If English students look at a Shakespeare play as just literature, they miss vital dimensions of the work. These are works written to be performed.
Performance is a growing part of many English Studies courses, and The New Oxford Shakespeare is designed to help teachers discuss what is seen on stage with the same sort of authority they use to talk about the text.
Stage directions in early modern dramatic texts are much less systematic and precise than modern readers expect, so in order to make Shakespeare’s dramatic storytelling more intelligible, this Modern Critical Edition adds many stage directions implied by the dialogue, or required by the story, but not present in the original documents.
Performance Notes in the margin of the text also call attention to staging possibilities that are more complex, or less obvious; issues such as the age of characters, their costumes or props, the pacing of a scene or a passage, the direction in which different characters enter or exit, or the different ways in which modern actors have handled an important interpretive crux.
The Notes are not prescriptive – rather they suggest ways in which this particular moment in this particular play might be staged; this exit might be handled; this song or lyric might be performed most effectively.