The Late, Great Alan Rickman Reads Shakespeare, Proust & Thomas Hardy

Just this week we lost Alan Rick­man, one of the most beloved British actors of his gen­er­a­tion. And like all the best beloved British actors of any gen­er­a­tion, he could, of course, do Shake­speare the way the rest of us can tie our shoes — and not just the lines from the plays, but the son­nets. In the clip above, you can hear Rick­man give a read­ing of the satir­i­cal Son­net 130, which sends up the wor­ship­ful excess­es of con­tem­po­rary court­ly son­nets with lines like “My mis­tress’ eyes are noth­ing like the sun” and “I have seen ros­es damask’d, red and white, but no such ros­es see I in her cheeks.”

To prop­er­ly deliv­er this mate­r­i­al requires a cer­tain sense of irony, and we could rely on Rick­man to bring his own for­mi­da­ble yet sub­tle iron­ic capac­i­ty to the screen.

We always enjoyed see­ing him pop up in a movie — no mat­ter how impres­sive or mediocre the movie in ques­tion — because, I would argue, of the dis­tinc­tive sense of intel­li­gence with which he imbued all his char­ac­ters, from the ghost boyfriend in Tru­ly, Mad­ly, Deeply to the Sher­iff of Not­ting­ham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to Har­ry Pot­ter’s Severus Snape to the bad guy in Die Hard. And nat­u­ral­ly, he does­n’t leave it at home when assum­ing the role of the nar­ra­tor of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, a sam­ple of which you can hear above.

One must strike an even more com­pli­cat­ed bal­ance of emo­tions to do jus­tice to the prose of Mar­cel Proust, a task to which the actor proves him­self equal in his recita­tion just above.  “I think that life would sud­den­ly seem won­der­ful to us if we were threat­ened to die,” he says, using his inim­itable voice for words that now sound more mean­ing­ful than ever:

Just think of how many projects, trav­els, love affairs, stud­ies, it – our life – hides from us, made invis­i­ble by our lazi­ness which, cer­tain of a future, delays them inces­sant­ly.

But let all this threat­en to become impos­si­ble for ever, how beau­ti­ful it would become again! Ah! If only the cat­a­clysm doesn’t hap­pen this time, we won’t miss vis­it­ing the new gal­leries of the Lou­vre, throw­ing our­selves at the feet of Miss X, mak­ing a trip to India.

The cat­a­clysm doesn’t hap­pen, we don’t do any of it, because we find our­selves back in the heart of nor­mal life, where neg­li­gence dead­ens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have need­ed the cat­a­clysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.

Mr. Rick­man, you, too, will be missed…

Note: Do you want to hear Alan Rick­man read Hardy’s Return of the Native in its entire­ty for free? Just head over to and reg­is­ter for a 30-day free tri­al and you can down­load that, and anoth­er book of your choice, at no cost. Find more details here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Alan Rick­man Does Epic Vio­lence to a Cup of Tea in Super Slow Motion

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

Shakespeare’s Satir­i­cal Son­net 130, As Read By Stephen Fry

Lis­ten­ing to Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past, (Maybe) the Longest Audio Book Ever Made

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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