Amazon is good at showing me things that I want to buy. Yesterday, it presented this forthcoming set of Shakespeare’s complete plays and poems, recorded on the Argo label from 1957 to 1964. The 101-CD set will be released in late July. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
From the Amazon description:
“This complete and unabridged collection of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, performed by The Marlowe Dramatic Society and Professional Players, plus all of the 154 Sonnets combined with the 4 narrative poems comes together to create an ultimate collection in one boxset. The recordings feature celebrated actors such as Sir John Gielgud, Richard Pasco, Dame Prunella Scales, Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Trevor Nunn, Oscar winner Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Patrick Wymarck, and more.”
You can read more about the Marlowe Dramatic Society in this 2007 article from The Telegraph. One interesting comment is about what seems like a fundamentalist approach to performance:
“Rylands’s insistence on a delivery of verse that was precise and meaningful without recourse to rhetorical affectation or excessive emotion was integral to the philosophy of the Royal Shakespeare Company, founded in 1960 by Marlowe graduates Peter Hall and John Barton, and has its other great monument in the recordings of Shakespeare’s complete oeuvre which he directed between 1957 and 1964 under the Marlowe’s auspices for the Argo label.”
The article continues, saying, “Today, Rylands’s prescriptions are questioned, and the approach to the text has become freer…”
So my guess is these recordings may sound a bit stilted, compared to today’s Shakespeare productions; more like Olivier than Branagh. Nevertheless, this is an interesting historical document, and at £145 for 101 CDs, is a bargain. For now, it’s only listed on Amazon UK, but it may later be available in the US. If so, I’ll update this article.
It’s worth pointing out that there is another complete set of Shakespeare’s plays on CD, one that is quite extraordinary. The Complete Archangel Shakespeare features a number of well known actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company, such as David Tennant, Simon Russel Beale, Damien Lewis, Brian Cox, Jane Lapotaire, Adrien Lester, Joseph Fiennes, and many more. The production of these recordings is as good as it gets. The set is, however, quite expensive, though it is much cheaper in the US than in the UK. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)