Coming Soon: Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by the Marlowe Dramatic Society

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)

Shakespeare marlowe

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 Nevertheless, this is an interesting historical document, and at £145 for 101 CDs, is a bargain.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)

16 thoughts on “Coming Soon: Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by the Marlowe Dramatic Society

  1. I hope these will be released in the US. If not, I’ll be buying them from the UK. These were the performance which I grew up with and inspired my love of Shakespeare, which continues to this day. Thank you for posting this.

    • If you do buy them from the UK, it won’t be as expensive as you think. You can find out by adding them to your cart on Amazon, then going to the checkout process, without going to the end. They charge shipping for this as though it was a single CD, plus they deduct VAT. I know a lot of people in the US who buy CD box sets from the UK because of this.

      So what about the quality of these performances? I had never heard of these before.

      • I don’t remember too much about the actual recordings as my only time listening to these recordings was almost 50 years ago. I’m assuming that they were good enough to forge a love of Shakespeare that continues to this day.

        • Are you familiar with the Arkangel set? I added a paragraph at the end of the article above about it. It is simply magnificent, with an amazing number of excellent actors, and nearly perfect audio production.

          • Yes, it’s in my collection and I love it as well. I agree about the music. But it isn’t around long enough to ruin the performances.

  2. I hope these will be released in the US. If not, I’ll be buying them from the UK. These were the performance which I grew up with and inspired my love of Shakespeare, which continues to this day. Thank you for posting this.

    • If you do buy them from the UK, it won’t be as expensive as you think. You can find out by adding them to your cart on Amazon, then going to the checkout process, without going to the end. They charge shipping for this as though it was a single CD, plus they deduct VAT. I know a lot of people in the US who buy CD box sets from the UK because of this.

      So what about the quality of these performances? I had never heard of these before.

      • I don’t remember too much about the actual recordings as my only time listening to these recordings was almost 50 years ago. I’m assuming that they were good enough to forge a love of Shakespeare that continues to this day.

        • Are you familiar with the Arkangel set? I added a paragraph at the end of the article above about it. It is simply magnificent, with an amazing number of excellent actors, and nearly perfect audio production.

          • Yes, it’s in my collection and I love it as well. I agree about the music. But it isn’t around long enough to ruin the performances.

  3. “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…”

    I prefer American performance practice to British. British actors tend to rush through the words, while American actors lean to greater expressiveness. * Once upon a time, Orson Welles would appear on Dean Martin’s (!!!) show and read Shakespeare, ** You not only understood the words, you understood their meaning. And Welles did this without “rhetorical affectation or excessive emotion”.

    I hope I can afford this set.

    * Brian Blessed is a notable exception.

    ** If you want to rend your garments over the destruction of Western civilization, there is no better example.

    • Hmm… Are you American? Could part of it be you’re less used to British accents? I’ve been living a few miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon for about two and a half years, and I see all the RSC’s productions. I have never had the feeling that there’s any rushing; quite the contrary.

      • I am ‘murcan. I generally don’t have problems with British accents. And Brian Blessed takes his time, so it can’t be the accent, per se.

  4. “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…”

    I prefer American performance practice to British. British actors tend to rush through the words, while American actors lean to greater expressiveness. * Once upon a time, Orson Welles would appear on Dean Martin’s (!!!) show and read Shakespeare, ** You not only understood the words, you understood their meaning. And Welles did this without “rhetorical affectation or excessive emotion”.

    I hope I can afford this set.

    * Brian Blessed is a notable exception.

    ** If you want to rend your garments over the destruction of Western civilization, there is no better example.

    • Hmm… Are you American? Could part of it be you’re less used to British accents? I’ve been living a few miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon for about two and a half years, and I see all the RSC’s productions. I have never had the feeling that there’s any rushing; quite the contrary.

      • I am ‘murcan. I generally don’t have problems with British accents. And Brian Blessed takes his time, so it can’t be the accent, per se.

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