You can follow the play in text if you choose to -- they follow the readily available Complete Pelikan Shakespeare. But you don't need to -- if you aren't familiar with a play the brief four or five line summaries of each scene in the small fold-out accompanying each play are quite sufficient to know which characters are involved. It's possible to listen to these while driving, but you can't concentrate fully unless you're totally stuck in traffic. My number one recommendation is to take a Walkman and a pair of headphones to a hammock under a tree and indulge yourself. Second best is a comfy easy chair.
However you listen to these, do get them and listen to them. Or persuade your local library to get the set.
The price -- ...-- seems high until you figure that this is 38 complete plays -- less than the cost of the same play in paperback -- and there are a total of 83 disks, so you're paying just $5 per disk. Cheap! And these aren't some pop music you'll listen to once; these are a lifetime investment for yourself and your family.
Get it. Period.
Educators, lovers of theatre and great literature--take note! Late in the 1990s, Harper Row began to release on cassettes the Arkangel Complete Shakespeare, all of which I reviewed in one paper or another. Using some of the best of the young theatrical talent in Great Britain and some of the older established stars of stage and screen, the producers gave us readings of every single word of every single play by Shakespeare, including the seldom-performed "Two Noble Kinsmen" which is partially by Shakespeare.
Well, hold on! Audio Partners has been contracted to release the entire set on CDs. The trick is that you cannot purchase the individual sets but are required to purchase the entire package of 38 plays for $600. That is 98 CDs in all with a playing time of just over 101 hours! Libraries and school departments take note.
Hearing them as they were released on tape in batches of four or five, I was impressed mostly with the enormity of the project but found some things to quibble about. Casting Oberon and Titania with a pair whose voices were South African or Jamaican (no Henry Higgins, I) made some sense in that it emphasized their other-worldly-ness. So did assigning Malvolio in "Twelfth Night" to an actor with a distinct Scottish accent, but giving Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet" to the same actor was absurd. Then too there is that sudden sound effect of a train pulling out of a station in the middle of "All's Well That Ends Well"! Granted there was a production current then that did place the play in more modern times, but when one is hearing a recording with no clue as to setting, the result was jarring and should have been omitted.
In the grander roles such as Hamlet, Othello and the like, the younger actors give modern readings which might strike some as slighting demands of the high poetry. And those who long for the grander readings can turn to the re-releases of the old Shakespeare Recording Society sets.
One great disadvantage to the cassettes is that you could locate a specific scene only with much fast forwarding. With CDs, of course, you can jump to any scene by pressing the Skip button on your player. When a scene continues onto another disc, the tracking list tells you at which line the scene picks up.
The price might be prohibitive to all but an institution--but I feel that every library should find its way to purchasing the complete set in much the same way that many purchased the complete set of BBC Shakespeare videos.
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