Written by Francisca Goldsmith on Thursday, May 2, 2019
William Shakespeare’s tragedy OTHELLO comes to us from Naxos AudioBooks with a full cast and full sound effects. It was performed to sell-out audiences in London, with a multiethnic cast featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello, Ewan MacGregor as the manipulative Iago, and Kelly Reilly as Desdemona. This version runs for less than 3 hours, so block your time accordingly. Once you hear that first ominous strain of introductory music, you’ll want to close your eyes and watch the action play out in your imagination as the dialogue arrives in your ears. A surprise for those new to Shakespeare is the relevance of the 450-year-old story (Shakespeare’s 1603 play was based on an Italian novel from 1565) to 2019, with its themes of race and racism, betrayal, and revenge.
You might need a breather before listening to the title we’ve paired with OTHELLO. Try this recipe for the Danish cake named for the play and then settle in for a 21st century story featuring an Iago-esque character:
David Baker performs former high school teacher Charles Benoit’s contemporary teen novel YOU, from Full Cast Audio, in what proves a perfect echo of Shakespeare’s tale of treachery. This partner listen is just as immersive and provokes just as much dread, especially as the narrative viewpoint gets personal with the audience, addressing the listener as “you” as the story of a manipulative teen’s effect on those around him unfolds. Baker is a master of voices and he plays a range of them here, from creepy Zack to nearly-affectless Kyle. Here’s another one where listening without trying to engage in multitasking might be the best approach—as well as the safest one!
Betrayal is always personal. Villains like Iago, and his literary descendants, grip us as listeners because we know how it feels to be confronted by having our trust in someone broken—or, worse, to break trust ourselves.
Photo on left above is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello, photographed by Johan Persson; photo on the right is author Charles Benoit, courtesy of Kurt Brownell.