Who Read it Best? – Actors Take on Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Cassandra Neace

Staff Writer

Cassandra Neace is a high school English teacher in Houston. When she's not in the classroom, she reads books and writes about them. She prides herself on her ability to recommend a book for most any occasion. She can be found on Instagram @read_write_make

National Poetry Month is winding down, and we’ve been celebrating Shakespeare all month to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death. As April draws to a close, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the Bard’s best sonnets, as recited by famous actors. When I started my search, I soon discovered that the same 5 sonnets have been recited and recorded over and over again.  There were lots of options to choose from, but I had a hard time deciding who read it best. I’m going to give you my picks, but I’m curious to see what you think. Take a listen, then tell me who read it best.

Sonnet 18 


Tom Hiddleston 


David Tenant 

My pick:  David Tenant read it best.  I must admit, though, that I am partial to his Scottish accent.

Sonnet 29


Paterson Joseph 


Matthew Macfadyen 

My pick:  I’m not familiar with either of these actors, so I didn’t have any bias going into this. I think Paterson Joseph read it best. The presentation of Macfadyen’s reading – working the sonnet into a scene the way they do – was very distracting.  Maybe it was a movie clip?

Sonnet 116


Juliet Stevenson


Patrick Stewart 

My pick:  I’m sorry, Patrick Stewart. I’m going to have to go with Juliet Stevenson’s reading this time around. It had a gentler feel. It was more lyrical, and I think that best suits the sonnet.

Sonnet 129


Maureen Beattie 


Ralph Fiennes 

My pick:  Both readings are pretty amazing, but there is something about Ralph Fiennes that I find irresistible.  I think his pacing is perfect for the sonnet and what it has to say. And those last lines were spot-on.  He’s good. Really good.

Sonnet 130


Alan Rickman 


Daniel Radcliffe 

My pick:  In the great match-up between Harry Potter and Severus Snape, I am going to have to call it a draw. That may be the coward’s way out, but I just can’t choose. If you have a favorite, make a case for it in the comments.

Bonus:  Sir John Gielgud  – Sonnets 18, 116, and 130