Can anyone recommend some good Shakespeare recordings (Audiobooks)?
August 4, 2004 6:16 AM   Subscribe

I have an abiding passion for audiobooks (concomitant with my hour or so of daily commuting), and it occurs to me that this would be an ideal way to get over my general Shakespearean illiteracy. Can anyone recommend some good Shakespeare recordings? The more compelling the recommendation, the better.
posted by blueshammer to Technology (10 answers total)
Plays should be seen and not just read to get the full effect.

Regarless, if you want to start reading Shakespeare, start light and easy. A MidSummer's Night Dream is my favorite. It's a comedy within a comedy. The Taming of the Shrew is another good one. Please, don't start with tragedies like Othello and Hamlet. They're not the best way to introduce yourself to the Bard.

For reference material and good explanations, see Isaac Asimov's (yes, THAT Asimov) Shakesperean encyclopedia. It's amazingly detailed. My high school Shakespeare teacher introduced me to the book. I recently grabbed my own copy (10+ years later) from one of B&N's clearance racks.
posted by onhazier at 6:26 AM on August 4, 2004 has quite a few audio versions of Shakespeare's plays for download. I make no claim about the quality of these particular productions, but they seem to garner pretty good user reviews overall.
posted by ChrisTN at 7:07 AM on August 4, 2004

Ken Branagh made a pretty darn good Hamlet in one of my only audio books. (Look harder than I did, and you should be able to find it in CD; I've got it in that format.) Other Shakepeare audio linked here.
posted by clever sheep at 8:40 AM on August 4, 2004

Not about audio books, but the best cure for anyone's Shakespearephobia is Branagh's Henry V. He somehow makes the poetry conversational and clear, yet still gorgeous.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:49 AM on August 4, 2004

Never listened to any audiobooks, but if you've got time for a movie (well, actually time for two normal movies), check out Branagh's Hamlet the movie. By far my favorite Shakespeare adaptation and I've seen most versions of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, R&J, plus a few others Shakespearian films.
posted by rorycberger at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, I've seen a lot of Shakespeare movies, but have never really succeeded in sitting down with the texts -- that's what I meant by illiteracy. And I realize that an audio performance is not really the way to achieve that, but I'm pretty visually oriented and I want to read/audit the stories without relying on visual comprehension.
posted by blueshammer at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2004

I second the audible link. There are listener reviews there of the recordings (like amazon reviews) so you can get an idea what they're like. They also work superb with your upcoming iPod (and you can get $100 off an iPod thru them).

I've never downloaded any of their Shakespeare but the recordings they have of Middlesex and A Short History of Nearly Everything are 5 stars knock-out great.
posted by dobbs at 10:10 AM on August 4, 2004

I have listened to any of them, but Arkangel has produced audiobook versions of all of his plays.

Here are more recommendations.

Also, I haven't listened to either of these, but I have really enjoyed other Teaching Company lectures, but they have two lecture series: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies and The Word and the Action.

Finally, since most of these options can be pretty pricey, check your local library first. They may have some of these on CD or (at worst) cassette.
posted by turbodog at 11:36 AM on August 4, 2004

Naxos has several audio drama CDs available, including most of Shakespeare's more popular plays. Branagh even appears on a couple of them. I've heard their recordings of King Lear, Twelfth Night, and Othello, and heartily recommend all of them. Also, if you want to branch out a bit, try their Oedipus the King. The BBC has also released quite a few audio productions of Shakespeare; their King Lear with Sir John Gielgud is the only one I've heard so far, but it's quite good.

Most, if not all, of the Naxos Shakespeare recordings are available from the aforementioned Audible as well as on CD. Be careful, though, with their non-Naxos Shakespeare: some of it is of primarily historical interest. The Richard Burton Hamlet, for example, is quite well performed, but the audio quality is pretty bad, which could be overly distracting to someone unfamiliar with the play beforehand. Listen to samples before you buy.

My only other caveat is that in plays requiring a rather large cast, as many of Shakespeare's works do, it can be difficult to follow who's saying what in an audio-only production. I'm a Shakespeare enthusiast, so generally speaking this hasn't been a problem for me, but if you're approaching a play for the first time it could be frustrating. If you're determined to brush up on your Shakespeare during your commute, my first recommendation would be the Naxos Twelfth Night. It's my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies, very well acted in this production, and most of the time the characters are just as confused about who's who as you're likely to be.
posted by Acetylene at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2004

I've found that driving while listening to Shakespeare can be dangerous. You have to concentrate too hard. In fact, speaking as a fellow afficionado of audio books, I'd suggest you skip Shakespeare altogether. Stick with easy-to-understand books written after 1950. It's safer.
posted by Faze at 5:55 AM on August 5, 2004

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