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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Plays and Literature
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1268  Wednesday, 30 May 2001

From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 20:13:09 -0500
Subject:        Plays and Literature

Robin Hamilton is quite correct about the pick-a-backing of playtexts
into Jonson's Folio of other genres that were conventionally called
"literature".  But there was an uproar in London about this attempt to
designate playtexts as "works".  A couple of choice bits of contemporary
doggerel verse are included in the art. I mentioned earlier.  It really
was quite daring of Jonson to do this, because no one from the 10th
century beginnings on to 1616 had ever had the nerve to attempt to
elevate playtexts to the status of an oeuvre.  There is an anecdotes in
the art. about Bodley, who told his librarian sometime after 1600, I
believe, not to buy plays and almanacs and other such "baggage books"
for the library that was to become the Bodleian.  Shakespeare died in
April of 1616 before he could have seen the Jonson Folio, which is what
i meant when I said he died thinking of his plays as scripts.  That
leaves us with Kenneth Muir and Ed Taft.  If Ed's scenario is correct,
Shakespeare would be as daring a revolutionary as Jonson was.  Unlikely
on the face of it. There temperaments were quite different.  It was
surely the sales of the Jonson Folio that after Shakespeare's death
convinced Hemminges and Condell that they could raise Shakespeare to the
level of an oeuvre.  Note that they left out of the First Folio all the
works of Sh. that could have been called "works" in their own time:  the
Sonnets and the Narrative Poems.

The big question seems to me to be a related one.  If Shakespeare knew
as everyone knew that plays were scripts and that the "two hours'
traffic of our stage" forbade mounting more than about 2100 lines, then
what on earth did he think he was doing writing reams of stuff that
would have to hit the cutting room floor? Almost twice that length in
*Hamlet* and a little less than the  length of *Hamlet*  in *Richard
III*, and so on through *Troilus and Cressida* and *Henry V* and other
long scripts in the Sh. canon.   The Tyrone Guthrie production of
*Hamlet* virtually uncut that inaugurated the Guthrie Theatre in
Minneapolis in 1963 (?) ran 5 1/2 hours with a half hour intermission
and was played at such breakneck speed by Hume Cronin and George
Grizzard and Jessica Tandy & co that the woman I was in the audience
with got only about 1/3 of the lines and I who knew the play better only
got about 75% of them. One thinks of Tennyson's complaint against
too-prolific Nature: "of fifty seeds / She often brings but one to
bear".  This question seems to me to be far more of a conundrum than
what Shakespeare did with himself in the Lost Years.

I'm afraid I am leading toward a new thread here, but surely it is a
question worth reflecting on.

Cheers for copiousness,
John

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