Outrage as Bard moves house

April 26, 1996

Plans to transfer the renowned Arden Shakespeare series from Routledge to school textbook publisher Thomas Nelson have outraged Bard scholars. The move could precipitate an avalanche of resignations by academic editors engaged in the latest 38-volume series launched last year.

The decision, described as a "bombshell" by Liverpool University professor Jonathan Bate, was revealed at the World Shakespeare Congress in Los Angeles, where 25 of the 42 Arden editors had gathered to celebrate the commissioning of the third Arden series, which is expected to be completed by 2015. "It was delivered as a fait accompli," Professor Bate said.

Canadian conglomerate Thomson International owns Routledge, and has put it on the market for an estimated Pounds 62 million. But Arden, part of Routledge, is such a prestigious and profitable name that Thomson wants to hold on to it. It would become part of Thomas Nelson, also part of the Thomson group. Arden's senior general editor Richard Proudfoot, professor of English at King's College London, fired off a letter to Thomson saying the decision "is likely to achieve what two world wars and two decades of serious competition from rival academic presses have failed to do, namely to rob the Arden Shakespeare of the unique place in the scholarly editing of Shakespeare for a wide academic, theatrical and general readership which it has deservedly occupied for 97 years".

Thomas Nelson has given assurances that Arden will not change. Oxford lecturer Katherine Duncan-Jones said she would monitor the standard of the first Thomas Nelson volume - King Lear, expected in March next year - before deciding whether to switch her volume of Shakespeare's sonnets to a rival publisher. Cambridge's Peter Holland also said he might not complete Coriolanus if fears of a downgraded series prove well-founded.

Arden editors are organising last-ditch attempts to get the decision overturned, which reportedly involve Lord Thomson of Fleet. One editor described the chances of Thomson revoking the decision as "50-50 or worse".

Routledge and Thomson declined to comment. No one at Thomas Nelson was available for comment.

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