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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: August ::
Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0346  Thursday, 26 August 2010

[1]  From:      Hardy M. Cook <
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     Date:      Thursday, August 26, 2010      
     Subj:      Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 
[2]  From:      Steve Urkowitz <
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     Date:      Saturday, August 21, 2010 10:50 PM
     Subj:      Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 
[3]  From:      Michael J. Hirrel <
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     Date:      Monday, August 23, 2010 11:03 PM
     Subj:      Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 
[4]  From:      David Evett <
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     Date:      August 2, 2010 10:14:28 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0335  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:         Thursday, August 26, 2010      
Subject:      Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays 

On Tuesday, July 20, 2010 (http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2010/0300.html), I 
announced that "The lead article, Michael J. Hirrel's "Duration of Performances 
and Lengths of Plays: How Shall We Beguile the Lazy Time?" in my most recent 
Shakespeare Quarterly (61.2 (2010): 159-182) addresses some of the most 
fascinating issues being debated in Early Modern theatrical scholarship: the 
length of Elizabethan-Jacobean performances and the subsequent effect that 
performance time had on the length of those playtexts." 

At the end of this post I asked, "There are many subscribers to this list who 
are better versed than I in these matters, and I am curious what they think 
about Hirrel's essay."

I received a message from Steve Urkowitz that he had submitted two responses in 
the discussion, but they apparently had gotten lost or overlooked. His responses 
are below. Also, I receive a message from the author of the article Michael 
Hirrel who asked if he could respond; his messages are also included below.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Steve Urkowitz <
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Date:         Saturday, August 21, 2010 10:50 PM
Subject:      Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

(1) July 20

Michael Hirrel's Shakespeare Quarterly essay will prove to be one of the most 
important correctives to unfounded textual theories and factoids which have slid 
into dominance over the last few decades.  Proposals that Shakespeare's company 
took his long "original" scripts and trimmed them down to two thirds of their 
length in order to fit into a hypothetically desirable shorter span have been 
widely accepted. Those proposals, Hirrel shows, have been based on extremely 
partial readings of ambiguous evidence frequently taken out of context. 
Consulting more documentary material, he is able to show that the more extensive 
evidence about the length of a theatrical performance by adult professional 
companies might be best interpreted as representing a relatively constant, 
approximately four hour total span of time when the audience would be in the 
playhouse within which would be played a play plus accompanying entertainments 
before and after. The accompaniments could run long or short, depending on the 
length of the play. The key here is that Hirrel cites and incorporates into his 
argument lots of evidence, and (unlike Lukas Erne) he doesn't have to dismiss 
what the evidence insists upon. 

If indeed Hirrel's argument is recognized for what I feel is its valid 
interpretation of a far wider array of evidence than had previously been 
offered, then arguments about the provenance of Shakespearean "bad quartos" will 
need vast re-evaluation. We may have to go back to reconsider that the 
manuscript underlying Q1 Hamlet was in existence prior to the manuscript 
underlying Q2. Same-same for the earliest printings of Romeo & Juliet, Merry 
Wives, Henry V, and Henry VI parts 2 and 3. 

Joys of reconsidering, 
Steve Urquartowitz, resurgens

==================================================================
(2) July 30

The reasonable concern about daylight as a constraint on the length of performance 
is simply not supported by what we can discover from the records. Robert B Graves, 
LIGHTING THE SHAKESPEAREAN STAGE, 1567-1642, demonstrates that daylight was not a 
factor. Instead, he cites ample evidence that plays carried on in very dim light, 
sometimes augmented by candles or cresset-lights, even in winter. Evidence should 
trump even the most reasonable-sounding theory.

Ever,
Steve Urquartowitz

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Michael J. Hirrel <
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Date:         Monday, August 23, 2010 11:03 PM
Subject:      Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

Dear Hardy, 
 
I have read the string of posts about my story with considerable interest, and I 
thank you for giving me an opportunity to comment. I also want to thank the 
posters themselves. It's truly gratifying to think that my story has stimulated 
so much fascinating discussion.  To them, individually:    
 
Nicole Coonradt:
 
Good question. No, in fact no one at the time actually counted the number of 
lines in a play. Number counts are a modern construct. But they are useful to us 
nonetheless. As I say in the article, acting companies were experienced buyers 
of play scripts. They probably knew just by looking at a script essentially how 
much time it would take to perform. And they probably knew in advance how much 
time they wanted to devote to a particular play. That information presumably was 
communicated to the playwrights, who in turn were experienced at their task, and 
knew how to translate time into script length.  
 
John W. Kennedy:
 
Macbeth, as Hardy points out, is surprisingly short for a Shakespeare tragedy. 
Numerous clues in the Folio text, which is the only one we have, suggest the 
reason. The text as printed has been cut considerably. Why? Figure that one out 
and I will buy you dinner at a very good restaurant. But I will note in this 
respect that Macbeth is utterly an anomaly. Otherwise, the Folio gives us more 
or less complete texts. To earn you dinner, your explanation must account for 
that fact.  
 
Gabriel Egan, and posters in the following colloquy:
 
This is an interesting discussion. The choice of verbs between "see" and "hear" 
may well be indicative of psychological predispositions. But before one pushes 
this evidence too far, let me note that opera fans, of whom I am one, typically 
say that they are going to "see" an opera performance. Almost none of them are 
going primarily for that purpose. A good thing too, considering the acting 
skills of most opera singers.  
 
Justin Alexander:
 
Good points. I completely agree that we must not make assumptions about how long 
the groundlings would have stood. It's not our culture.  What do we know about 
what they "would" have done? The concept "would have done" should be banished 
from scholarly discussion about the Elizabethans. In this case, alone let's 
consider just a few points. No, we would not stand for three and one quarter 
hours to see/hear a Shakespeare play. But how long would we stand to see/hear 
the Rolling Stones? I seem to recall standing with a very large crowd for about 
five hours. On the other hand, few Elizabethans had desk jobs, and fewer still 
among the groundlings. Most of them stood all day just to earn their livings. 
And if they stood as well in the late afternoon at the Globe, at least they 
could move about there, and come and go as they pleased.  
 
William Ray, Larry Weiss, Tom Reedy and Steve Roth:
 
Thank you all. These are valuable contributions. If I do a revision, I'll be 
thinking about whether to use them, and if I do I intend to cite you guys.  
 
Aaron Azlant:
 
The availability of light is indeed an important factor to be considered with 
respect to the lengths of performances. I discuss it at pages 161-62 and 167-69 
in the story.  
 
Again, Hardy, thank you so much for this opportunity to vent, and equal thanks 
to your posters.
 
Very truly yours, 
Mike

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Evett <
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Date:         August 2, 2010 10:14:28 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0335  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0335  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

As I understand it, one of the major considerations in play performance length is 
the amount of sunlight available in the afternoon before dark. Presumably the 
FrankenHamlet that modern editors have assembled out of folio/quarto editions, for 
instance, would have been too long to accommodate this concern.

Even in mid-April, the sun sets in London right around 9 p.m. (solar time). 
Allow an hour for folks to get home before the city became dark and dangerous. 
Enough daylight after 1 p.m. for two performances of three-plus hours.

http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=136&month=4&year=2010&obj
=sun&afl=-11&day=1

Temporally,
Dave Evett



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