The Complete Works of Shakespeare, as represented by the recently released 100-CD box set of the revered Argo recordings made between 1957 and 1964, is one of the weightier souvenirs you can take away from the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

Arguably the most influential recorded Shakespeare project conceived until the BBC commenced its television series in 1975, the 37 plays, 154 sonnets and four narrative poems captured on tape under the direction of George Rylands, with actors including Peggy Ashcroft, John Barton, John Gielgud, Michael Hordern, Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen and Prunella Scales, set a benchmark that, for better or worse, has profoundly shaped the way listeners around the world believed Shakespeare’s language should sound. But what have these recordings actually preserved? And what value do they have in the 21st century?

Michael Hordern as Prospero

All standards change over time. Listened to nearly 60 years after they were committed to tape, the Argo Shakespeares sound alien to modern ears, says Damien Ryan, Artistic Director of the Sydney-based classics-focused independent theatre company Sport for Jove. He is currently creating a new production of Antony and Cleopatra.

Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism.

Subscribe now or log in to continue reading.