This is a wonderful performance of the entire Divine Comedy which one can listen to many times. The reader, Heathecoate Williams, must be some sort of an actor -- full throated furious at times, pale and poignant at others as he wends his way through it all, mimicking all the saints and sinners like a mockingbird. Each of the 100 cantos is prefaced by a short suggestion of period music for a breather and for atmosphere, which does not intrude or ham up the performance, as often happens with similar efforts.
Shameless drama of Williams' variety may be embarrassing to some, out of style to others. But it supplies an important element lacking to the rather dry academic fashion by which most are these days exposed to Dante. Nor is any accuracy of meaning sacrificed thereby. The three parts of the Comedy are all read from a prose translation by a man named Benedict Flynn. I am not aware that this translation is available anywhere in print, but having read several English translations of Dante, the word choice is familiar and sounds properly middle of the road. Truth be told, a dramatic flair does no disservice to this very personal poem at all, which was radical in its day for being written in common vernacular. For the hearer of our language, it places Dante in the ring where he belongs: with the fully engaged Shakespeare of the history plays, not with the closet dramas of a T.S. Eliot or a Robert Lowell.
The set is well worth the price, and the bonus disc lecture on Dante's life not only adds the academic dimension, but makes the price for the whole a steal.