Amazon and other retailers offer four BBC Shakespeare DVD box sets, of five plays each: Comedies, Histories, Tragedies, and Tragedies II. The list price is $149.99 per box, and Amazon doesn’t discount them nearly as much as most of their DVDs. As I write, the Amazon prices are $134.99 for two of them, $129.99 for the other two, which is as low as I’ve ever seen them. To judge from the three I’ve seen, they are excellent productions, but $529.96 plus shipping for 20 plays is an awful lot of money, and the seventeen plays not available include some of those I most wanted to see — not least because they are exactly the ones I’m unlikely ever to see in a theater.
There is a simple solution, which I owe to a former colleague I’ll call ‘Dr. Johnson’ for his erudition. Amazon UK sells all 37 canonical plays in a big box for a lot less. When I bought them in May, the price was $238.11, including air-freight shipping: they arrived in six days. The Sterling price must have been £115 or so. As I recall, it was £130, and they subtracted £15 for VAT tax since it was being shipped to North Carolina, where we are not eligible for the VAT-funded National Health. The exchange rate has worsened a bit since then, but the Sterling price is now £99,98 including (I assume) VAT. However you calculate it, buying all 37 plays from Amazon UK costs less than half of what it costs to buy only twenty of them from Amazon US. I wonder if it was the BBC’s idea to soak the colonists? Of the three I’ve watched so far, the best (Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice) are not available in the U.S. (The other is Julius Caesar: not bad, but it didn’t grab me like the other two.)
Of course, you will need a Region 2 or all-region DVD player to play the discs, but even a better-than-average all-region DVD player cost me only $170. It will be useful for more than just BBC Shakespeare. Other movies not available in region 1 versions include three Bergman movies from the U.K. with English subtitles and the Orson Welles Shakespeares (Othello, Macbeth, and Chimes at Midnight) with South Korean subtitles. Even some American movies are only available in Region 2: until the Criterion edition came out a few weeks ago, Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth was only available in a U.K. edition. I’m so glad ‘Dr. Johnson’ told me about the Amazon UK edition before I bought any of the U.S. boxes.