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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: July ::
Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0302  Friday, 23 July 2010

[1]  From:      Nicole Coonradt <
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     Date:      July 20, 2010 4:14:07 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

[2]  From:      John W Kennedy <
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     Date:      July 20, 2010 4:14:58 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

[3]  From:      Gabriel Egan <
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     Date:      July 20, 2010 7:35:47 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

[4]  From:      Hardy M. Cook <
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     Date:      Friday, July 23, 2010
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

[5]  From:      Justin Alexander <
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     Date:      July 22, 2010 3:47:06 AM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Nicole Coonradt <
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Date:         July 20, 2010 4:14:07 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

This may be a little off-topic, but when I read this comment, "So any playtext 
longer than 2,400 to 3,000 lines was substantially cut for performance," I wondered 
to what extent the number/s of lines mattered or were significant more generally. 
Would they have been labeled with numbers and who had to count them -- did the 
playwright note them as he went along? I know that sometimes our modern imposition 
of dividing a play into act, scene, line may differ significantly from what may have 
appeared in the original, but what about just the actual number of lines? I would be 
thankful for any insight/direction members can provide re this.

Thanks,
Nicole Coonradt
University of Denver

[Editor's Note: When I when to address matters raised in other places in this 
digest, I consulted Q1, Q2, and F1 Hamlet texts from the Oxford Text Archive or 
texts derived from them. -Hardy]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John W Kennedy <
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Date:         July 20, 2010 4:14:58 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

The first thing I would say is that I have seen an utterly uncut "Macbeth" (Hecate, 
scrofula, and all) performed in 90 minutes flat.

[Editor's Note: John, Yes, but: F1 Mac is approximately 2,500 lines, while F1 Ham is 
about 3,900; Q2 Ham, 3,700; Q1 2,100. I once saw the American Shakespeare Company 
when it was SSE perform a Hamlet based on the scene structure of Q1 Hamlet in a few 
minutes over 2 hours (2:02 if I remember correctly). This performance directed by 
Ralph Cohen inspired one of my essays, "Reformatting Hamlet: Creating a Q1 Hamlet 
for Television," a version of which can be found at 
http://www.shaksper.net/archives/files/reformat.hamlet.html. --Hardy]


[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Gabriel Egan <
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Date:         July 20, 2010 7:35:47 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

Hardy summarizes his revision of the pedagogic statement

>Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for
>more than two hours to hear a play"

which in the light of new knowledge became

>Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for
>more than two to three hours to hear a play."

In fact an even more accurate way of putting it would be the statement:

>Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for
>more than two to three hours to SEE a play.

That is, they (like us) spoke most often about seeing a play, not hearing it. We 
tend to think that they called it hearing a play, but that's only because 
Shakespeare expressed a preference for this locution and his preference gets taken 
as the period's preference. The quantitative proof that in fact almost everyone else 
spoke of seeing a play is provided in Gabriel Egan "Hearing or seeing a play?: 
Evidence of early modern theatrical terminology" Ben Jonson Journal 8 (2001): 327-
347.  There's a copy of this essay on my website and in my employer's Institutional 
Repository, most easily found by Googling the essay's title.

Gabriel Egan

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:         Friday, July 23, 2010
Subject: 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

>Hardy summarizes his revision of the pedagogic
>statement>
>
>>Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for
>>more than two hours to hear a play"
>
>which in the light of new knowledge became
>
>>Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for
>>more than two to three hours to hear a play."
>
>In fact an even more accurate way of putting
>it would be the statement:
>
>>Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for
>>more than two to three hours to SEE a play.

I stand or rather sit corrected. I have read Gabriel's completely convincing essay 
and find it, as far as I can see, irrefutable. 

Egan, Gabriel. 2001k. "Hearing or Seeing a Play?: Evidence of Early Modern 
Theatrical Terminology." Ben Jonson Journal. vol. 8. pp. 327-47. ISSN 1079-3453 ISBN 
093395199X

Can be found here

http://gabrielegan.com/publications/Egan2001k.htm

Or here

https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/handle/2134/3908


After establishing that the scholarship of Orrell, Gurr, Ichikawa, and others argues 
for the dominance of hearing over seeing in the Early Modern theatre, Egan 
challenges these assumptions by conducting a through search of LION (Chadwyck-
Healey's Literature Online database) for all variations of see/hear a/the play/plays 
in the collection from 1550 to 1650:

<LONGQUOTATION>
To restrict the searching to the early modern period, I instructed the LION database 
to consider only works whose writers' lives overlapped the period 1550 to 1650. 
Given a maximum lifespan of, say, 80 years (well above the period's average) this 
criterion includes writers born as early as 1470 and writers who died as late as 
1730, but for a typical lifespan 1500 and 1700 would be the approximate limits. 
Within these limits I searched for occurrences of the verbs "to see" and "to hear" 
in connection with plays. It would be desirable but difficult to allow for all the 
possible syntactic arrangements of these verbs and the noun play, so I limited my 
attention to 3-word strings of verb-article-noun. The verb could be in the 
infinitive form (see, hear) or one of the simple tenses (present: see, sees, hear, 
hears; past: saw, heard; future and future in the past likewise), or one of the 
continuous tenses (all forms: seeing, hearing), or one of the perfect tenses (all 
forms: seen, heard), and the article could be indefinite or definite (for example, 
see a play or see the play). Finally, the noun could be singular or plural where the 
definite article is used (for example, hear the play or hear the plays).
</LONGQUOTATION>

Egan then examined his results and presented his findings in summary tables. His 
conclusion is summarized in his ultimate paragraph:

<LONGQUOTATION>
The table and lists below show the results of the searching. The primary conclusion 
is that plays were much more commonly thought of as visual rather than aural 
experiences in the literary and dramatic writing of the period. Nearly half (3/8) of 
the rare aural examples are by Shakespeare and we may guess that his pre- eminence 
in the field is the reason that Shakespeare's unusual way of putting it has, 
wrongly, been taken for the period's norm. The total number of example expressions 
found is high (over 100) and the preponderance of visual over aural phrasing is more 
than 12 to 1. Within that pattern I can detect no significant changes over time: 
neither expression is markedly more or less prevalent at either end of the period. 
In deciding whether the word play is being used in the sense of dramatic performance 
(as opposed to other kinds of spectacle) I have excluded only clear examples of the 
non-dramatic meanings. The total weight of evidence is so strong that even if the 
most sceptical view were taken--all but the unequivocally dramatic cases being 
excluded-- the primary conclusion of this study would stand.
</LONGQUOTATION>

Egan's data are convincing: Of the 106 hits he finds, 97 are variation of see a/the 
play while only 8 hits are hear a/the play, or 92% see versus 8% hear.

I blush to acknowledge that I had not come across this essay earlier.

In the future, if I were to teach Shakespeare again, I would modify my statement to 
read: Shakespeare's audience would not have stood for more than two to three hours 
to see a play.

PS: Should there be any college/university in the Baltimore to Washington, DC, to 
Northern Virginia area looking for a Professor Emeritus to teach Shakespeare by the 
course, please get in touch with me. 

Hardy M. Cook

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Justin Alexander <
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Date:         July 22, 2010 3:47:06 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0293  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

>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.

I've always been struck by the fact that these conclusions seem to primarily rest on 
either:

(1) Most modern movies are 90-120 minutes long, ergo TITANIC was never shown in the 
theaters at its full length.

(2) "Elizabethan audiences wouldn't have stood for a play that long." (pun intended) 
Which seems to make some rather large assumptions about the habits and tolerances of 
the Elizabethan audience. Not necessarily unsupportable ones, but large nonetheless.

So I've been very receptive to Hirrel's article.

Justin Alexander
American Shakespeare Repertory
http://www.american-shakespeare.com

[Editor's Note: Justin is correct that the statement "Elizabethan audiences wouldn't 
have stood for a play that long." makes "rather large assumptions about the habits 
and tolerances of the Elizabethan audience." Nevertheless, I see the function of a 
teacher to be to synthesize the current scholarly consensus on a subject reflected 
through his or her own knowledge and then to present that information in as accurate 
and a precise a manner as possible. In my post of the other day, I was attempting to 
demonstrate how my understanding of Early Modern audiences and performance time 
fluidly affected how I presented that information to my students. -HMC]


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