A 68 Hour Playlist of Shakespeare’s Plays Being Performed by Great Actors: Gielgud, McKellen & More

A cou­ple of years ago we pub­lished a post on “what Shake­speare sound­ed like to Shake­speare” which high­light­ed some promi­nent lin­guists’ attempts to recre­ate the Eliz­a­bethan speech pat­terns and accents of the play­wright’s day. There may be some small debate about whether or not they suc­ceed­ed, but we’ll nev­er know for cer­tain since his day is long behind us.

In some ways, the nature of Shake­speare’s lan­guage may have been more French, or more Lati­nate, or more Sax­on, than the Eng­lish we speak today—depending on the pro­por­tion of region­alisms com­min­gling in any giv­en play, like char­ac­ters in a nation­al bazaar.

Our cur­rent ver­sion of the lan­guage may have absorbed anoth­er four hun­dred years of glob­al influ­ence, but in the process it has also become more homog­e­nized and stan­dard­ized. Shake­speare’s lan­guage was both more provin­cial and more riotous­ly diverse–in spelling and pronunciation–than many kinds of Eng­lish we speak today.

Per­haps this is one rea­son we think of Shake­speare as a uni­ver­sal poet—the het­ero­doxy of his speech, and hence a vari­abil­i­ty of char­ac­ters found in few oth­er lit­er­a­tures. Even his stock types seem to have indi­vid­ual voic­es. The degree of inter­play between high and low speech—city and coun­try, com­ic and trag­ic, lyric and prosaic—may be why near­ly every world lan­guage has found a way to adapt his work, accent­ing some qual­i­ties and mut­ing oth­ers. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can see for your­self at the MIT Glob­al Shake­speare’s Video & Per­for­mance Archive, which hosts dozens of Shake­speare stag­ings in dozens of lan­guages, like the mes­mer­iz­ing Japan­ese Lear above, or the heartrac­ing­ly intense one-woman clip from the Argen­tine Ham­let la meta­mor­pho­sis at the top, a melo­dra­mat­ic pro­duc­tion that would thrill David Lynch. Addi­tion­al­ly, the data­base aggre­gates “essays and meta­da­ta pro­vid­ed by schol­ars and edu­ca­tors in the field” of inter­na­tion­al Shake­speare stud­ies.

Even among the thou­sands of Eng­lish-lan­guage adap­ta­tions of Shake­speare’s work we find an inter­na­tion­al diver­si­ty of speech. The Spo­ti­fy playlist above, brought to us by Ulysses Clas­si­cal (mak­ers of the Stan­ley Kubrick Playlist), presents a huge col­lec­tion of record­ed Shake­speare plays and poems, as well as the scores and inci­den­tal music for Eng­lish-lan­guage pro­duc­tions. The actors represented–Sirs Giel­gud, Olivi­er, and McK­ellen, Derek Jaco­bi, Edith Evans–are most­ly Eng­lish stage roy­al­ty, but we also have Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and actor Richard Bur­ton, and Amer­i­cans Paul Robe­son, Ros­alind Rus­sell, and Orson Welles. The val­ue of such a col­lec­tion is inestimable–68 hours of Shake­speare read and per­formed by some of the world’s finest actors. But it is indeed a spe­cif­ic slice of the world. Even in Eng­lish it feels (for­give the puns) that all the world could be rep­re­sent­ed here, doing Shake­speare in every kind of Eng­lish around the globe. Per­haps such a glob­al approach to teach­ing Shake­speare in Eng­lish would add nuance to debates about whether his work is still rel­e­vant in Amer­i­can high school and col­lege class­rooms. In any case, there seem to be few bar­ri­ers to actors and direc­tors for approach­ing Shake­speare with new trans­la­tions and with fresh eyes, ears, and cos­tumes, again and again.

You can access the Spo­ti­fy playlist on the web here. If you need to down­load Spo­ti­fy, find it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

Free Online Shake­speare Cours­es: Primers on the Bard from Oxford, Har­vard, Berke­ley & More

Orson Welles’ Radio Per­for­mances of 10 Shake­speare Plays

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Chris Green says:

    I have a 25 or 26 LP boxed set of record­ings of Shake­speare works, called the Liv­ing Shake­speare series, record­ed in 1960 and after. There are 5 box­es of these discs.

    Each play comes with two text ver­sions of the play, one meant for high school stu­dents, the oth­er for old­er per­form­ers and stu­dents (i.e., some of the lan­guage is Bowd­ler­ized).

    Among the actors on the record­ing are many of the great Shakespere­an actors of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

    Also, there are are at least two young actors who went on to have huge act­ing careers in film and on stage: Peter O’Toole, Richard Bur­ton, and at least one of the Red­grave sis­ters.

    When I got the set for a few $, I was amazed that it appears only one disc had ever been played by who­ev­er had pur­chased and owned it… judg­ing by the lack of any dust on the record­ings.


    The record series is men­tioned here:

  • Gwendolyn Gallagher says:

    The kabu­ki clip of King Lear is a very odd pro­duc­tion. Lear speaks Japan­ese but his daugh­ter speaks Chi­nese. I won­der why they chose to do it that way? I heard of a pro­duc­tion of Romeo and Juli­et where the Mon­tagues were all speak­ing Japan­ese and the Capulets Russ­ian (or the oth­er way around) which would seem to make more sense, as it empha­sizes the dif­fi­cul­ty in rec­on­cil­ing the two fam­i­lies. I don’t see how it aug­ments the play here.

  • John Bohn says:

    At the age od 95 and poor as a church mpuse I am (fool­ish­ly?) try­ing to find a free copy of the genius that is The War fo The Ros­es. To no avail, I sim­ply do not have the income to pur­chase a copy. I do have sevder­al oth­ers but not the Crown Jewe. If any­one who reads this knows where I could obtain a free copy of the War of thr Ros­es, plesse take pity on thos poor pen­ti­nent and so adise. Thank You.
    john r bohn
    945 pine ave, #F
    carls­bad, ca 92008

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.