A new addition to the generally excellent series of Naxos Audio Books is Hesketh Pearson's <A Life of Shakespeare> (NA 221612). Here we have a 2:27 hour abridgment read by the now internationally known British actor Simon Russell Beale, with very short scenes read by David Timson, Daniel Philpott, and Caroline Faber.
Many scholars might carp at the choice of authors, since Pearson takes things from an actor's point of view; and a good deal of his assumptions are based on the "fact" that running a theater back then differed little from Pearson's own experiences in that field.
He tries to run a careful course between using passages from the plays as "proof" that Shakespeare must have thought thus and so and realizing that what a character says in a play may not (and probably doesn't) reflect the author's personal point of view. (Often the former method is valid. For example, Shakespeare almost never makes a positive reference to dogs or a negative one to highly spiced foods. One can reasonably assume he disliked dogs and bland food.)
Yet Pearson often makes statements that rest on lines from the plays but do not really prove anything. Can we really take Othello's plea before killing himself as Shakespeare's own? Especially annoying is basing claims that the actor Shakespeare played certain parts on mere say so's that have been passed on from one generation to the other. It would be nice to know, for example, that Shakespeare acted the Prologue to "Henry V" so he could point to himself as "the bending author"; but this seems wish-fantasy on Pearson's part rather than even reasonable surmise. But Pearson is never boring and that is what also counts in a recorded reading such as this one.
Beale's delivery cannot be faulted, nor can the short contributions of the three assistants. I know that I will play this many times again, especially on long car rides. I opted for the CD version (which I transferred to tape for the car), and there are enough tracking cues to make finding what you want pretty easy. Highly recommended.