I was at an estate sale this afternoon, killing time while my daughter was at her gymnastics class, when I came upon a stack of old-school Cliffs Notes. I wrote about Cliffs Notes a few days ago, and since then, the company that I work for has acquired the Cliffs Notes titles. The ones that I found were listed as being copyright 1960 by C.K. Hillegrass (I think I know what the C stands for), and they were all for Shakespeare’s works.
I love the way Shakepeare strings words together, and I have a big volume of his plays that I pick up on occasion and flip through, looking for an interesting turn of a phrase. But I never have, and likely never will, understand the stories that are being told. I can follow them well enough onstage, since that is the medium they were written for in the first place. But they just don’t read very well to me, and that’s where “Old Cliffy” always came in.
I’m very pleased to be connected with Cliffs Notes, if only in a very tangential way. And because I’m feeling nostalgic, now it’s time for the all caps disclaimer that was on the inside cover of every Cliffs Notes that I ever used:
READ THE ENTIRE LITERARY WORK. THESE NOTES ARE NOT INTENDED AND HAVE NOT BEEN PREPARED TO SERVE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE TEXT ITSELF OR FOR THE CLASSROOM DISCUSSION OF THE TEXT. STUDENTS WHO ATTEMPT TO USE THE NOTES AS SUCH ARE DENYING THEMSELVES THE VERY EDUCATION THEY ARE PRESUMABLY GIVING THEIR MOST VITAL YEARS TO ACHIEVE.
I can see their point, all these years later. But then again, there were no annotations in Cliffs Notes, either. And that, to use one of Shakespeare’s many phrases, is the long and short of it.