Ages of Man was first performed by John Gielgud in the summer of 1957, in Edinburgh, Scotland, as part of their Annual Festival of the Arts. The great actor toured with the work, on and off, throughout his career, playing it on Broadway in 1959 and 1963, and winning him a special Tony "for contribution to theatre for his extraordinary insight into the writings of Shakespeare"
And on a Sunday afternoon in 1966, producers Daniel Melnick and David Susskind brought it to American television. Yep, it won an Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Program.
This is perhaps the single greatest production of Shakespeare's words done in the 20th century. There are complete audio recordings of this actor's Hamlet, Prospero, Lear, and Richard II, and a variety of films where he played lesser roles. And perhaps audiences are not well-served by compilations---one speech from play A, two speeches from play B . . . sort of Chinese menu of the Bard's greatest hits. And perhaps a skinny, somewhat fey, proper English man in a business suit is not ideal an image for the great heroes of drama.
However, Gielgud take the "Ages of Man" speech from As You Like It, and illustrates it so brilliantly, and with such genius, pathos, and talent, that you can (almost) hear Shakespeare think. No wonder the old man won a 1979 Grammy Award for his third audio recording of the recital (having been nominated for the same award for his performaces in 1959 and 1964).
All alone, for 104 minutes, this staggeringly talented actor illustrates Shakespeare and teaches us all of life, love, death and the staggering and irreplaceable beauty all around us. Surely pages and pages have been written about Gielgud's diction, vocal purity, projection, imagination and truth, but don't waste time here.
Buy this DVD, out by Entertainment One. If you love Shakespeare, there's no choice. If you hate Shakespeare, here's the best chance to change your mind. Ages of Man is to be treasured, enjoyed and shared, now and forever.