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Bringing Shakespeare into your living room

Be Thou Now Persuaded: Living in a Shakespearean World
Be Thou Now Persuaded: Living in a Shakespearean World
By various artists

Rhino Records: 1999

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This review first appeared in the August 28, 1999 edition of the American Reporter.

While modern marvels are likely to dominate many of the "best of" lists in our closing millenium, one exception will be in literature.

Our current millenium was barely half through its course when the man still considered the greatest playwright in the English language was born. It was in 1564 that William Shakespeare came into the world and, through him, much of our best theater. Some 435 years later, Shakespeare is still celebrated – with festivals and productions by the dozens, and a handful of reproductions of his beloved Globe Theatre. He remains the standard by which actors are judged, the bar they must clear before joining the elite.

Thanks to the genius of another of this millenium's favorite sons, one Thomas Edison, we are now able to do something earlier generations could not: Relive some of the best performances of Shakespeare from our time.

Rhino Records' six-disc "Living in a Shakespearean World" captures many of the finest Shakesperean actors in their classic roles. Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, John Barrymore and Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud and Orson Welles. The first four discs feature short excerpts from various productions dating to the early part of this century, organized by topic (marriage, jealousy, ambition). The final two contain a complete production of "Romeo and Juliet" starring Claire Bloom and Albert Finney in the title roles.

The handsomely packaged edition includes an 80-page booklet with a concise historical overview of Shakespeare, his times and works; transcripts of the included dialogues; and numerous photos of many of the actors.

Even at six CDs, though, this is far from a comprehensive look at Shakespeare. With more than three dozen plays and hundreds of poems to his credits, a complete set of Shakespeare recordings would take dozens of discs.

And even that wouldn't tell the whole story. What Rhino's set does better than even a complete collection could is to show many of the great interpretations of Shakespeare from this century. Here, one can hear many Romeos, several Macbeths, and a handful of Hamlets. It is in these many disparate voices that Shakespeare's own voice comes through clearest.