Friday, February 17, 2012

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare

The latest production of The Classic Tales Podcast is an episodic presentation of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare – a miniseries in 5 episodes. Hamlet has been my favorite play for many, many years and if I had to point to one work of literature that has turned my casual pursuit of books into a passion for the classics, this is it. When I was a teenager, and a junior in high school, I wanted to take it easy. So, instead of enrolling in Honors English 2, as I could have, I thought I’d take the year off, essentially, and enrolled in the “lower grade” English class. This was a profound misstep. While my friends were reading Great Expectations, I was reading Cold, Sassy Tree. When they studied Shakespeare, I read Mrs. Mike.

I have no one to blame but myself, I’m afraid. For my elective reading, I chose Hamlet, and it literally changed my life. I memorized the soliloquies and performed them in drama class. I watched the film productions of Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branaugh and Lawrence Olivier. There was something that spoke to me in this character that I particularly identified with when I was 17, and it still does today.
When I was a senior, we competed in the statewide high school one act play Shakespearean competition with Hamlet, and I was cast as Hamlet. We performed in an outdoor theatre designed after the fashion of the ancient Globe Theater in England. It was experience I’ll never forget.

Producing an audiobook version of Shakespeare takes around four times as long as a typical audiobook. For, even though I am very familiar with the characters and much of the text, Shakespeare’s vocabulary is so extensive and archaic that each page needs to be studied practically ad infinitum.
The notes are those made in high school. The audiobook is unabridged.
I am reading from the same copy of Hamlet that I studied in high school, a Folgers Library edition. I would recommend it as the only way to read Shakespeare, as it has the text on one page, and notes on the opposite page. I would study a page, make sure I understood ALL of the text, and then perform it in the character voices, adding the “says Horatio”s on the fly. I would then pause the recording, turn the page, and start studying again.

I chose to keep the character marks in the present tense because it tends to simulate the effect of a play that is now taking place, rather than a static event that happened long ago. It just seemed like too much of a jump to say, “Horatio said”. It didn’t fit.

Finally, the pacing of this audiobook is supremely critical. To display the range of character’s emotions, the pauses are almost as important as the words. There is no interpretive text, stating what is going through the character’s mind, what he’s doing or looking at that may hint at the occupation of his emotions. There is a reason that trained Shakespearean actors can do things no one else can. I wish I were one. If anyone wants to send me a Julliard Scholarship, I’d jump at it in a heartbeat. Still, if I can turn out a better Hamlet than Mel Gibson, I would consider this endeavor a success.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Click Here to Purchase the P.G. Wodehouse Collection
Like so many of the authors that are now a Classic Tales staple, P.G. Wodehouse was introduced to me by one of my listeners. After reading "Leave It To Jeeves", I was sold. I then went to my library and borrowed all of the Wodehouse audiobooks I could get my hands on. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was one prolific author! His career spanned over 70 years, and included novels, plays, poems, song lyrics, and numerous pieces of journalism. He enjoyed a great deal of success during his lifetime, something I love to hear about authors in general.

Here is a comprehensive list of all the titles in the P.G. Wodehouse collection, including a brief description about each title:

·         Leave it to Jeeves- When one of Bertie Wooster’s American chums needs help in getting his hard-nosed uncle to approve of his intended, Jeeves demonstrates his colossal mind power with the equanimity of a true gentleman’s gentleman.

·         Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest-Jeeves stays his hand. Yes, that’s right. Even though a particularly well upholstered friend of Aunt Agatha chucks her bleary-eyed milk sot of a son Bertie for a month. Jeeves refuses to rally to the cause. Of course, if Bertie would simply throw out the offensive tie and hat, things might be smoothed over soon enough. But Bertie, just this once, has decided to be firm. (originally released through the CT Podcast as Jeeves and the Unwanted Guest)

·         The Aunt and the Sluggard- Rocky Todd is the laziest American on Long Island. His aunt desires to experience the glamor of New York. Now, when Rocky is pushed into the night life on pain of disinheritance, it threatens to destroy him, (or at least, inconvenience him irreparably). Can Jeeves find a way to serve the aunt and save the sluggard?

·         Death at the Excelsior-Inside a quiet boarding house on the waterfront, a man stares up to the ceiling with sightless eyes. The tight lipped landlady proclaims that it is murder. Can an upscale detective agency penetrate to the bottom of the mystery?

·         Extricating Young Gussie - Bertie is called on by his venomous Aunt Agatha to save his cousin Augustus Mannering-Phipps from the most disreputable object in creation - The American Vaudeville Stage.

·         Jeeves and the Hard Boiled Egg- Can you really make a fortune with a chicken farm? Bertie's pal sure thinks so. And though he's not generously endowed with the gray matter, Jeeves certainly is. And when the need arises for some instant capital, Jeeves know just how to drum it up, simply by shaking the right person's hand.

·         The Man Upstairs- a delightful romantic comedy of two struggling artists who fantastically misunderstand each other.

·         Jeeves and the Chump Cyril-Aunt Agatha breaks her icy silence, and asks Bertie to look after a fellow Englishman, Cyril, who is visiting in New York. She only has one stipulation: keep Cyril off the American stage. But by the time Bertie gets the imperiling word, Cyril lands a part in a musical comedy. And with Jeeves turning a bit of a cold shoulder after a bust up over some purple socks, what's a Wooster to do?

·         Jeeves Takes Charge-Bertie's uncle has written a saucy memoir about his scandalous exploits as a young man. That's all fine and good, but this quaint little memoir absolutely vilifies Bertie's future father in law. Well Bertie's fiancĂ© won't have it. The manuscript must be stolen and destroyed. It soon becomes evident to Bertie that the only way out is for Jeeves to take charge. 

·         Deep Waters- George Callendar's love life hinges on maintaining an infinite charade to keep the woman he loves from discovering the tell-tale signs that he can swim.

·         The Man Who Disliked Cats-Jean Priaulx, an aspiring artist, dislikes cats. That may be an understatement. He can't stand them. Their existence is noxious to him. Why? Because he holds one of them responsible for destroying his life. How can an innocent animal devastate the life of would-be French master?

·         Jeeves in the Springtime- Bingo Little has just met the dearest girl in the world - again. Though he is rolling in the stuff himself, his heart is set on marrying a waitress. And since he lives off the allowance given him by his Uncle, how can he be sure he isn't thrown over? Jeeves will find a way, no doubt.(This was released as Jeeves in the Middle through the CT Podcast)

·         Right Ho, Jeeves- Gussie Fink-Nottle can't quite find the pluck to ask the girl of his dreams to marry him. He consults Jeeves of course. But Bertie, feeling his lemon just as supple as his manservant's, steps in and takes over the case. What follows is a torrent of hilarious hi-jinks as only Wodehouse can create.

The complete audiobook is over 15 hours long. Once your payment goes through, you will receive a download link for one zipped file that contains all 57 audio files. Unzip the file, import it into your iTunes library, and you're good to go!