the recordings

O, that record is lively in my soul!
Twelfth Night

This document is about willshake’s collection of audio recordings—where they come from, their intended uses, and ideas for the future.

For background, see the collection and audio.

1 rationale for audio recordings

Shakespeare wrote for an audience, in other words “listeners.” Hearing the words spoken helps clarify their meaning (at least when it’s done well). One who is not pleased with reading the words may yet be entertained by their delivery.

Audio productions, integrated with the text, offer a truly new way of experiencing the plays.

notes on new media, nonlinearity and the powerful current of a performance, how refreshing all this is.

Most productions omit a great deal of the play for the sake of time constraints. While such editing can certainly “cut to the bone,” it usually favors the parts of the play that hold up best, a distinction which might not otherwise be obvious to a new reader.

1.1 versus video

Although it is true that Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be seen on stage, we believe that on computer screens there are advantages of audio over video:

  • you can read while you listen; you can’t read while you watch
  • more is left to the imagination. Of course, you could say the same for audio, but hearing the actors whilst visualizing the action provides a good balance of guidance and activity.

1.2 uses

There are many ways to use audio to make this product richer:

  • performances of the plays
  • readings of the poems (there are many recordings of various sonnets)
  • readings of the books (e.g. “Myths and Legends,” which has an audio version on the Internet Archive).
  • audio from experts (for lack of a better term, e.g. professors or other guests who are invited to contribute commentary, lessons, etc).
  • readings of these documents

So far, all of the audio productions are made specifically for listening (vinyl and radio). There are also several video versions of the plays (e.g. those available on the Internet Archive) that could be served for their audio only.

2 other audio besides the plays

Some other Shakespeare-related works are available in public-domain recordings.

  • Otello (already in Metadata)
  • Shostakoviç Hamlet suite
  • Kiss Me Kate (especially the song, Brush up on your Shakespeare)

2.1 public radio

How “public” is public radio? Is NPR public domain? I hear interesting bits about Shakespeare on NPR all the time.

I feel like every week Radio Labs has something about Shakespeare. Specifically I remember a piece about the coinages.

On the morning of April 12, 2014, there was a riff on Hamlet’s “Yorick” speech in the sports report on Morning Edition, regarding, I believe, some college basketball team.

On Fresh Air on March 17, 2014, there was something about Andrew Lang’s “Tales of Greek and Rome,” which is in the book collection.

2.2 other leads (musical compositions)

3 scope of the recordings

Don’t get me wrong: collecting Shakespeare-related audio from the public domain is fun. It’s one of my favorite parts of making willshake.

But I don’t do it just for fun. And since most of willshake’s collection is archived somewhere else, I don’t host it for fun, either. The recordings are brought here for a reason.

One of the main ideas in willshake is to explore “new media.”

Most of the recorings are reflections of something else—something that was already here.

While it might be pleasant and even useful to collect Shakespeare-related media in one place, it wouldn’t really fulfill the mission.

Mostly the recordings in willshake are recordings of something—something that’s hosted (or exhibited) here. The reason for hosting recordings of plays is so that they can be experienced together.

And since everything has a place, all of the audio also has a place.

So although it might be useful to browse a general index of the audio, all of the recordings in the collection are associated with some location in the site.

4 audio scopes

I’m going to lay some ground rules.

Every location in the site can be in at most one audio scope. You cannot be in more than one audio scope at a time. This essentially corresponds to document scopes.

When you’re in an audio scope, all recordings that pertain to any part of the scope, are considered to be in scope.

Then audio scopes could be marked with a macro in the change rules, like so

<audio_scope />

Except getflow doesn’t have this/path support anymore… I’d have to implement that.

That expands to

<xsl:template match="audio_scope">
	#audio-scope <append>
		<div id="audio-programs">
			<xslt name="list_audio_for_scope"
						input="/static/doc/audio.xml" />

This assumes the existence of an #audio-scope element. Since each part of the site is different, it’s up to each part to define that element. It is deliberately referenced by id to emphasize the fact that there can only be one at a time.

The list_audio_for_scope transform would check for any audio matching the path.

Yes, this also cheats and is basically a “special case” for the plays. I’m not worried about how other cases would work until there are any.

<xsl:param name="path" />
<!-- TEMP -->
<xsl:param name="play" />
<xsl:key name="recording_of" match="audio" use="of/@play" />
<xsl:template match="/">
	<xsl:variable name="recordings" select="key('recording_of', $play)" />
	<xsl:if test="count($recordings)">
		<p>Willshake has the following recordings of <i>
		<xsl:value-of select="document('/static/doc/works-index.xml')
													//play[@key = $play]/@unique_title" /></i>
			<xsl:for-each select="$recordings">
				<xsl:variable name="file" select="concat(@key, '.ogg')" />
				<li data-audio="{@key}">
					<xsl:value-of select="title" />
					<xsl:text> </xsl:text>
					<a target="_blank" href="/static/audio/{$file}">
						<xsl:value-of select="$file" />
	<xsl:if test="not(count($recordings))">
		<p>Willshake doesn’t have any recordings of this.  Sad face!  If you know of
		any, let me know!</p>
		<p><a href=""></a></p>

This makes a list of the audio recordings that are available. Presumably these will be links soon enough.

So the list of existing recordings is available to the user

And what would it do if it found any?

Two things:

Render some (invisible) metadata to be used by the script.

Render a <noscript/> tag indicating the source of the audio, which you can load in another player.

I like this better than the script-only approach, at least because it takes that away from the script, and I do think it belongs upstream from there.

But how would that transform determine if there were audio for this particular location? And would it make sense to have this in two locations which were direct descendants?

Let’s suppose that this will never make sense for the home page, because it’s too unspecific of a context.

What about plays? What about about? It seems to me this only makes sense in the context of a document.

Sure, you can have “play” links throughout the site.

How do you know about audio being there?

Either through a play link that’s coming from another place, or by the player itself.

Basically, the player makes some sense when you’re in the context of a document, since the idea of it is to read text that’s on the screen.

It could also be used to play music, but in that case you’d still want to be on a page dedicated to what you’re looking at.

And if the document is broken into sections (child locations), the same mechanism will cover that. In other words, the scope of the audio will attach to the document, and if it only covers portions of that, that will be addressed through cues.

So what does this miss? Suppose you really wanted to be able to have audio anywhere on the site, like on the plays page. Does that mean it would have to be a document?

But why would you want this? What would it say? If you wanted it to function as a guide to the site, then you’re supposing a separate function that is not provided by the plays page as it stands. So either you’d need to add that to the plays page (or, indeed, the home page), or you’d need to put it into a separate location, which can be considered as a document.

I’m not saying it couldn’t be good, but I think that the focus of willshake is supposed to be on primary material, not our commentary on things, even the site itself. The site should be self-explanatory enough.

5 ship audio to the site

The audio index is provided by the media subsystem. For it to be usable on the web site, it has to be copied there.

: $(ROOT)/data/audio/<all> \
  | $(PROGRAM)/<minify_xml> \
|> ^o minify and ship %b ^ \
   %<minify_xml> "%<all>" > "%o" \
|> $(SITE_DOCS)/audio.xml

This also “minifies” the document, although that still includes a fair bit of data, not least my notes on the recordings, that is not used on the site.

6 the Living Shakespeare series

I grew up with the old Living Shakespeare record set… It was a great way to experience Shakespeare. The plays were cut down to about 45 minutes — enough to fit on an LP, and some of these plays really benefited from the editing. All’s Well That Ends Well, reduced, turns into a major charmer. Likewise As You Like It. All high quality performances — lots of big names. Even thick, heavy-duty vinyl. There is loss, of course. Entire subplots are lost, etc. But those old Living Shakespeare records were highly entertaining and accessible Shakespeare.

—bettythedogman, “terrific Shakespeare delivery system”; review of “Living Shakespeare - Vinyl Record Set,” September 5, 2014

All of these “Living Shakespeare” recordings show a copyright of 1962, but it’s not clear whether that’s the recording date.

Several of them have video versions that (to the extent I looked) just show the F1 frontispiece.

7 specific scopes

The infrastructure defined in earlier sections is so contrived as to be agnostic about the actual places that may define themselves as audio scopes.

7.1 audio in plays

Of course, the plays are the flagship case for audio recordings. For exposing the existence of these, a play “sheet” is the ticket.

#play-{play}-sheets <append>
	<div id="play-{play}-audio" class="play-sheet play-audio-sheet">
		<h2 class="play-sheet-heading">
			<a href="/plays/{play}#play-{play}-choices" class="play-sheet-dismiss-link" />
			<a href="/plays/{play}#play-{play}-audio" class="play-sheet-heading-link">
				Listen to <i><play-title /></i>

		<div id="audio-scope"></div>

<audio_scope />

The audio content is a “media resource,” as distinct from Shakespeare’s work proper (although the distinction for audio recordings is not as clear-cut).

@import colors
	background rgba($resourcesColor, .8)

8 issues

These are bugs I noted when testing the old code, which I’m rewriting. They are probably obsolete.

8.1 BUG touching current line text doesn’t carry you across scenes

8.2 BUG tracking events continue after audio is removed by leaving play

8.3 BUG “listen here” link for scene doesn’t work if you’re already on that page

9 roadmap

9.1 music

9.1.1 songs

Songs should be specially marked in the plays, especially when we have recorded version of them. Songs may be standalone or part of a production.

9.1.2 forward reference: books

We have two books called Shakespeare and Music, one by Christopher Wilson, which is largely a play-by-play summary of musical treatments. The other is by Neilsen and is more general. The Wilson sections are already tied to the plays, although they are not currently showing.

9.2 use a cast listing so that you can name the currently speaking actor

The Living Shakespeare recordings have cast listings in their archive metadata (from the LP jacket, I’m sure). I’m not sure if the same is true for the Welles recordings.

At any rate, a simple map from the roles to the actor names (or vice versa) would allow you to provide this name during playback.

10 leads on Internet Archive

Not good, from what I heard, but covers some things I don’t otherwise have (viz a scene from Cymbeline)

Antony and Cleopatra in Urdu

What is this exactly?

Myths and Legends by chapter

LLL sucks, like the others


Orson Welles. Good stuff (naturally) from what I listened to, although not as immersive as the Living series, in that it includes (even interstitial) radio broadcast matter. Also, they read the stage directions aloud, which is really wierd.

A real audio production of Macbeth, with real actors and sound effects! First good lead in a while.

Caedmon Records on IA:


From the Ado, it sounds quite a lot like the Living version. Not exactly, but very close. Like, similar music, similar lines, and similar voices.

Here’s a full-length 1964 production with Richard Burton, directed by John Gielgud

This sounds like a good production… in Romanian.

There are a few others, uploaded by the user teatru

Here is a LibriVox recording of “Tolstoy on Shakespeare” (by a woman), apparently based on the Gutenberg ePub.

Once it gets going, it’s better than the other LibriVox recordings that I’ve heard. So may be worth having.

Likewise, “Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare.”

The quality of this one varies, as each chapter seems to have a different reader.

about willshake

Project “willshake” is an ongoing effort to bring the beauty and pleasure of Shakespeare to new media.

Please report problems on the issue tracker. For anything else,

Willshake is an experiment in literate programming—not because it’s about literature, but because the program is written for a human audience.

Following is a visualization of the system. Each circle represents a document that is responsible for some part of the system. You can open the documents by touching the circles.

Starting with the project philosophy as a foundation, the layers are built up (or down, as it were): the programming system, the platform, the framework, the features, and so on. Everything that you see in the site is put there by these documents—even this message.

Again, this is an experiment. The documents contain a lot of “thinking out loud” and a lot of old thinking. The goal is not to make it perfect, but to maintain a reflective process that supports its own evolution.

graph of the program



An edition of the plays and poems of Shakespeare.

the works