series.

Peter Hollindale is a freelance writer

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