Noise, narration and nose-pegs: Adapting Shakespeare for radio

Andrea Smith

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The BBC’s first director general, John Reith, believed the plays of Shakespeare were perfect for radio, with ‘little in the way of setting and scenery’ and relying chiefly on plot and acting. However, a closer look at the texts reveals that many require a good deal of adaptation to work in sound only. That has not stopped BBC radio producers creating hundreds of productions over the past century. Instead, it has spurred many of them on to greater creativity. Initially reliant on narration, producers began to devise a wide range of techniques to make Shakespeare comprehensible without visuals. These include specially devised sound effects, soundscapes and music, as well as distorting the actors’ voices in various ways, including using nose-pegs and the assistance of the Radiophonic Workshop. This article uses audio and written evidence to uncover those techniques and examines how successful they have been deemed to be.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-58
Number of pages18
JournalRadio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • BBC
  • Hamlet
  • John Gielgud
  • Narration
  • Radio drama
  • Received pronunciation
  • Shakespeare
  • Sound effects

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