F. Scott Fitzgerald Reads From Shakespeare’s Othello (c.1940)

When F. Scott Fitzger­ald died in 1940, his New York Times obit­u­ary claimed, “the promise of his bril­liant career was nev­er ful­filled.” This is a sen­tence that may puz­zle mod­ern-day lovers of Fitzgerald’s endur­ing­ly-rel­e­vant fic­tion, but it was the judg­ment of the time on the exhaust­ed, alco­holic writer’s career. And it was a judg­ment he often applied to him­self, as he demon­strat­ed pub­licly in his 1936 essay “The Crack-Up,” about his depres­sion. Reduced at the end of his life to writ­ing film scripts for mon­ey, a task he found degrad­ing for a “suc­cess­ful lit­er­ary man” such as him­self, Fitzger­ald also, at some time near his final year, made record­ings of him­self read­ing the work of Shake­speare, Keats, and oth­ers, pre­sum­ably also for mon­ey, though it’s not exact­ly clear who pro­duced the record­ings or why.

In the first video (above), lis­ten to Fitzger­ald deliv­er a dig­ni­fied read­ing of Othello’s speech to the Venet­ian Sen­a­tors from Act 1, Scene 3 of Oth­el­lo. Fitzger­ald stum­bles and slurs occa­sion­al­ly, and the speech may in fact be com­posed of sev­er­al dif­fer­ent takes edit­ed togeth­er, sug­gest­ing that he may have had dif­fi­cul­ty mak­ing it through. Nonethe­less, his voice is seduc­tive and sonorous; he reads the speech as a lit­er­ary mono­logue, rather than a dec­la­ra­tion. Hear more of him below, read­ing an edit­ed ver­sion of John Masefield’s “On Grow­ing Old,” a poem which may have had par­tic­u­lar poignan­cy to the man who wrote in 1936, “of course all life is in a process of break­ing down.” But even in decline, Fitzger­ald was worth lis­ten­ing to. You can find major works by F. Scott Fitzger­ald in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books col­lec­tions.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

F. Scott Fitzger­ald Cre­ates a List of 22 Essen­tial Books, 1936

Sev­en Tips From F. Scott Fitzger­ald on How to Write Fic­tion

Rare Footage of Scott and Zel­da Fitzger­ald From the 1920s

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