Throughout his career, Anthony Burgess was interested in the writing and life of William Shakespeare. He wrote articles about Shakespeare’s language and reviewed books about Shakespeare for the Independent and the Observer; he wrote a speculative biography with lavish illustrations, Shakespeare (1970); he wrote a ballet suite, Mr WS, that told the story of Shakespeare’s life; he wrote a TV series on the same subject, and a musical (both of which projects were not produced); and Shakespeare appears as a character in his last novel, A Dead Man in Deptford (1993), about Christopher Marlowe.
23 April is, by tradition, if not in fact, Shakespeare’s birthday, and also the date of his death. Today is also the 48th anniversary of Burgess’s novel Nothing Like The Sun: A Story Of Shakespeare’s Love Life (1964), which is written in a version of Elizabethan English.
To mark the occasion, here is an extract from a disc of Burgess speaking on Shakespeare for the Book Society in 1964. This appears to be the earliest surviving recording of Burgess’s voice, as his earlier work for BBC radio exists only as written transcripts, the original recordings having been wiped or destroyed many years ago. His accent is noticeably RP, indeed colonial-civil-servant in tone, very different from later recordings, in which he reverts to some extent to his Lancashire origins. Here he characteristically exhorts us to ignore ‘politicians on the radio, television personalities, and pop idols’ and pay more attention to great writers.
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