The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0436 Thursday, 2 March 2000.
Date: Thursday, 2 Mar 2000 08:30:54 -0000
Subject: Act and Scene Divisions
Does anyone know of evidence that Shakespeare (or his contemporaries
prior to 1609: we can argue about the date separately!) actually thought
in terms of five acts for a play?
The clearest example I can remember is Henry V, where the Chorus scenes
neatly divide the play into 5 acts (this is a bit of a puzzle, as the
"wooden O" reference is apparently not to an indoor theatre). Of
course, that didn't prevent the folio "editor" misplacing one of the act
divisions! This reinforces my impression that when the folio texts were
divided into acts, it was done carelessly. When, however, they were
divided into acts and scenes, and I am thinking here particularly of
Twelfth Night and Merry Wives of Windsor, it was done carefully. (In
the latter case, however, this did result in a "scene" of one speech of
about 5 lines!) It is said that this was because of the "literary"
nature of the transcripts (whatever that means!).