I think that reading Shakespeare's plays does not do them justice - they aren't meant to be read, they are meant to be performed, and seen performed. However, you also miss a lot if you aren't already familiar with the context and the Shakespearean language, because of course ol' Will packs a lot into every single line.
So, this is the famous play about the conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar, fearing his ambition to become king. Among the famous lines to which we owe this play: "Et tu, Brutus?" "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!" "Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once." And "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
Mark Antony's speech is probably the highlight of the play. Having just been informed of Caesar's death, and with the assassins having convinced the Roman public that they'd saved Rome from a tyrant, Mark Antony gives his famous speech which is a masterpiece of mob manipulation, turning them against the conspirators and in favor of the slain Caesar.
The conflicts are patriotism versus friendship, loyalty versus ideals, and the taint of self-interest always present in one's motives. As a tragedy, this is one of those Shakespearean plays where almost everyone ends up falling on a sword one way or the other.
Brutus is clearly the protagonist, but I think Mark Antony wins it.
Performances were clear and dramatic in this production. Not quite as good as seeing the play, but all the action is clear enough with minimal sound effects.
A Midsummer's Night Dream has more physical comedy than most of Shakespeare's plays, and you're missing out if you don't see Oberon and Titania and the rest of the fairy court, so I wasn't sure how enjoyable this purely audio presentation would be. But it's a delight. Oberon and Titania are otherworldly, and sound effects make it clear what's going on to make up for the lack of visual cues.
This is a comedy about two pairs of youths, one in love and the other couple both in unrequited love. Their flight into the fairy woods, a well-intentioned fairy king (and a not so well-intentioned Puck), a troop of actors, and a quarreling fairy royal couple, all collide in a funny, magical fantasy that gets untangled with a happy ending, unlike Shakespeare's other famous play about star-crossed lovers.
Definitely a great way to experience this play, although still better on stage.
"Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career Of laughter with a sigh?—a note infallible Of breaking honesty;—horsing foot on foot? Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift; Hours, minutes; noon, midnight? and all eyes Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only, That would unseen be wicked?—is this nothing? Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing; The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing; My is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings, If this be nothing."
I can see why this play is called "complex" and "problematic." The tone shifts completely from the first act to the last. It begins as a tragedy in which King Leontes becomes irrationally convinced that his wife, Hermione, has been committing adultery with his best friend, the King of Bohemia, and that her child is that of Polixenes. This leads to a lot of death and misery, which makes the final act, in which everyone is reconciled, a miracle occurs, and the play ends with a Happy Ever After more typical of Shakespeare's more straightforward comedies, almost dissonant.
That and the fact that it has few of Shakespeare's famous quotable lines is probably the reason why it's one of his less frequently performed plays, but I think it's a great and twisty tale, and if the ending was a bit deux ex machina, it's still rich in humor and tragedy, and well worth listening to.
"Exit, pursued by a bear!"