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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: June ::
Re: Plays and Literature
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1313  Friday, 1 June 2001

[1]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Jun 2001 01:42:10 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1290 Re: Plays and Literature

[2]     From:   Steve Urkowitz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 May 2001 13:42:32 EDT
        Subj:   Two Hours Traffic Again

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 May 2001 16:53:48 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1290 Re: Plays and Literature


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Jun 2001 01:42:10 +0900
Subject: 12.1290 Re: Plays and Literature
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1290 Re: Plays and Literature

Ed Taft writes, "I've heard it said that a partial answer might be that
Elizabethans talked so much faster than us that 3000 lines equals 2-2
1/2 hours on the stage. I don't believe it."

Maybe, maybe not. But I suspect that modern actors spend or waste far
more time acting between the lines.

Graham Bradshaw

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 May 2001 13:42:32 EDT
Subject:        Two Hours Traffic Again

John Velz raises the question of authorial prolixity in a supposed
context of temporal scarcity.  Elaborate narratives of playscripts
radically shortened for two-hour presentation have little basis in
reliable documentary or anecdotal evidence.

Though often cited as an iron law, the "two hours traffic" of a stage
play was by no means 120 statutory minutes, nor were all reference to
play-lengths "two hours."  The Beaumont and Fletcher Folio speaks of
"the three howers spectacle" offered by a play, and again, in the
playhouse "few here repent/ Three hours of pretious time or money
spent."  Ann Jennalie Cook cites a gallant who "goes to Gyls, where he
doth eate till one; / Then sees a Playe till sixe, and sups at seven."
Many  playgoers were in London for a law term, waiting on the vagaries
of court calendars with nothing else to do, and no one at all had trains
to catch or the evening news broadcast to tune in.

Though many plays were short, with fewer than 2000 lines, many extant
scripts were longer, over 3000.  A society which in earlier times
supported day-long or even three-day-long Corpus Christi plays, and had
in what may have been a professional repertory in the fifteenth century
_the Castle of Perseverance_ running over 3600 lines can't be said to
have bred audiences with short attention spans.  Scott McMillan has
shown that plays would be lengthened rather than cut in order to
accommodate them to playing by a smaller cast available for a touring
company (an end of scene soliloquy gives the rest of the actors more
time to change wigs and costumes).

Working with student actors and a large thrust stage I've regularly been
able to click along at a thousand lines an hour with plenty of time for
music and battles and dances.  It just means allowing no languorous
scene shifts.  A pretty bare stage with actors disported fully across
its length and width along with energetic entrances and motivated exits
will keep even the most restless audiences of junior high school kids
from wondering when the thing will be over.  The accelerating actions at
the end of Hamlet and King Lear and Coriolanus or Winters Tale or
Cymbeline make even these plays fly if they're done with exuberance,
invention and driving speech-rhythms.   (One useful phenomenon noticed
by some:  When actors speak more quickly, soon they learn --
unconsciously, automatically -- to introduce tonal variety rather than
rely primarily on stresses and pauses to carry grammatical variation.)

Various people are finding more information about these issues.  I'm
painfully aware that my own mind dangerously filters out and forgets
evidence contrary to my own prejudices, so I eagerly wait for citations
showing my gullibility.

Steve Gullibilowitz

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 May 2001 16:53:48 -0700
Subject: 12.1290 Re: Plays and Literature
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1290 Re: Plays and Literature

Ed, John, all,

Two hours?  May I recommend Andrew Gurr's comments on this subject in
*Shakespeare Survey 52*?  The article is called *Shakespeare v. The
Globe,* and until I read something better, I find it persuasive.

Shakespeare Survey 52: Shakespeare and the Globe
Cambridge University Press
1999
pp. 68-87

All the best,
Mike Jensen

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