F. Scott Fitzgerald Reads Shakespeare’s Othello and Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” (1940)

When F. Scott Fitzger­ald died in 1940 at the age of 44, he was con­sid­ered a trag­ic fail­ure. The New York Times eulo­gized him by writ­ing that “the promise of his bril­liant career was nev­er ful­filled.” Though he mas­ter­ful­ly cap­tured all the mad flash of the Jazz era and the dam­aged young men of the Lost Gen­er­a­tion, Fitzgerald’s nov­els hadn’t been ful­ly rec­og­nized for their great­ness at the time of his death. Now, of course, one could make a plau­si­ble argu­ment that The Great Gats­by is the great Amer­i­can nov­el of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Nonethe­less, there’s a lin­ger­ing sense of what could have been that hangs over the author’s life. How many more great books could have been writ­ten if it weren’t for his alco­holism, his bouts with depres­sion, or his famous­ly tem­pes­tu­ous rela­tion­ship with his wife Zel­da?

As the facts of his biog­ra­phy ossi­fy into leg­end, it’s always brac­ing to see some reminder of the man him­self. In the clips above and below you can lis­ten to his actu­al voice. For rea­sons that still remain unclear, Fitzger­ald record­ed him­self read­ing the works of William Shake­speare and John Keats in 1940, the last year of his life.

Above, you can see lis­ten to him read Othello’s speech to the Venet­ian Sen­a­tors from Act 1, Scene 3 of Oth­el­lo. While his deliv­ery doesn’t have the pol­ish of a trained Shake­speare­an actor, it does have a sonorous, emo­tive author­i­ty to it even when he stum­bles and slurs.

And here Fitzger­ald recites John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightin­gale” from mem­o­ry, which wasn’t quite as good, one imag­ines, as he hoped. Fitzger­ald flubs a bit here, skips a bit there, before grind­ing to a halt some­where around line 25. Still, it’s much bet­ter than I could have done.

Check the videos out. It might just give you a new appre­ci­a­tion for the author.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

F. Scott Fitzger­ald Con­ju­gates “to Cock­tail,” the Ulti­mate Jazz-Age Verb (1928)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (3)
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  • Rajdeep Yadav says:

    thnx open cul­ture edi­tor .…your site give impor­tant knowl­edge for lit­er­a­ture n cul­ture so again thank you.…

  • Bonnie Treegoob says:

    This is beyond awe­some! To hear the actu­al voice of F. Scott Fitzger­ald read­ing from
    the words of two mas­ters of Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture is breath­tak­ing. It brought tears to my eyes. In his short life, he wrote such beau­ti­ful nov­els and sto­ries. Thank you for bring­ing
    his voice to me.

  • Dionysis Papadopoulos says:

    This is an excel­lent, beloved series of arti­cles and com­ments. I faith­fyl­ly respect it,
    D. A Papadopou­los.

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