Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: July ::
Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0293  Tuesday, 20 July 2010

From:         Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:         Tuesday, July 20, 2010        
Subject:      Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays 

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. 

When I taught, I used to say, "Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for 
more than two hours to hear a play." However, after private conversations I had 
with George W. Williams regarding Early Modern attitudes regarding clocks and 
timekeeping ("two hours" = more than or equal to two but less than three hours). 
I modified this statement to "Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for 
more than two to three hours to hear a play.

Until 2002, I used to say to my students, "Shakespeare was not interested in the 
publication of his playtexts." Then I read Lukas Erne's "Shakespeare and the 
Publication of His Plays" (SQ 53.1 (2002): 1-20) and began qualifying that statement.

All of these issues are considered in Michael J. Hirrel's "Duration of 
Performances and Lengths of Plays" as the essay's first paragraph indicates:

"To what extent were Shakespeare's long plays actually performed? That question 
and its implications have vexed scholarship for many years. In the 1930s, Alfred 
Hart made the case for the still-prevailing view-Elizabethan and Jacobean play 
performance times were limited, more or less, to two hours. So any playtext 
longer than 2,400 to 3,000 lines was substantially cut for performance. From 
that conclusion, others follow. One critical commonplace is that the full 
_Hamlet_ cannot have been performed. Even its shorter Folio text has 3,537 
lines, and "there is no chance of a play of over 3500 lines being acted in 
full," And because many of Shakespeare's plays similarly approach or exceed 
3,000 lines, Lukas Erne argues, Shakespeare must have written them with 
publication in mind. In this essay, those views will be challenged. The 
Elizabethan theatrical event, we shall discover, was a flexible vehicle that 
probably could accommodate full performances of Shakespeare's longer plays."

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.

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the opinions 
expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the editor assumes no 
responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.