The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0347  Wednesday, 14 December 2011

From:         Brian Willis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 14, 2011 11:52:11 AM EST

Subject:      Unsilenced Shakespeare


The Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress have made an announcement that should thrill theatre historians everywhere. New technology has allowed them to play - for the first time - recordings made by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1880s and, until this time, considered obsolete.


One of the recordings is of a man reciting "To be or not to be". My doctoral research - and an article published in 19: The Birkbeck Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century (No. 8: Victorian Theatricalities, 2009) - delved into the tricky authenticity of these early recordings of Shakespeareans including Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree.


There is a high likelihood that the recording in question may in fact be a long missing recording of Edwin Booth. Several sources mention such a recording as being made by Booth concurrently with our surviving audio representation: "O most potent, grave, and reverend signiors" from Othello, Act 1 Scene 3. Regardless of provenance, a recording of Shakespearean recitation from the 1880s marks the earliest known artifact of recorded Shakespeare - alongside Booth's extant sample - that it will be possible to recover, as Bell invented the phonograph in 1877.


I shall keep SHAKSPERians posted if I can obtain access to the recording in order to verify its speaker.

Brian Willis




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