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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: July ::
Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0312  Monday, 26 July 2010

[1]  From:      William Ray <
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     Date:      Friday, July 23, 2010 2:28 PM
     Subj:      Duration of Performances
 
[2]  From:      Larry Weiss <
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     Date:      July 23, 2010 1:20:57 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

[3]  From:      Tom Reedy <
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     Date:      July 23, 2010 2:25:17 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 
[4]  From:      Anthony Burton <
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     Date:      July 23, 2010 2:21:48 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         William Ray <
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Date:         Friday, July 23, 2010 2:28 PM
Subject:      Duration of Performances

The ancients thought that three hours was about right to allow the audience to 
suspend disbelief, and the Elizabethan authors seemed to put some stock in that: See 
'Triumphal Forms' by Alastair Fowler for a discussion.

William Ray
wjray.net <http://wjray.net> 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Larry Weiss <
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Date:         July 23, 2010 1:20:57 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

Hirrel's article makes a persuasive case that the actual length of an Elizabethan / 
Jacobean entertainment was about four hours, of which the central play was only a 
part. The length of the preliminary music, juggling or whatever and the post-play 
jig would be adjusted to accommodate the length of the play.

If Hirrel is correct, the audience would have had to stand for a good deal more than 
2-3 hours, unless they preferred to skip the pre- and post-performance 
entertainment.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Tom Reedy <
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Date:         July 23, 2010 2:25:17 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

One way to test this assumption would be to compare the length of church services 
between Shakespeare's time and ours. Since Londoners of the day didn't have to rush 
home to catch the game on TV, IIRC their services were somewhat longer than our 
abbreviated one-hour services nowadays.

Tom Reedy


[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Anthony Burton <
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Date:         July 23, 2010 2:21:48 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0302  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

This thread on duration of performance has made a fascinating digression into the 
question whether Elizabethans by and large thought of a play as something seen 
rather than heard or vice versa. With sincere respect for Hardy's remarks and 
deference to Gabriel Egan's admirable and well-argued essay, I think the evidence is 
much more ambiguous than either of them allow. To be sure, and as Egan acknowledges, 
verbal idioms of one time are not always to be taken literally. Although we still go 
"to see a play," it is of course not in the sense we see a mime show or a sports 
event; if the actors' spoken lines are inaudible, every audience member will be 
entirely dissatisfied and the production a flop. But this applies equally to Egan's 
chosen examples to support his argument: if "hearing" and "seeing" a play reflect 
16th-17th century idiomatic usage, why should we take the expressions any more 
literally than when we "see a play" today?

Second, Egan casts his net too narrowly by limiting himself to compared examples of 
"seeing or "hearing" plays. To go no farther than a very brief review of the word 
"play" as noun and verb one gets a rather different impression, as Shakespeare 
regularly (and very often) uses "play" as a synonym for "enact." The players who 
strut upon the stage are being described in terms of a visual effect, not auditory. 
Again, when Hamlet famously denounces false pretenses of feeling, he does so 
entirely in terms of visual artifice:  

		I know not 'seems'.
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Not customary suits of solemn black,
Not windy suspiration of forc'd  breath,
No, not the fruitful river in the eye,
Not the dejected havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passes show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Staying with Hamlet, we find the arch dissembler Claudius described in terms of his 
visual appearance rather than his deceitful words, in that he knows how to "smile 
and smile and be a villain."  

So too, Hamlet's "rogue and villain" soliloquy dwells largely on the visual effects 
of playing a role: "visaged wann'd,/ Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect." 
Yet, in apparent contrast or at least greater precision, his famous advice to the 
players on the nature and purpose of playing seems, in my opinion, to give equal 
attention and weight to both auditory and visual effects; references to words and 
actions, strutting and bellowing, accent and gait are balanced carefully and equally 
in Hamlet's attention to the importance of these two aspects of theatrical 
performance.

For myself, the issue remains a question of context, with no reliable generalization 
to be invoked as to the relative impact and centrality of seeing and hearing as to a 
stage play, on the part of the person speaking about it. 

Cheers,
Tony


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