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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: In considering which Shakespeare recording was most essential, we found ourselves caught between Gielgud's Hamlet and Richard Burton's MacBeth (which, ironically, was directed by Gielgud). In the end, we chose Gielgud because, as a radio production (unlike Burton's stage performance) it was meant for the ear, not the eye. As a result, Gielgud delivers what may be the best Hamlet we've ever heard. — Steve Feldberg

Publisher's Summary

This outstanding historical recording made in 1941 for radio is widely regarded as one of the finest Hamlet performances ever, and one of John Gielgud's greatest moments. Though he went on to record it for commercial release, nothing matched this recording in the BBC studios, made before the days of editing.

Public Domain (P)2006 Naxos AudioBooks

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michel
  • 2007-07-15


Even though an old recording, the vocals are clear and understandable. I have listened to it at least 20 times over.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Chris
  • 2009-01-13

Gielgud's Hamlet - A Study in Perfection

I am loth to lament the passing of anything to do with Shakespeare as we have seen the astonishing durability of his work over the centuries. But I do have to wonder whether we will ever hear work of this quality again.
At least five years to grow the voice. A similar time spent on the texts, against a background where the study of grammar and the philology of English was a given in any high school. This was the expected investment of any actor playing Shakespeare on the English professional stage at the time this recording was made.
I'm not talking about the requirements to play Hamlet, or Claudius. I refer to those who play Horatio, or the grave-digger, or the 'boy' in the players.
The result was a radiant and transparent reading of the text, fully understood - line, word and pause - by every player.
And of course, their understanding of and absorption in the text means we are hearing people who appear to be simply voicing their own thoughts, their own feelings.
The result is that all obscurity is dispelled. The way the human brain works, we now know, is by a kind of paint-by-dots. You don't have to see every detail to see the whole picture, nor do you have to hear and understand every word to understand what is being said.
It adds up to an almost magic accessibility of language which, when we read it on the page, seems difficult, odd, at times meaningless in the 21st Century.
Don't care much for Shakespeare? Too much like hard work?
Don't say that until you have heard this glorious performance. If you don't 'get' this, then you really don't get it and might as well give the Bard a miss.
Poor you.
I am sure you are very much fewer than is commonly believed. I am sure that for most people their difficulty with the plays of Shakespeare is that they have seen it acted by players who were clutching at the meaning with tips of their fingers, instead of breathing it in and out as their native air itself.
The best!

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Donald
  • 2010-10-28


I must've listened to this a hundred times and never tire of it. Gielgud's performance is phenomenal. Surely the best Shakespeare recording available on audible.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jefferson
  • 2011-02-01

Funny, Awful, Moving, Lovely, Amazing!

I agree 100% with the other reviewers--even though it is an old recording and you can kind of hear a little static type noise in the background sometimes, the voices come through clear and loud and the occasional sound effects (martial drumming, ghostly wind blowing, fanfare trumpeting, grave digging, etc.) sound just right.

The cast is exceptional, everyone perfect for his/her role with, perhaps, two exceptions. I don't care for Ophelia's voice or manner somehow, for she sounds a bit too old and nasal, though when she sings her sad, mad songs, she's great. And Laertes is a little too nasal for my likings, too, though when he becomes enraged at Hamlet and out for his blood, he's great, too.

And John Gielgud! What a beautiful, liquid, bell-like, refined, flexible, measured, emotional, intelligent voice! Every word he says is honed perfection that at the same time feels like impromptu passion, as if he is saying the lines for the first tine instead of for the thousandth (as he must have done over the course of his many rehearsal performances of Hamlet). And the other actors are superb, Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio, King Hamlet, the grave diggers, R & G, the players, all perfect.

And of course the play itself is magnificent in its oddity and power and philosophy and raw emotion and spying and sneaking and acting and all...

Yes, it is a powerful pleasure listening to this audiobook, and I'm sure I'll come back to it repeatedly over the years

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Martin A. Nicholas
  • 2018-01-22

Well worth it

A 3-hour 25-minute BBC radio production from the 1940s. It’s an old-fashioned production—-there have been improvements in Shakespearean acting since the 1940s—-but quite listenable. That language! And that voice!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • SMB
  • 2017-04-04

Powerful, Wonderful Production

I had been looking for the Gielgud version of Hamlet for years. I am so happy to have been able to find it through Audible. This has to rank up there as one of the best of all time. It takes some concentration as a few of the voices are similar sounding. However, the script is completely intact (not abridged), and the performances are outstanding. Gielgud plays a sympathetic Hamlet and brings some unexpected nuances to his performance. Arguably, I prefer this version to the Olivier and Michael Redgrave performances, which were made within the same time period.