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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: July ::
Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0323  Wednesday, 28 July 2010

[1]  From:      Aaron Azlant <
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     Date:      July 26, 2010 12:38:11 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0312 Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays 

[2]  From:      Terry Ross <
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     Date:      July 26, 2010 5:17:47 PM EDT
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0312  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 
[3]  From:      Steve Roth <
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     Date:      July 26, 2010 5:39:24 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0312 Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Aaron Azlant <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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Date:         July 26, 2010 12:38:11 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0312 Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0312 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.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Terry Ross <
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Date:         July 26, 2010 5:17:47 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0312  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0312  Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

Gabriel Egan's survey was very interesting, and it may be that his conclusion is 
correct, but there I think he has missed some important references to "hearing" 
plays because of the limits of his methodology. For example, I do not see listed 
the 
prologue of Henry Glapthorne's play *The Ladies Priviledge*, where there are 
references both to seeing AND to hearing a play:

 Some in an humorous squemishnesse will say, 
 They only come to heare, not see the Play, 
 Others to see it only, there have beene, 
 And are good store, that come but to be seene: 
 Not see nor heare the Play: How shall we then 
 Please the so various appetites of men.

This one may have been missed because Egan restricted his search to "works whose 
writers' lives overlapped the period 1550 to 1650." LION is a marvelous but 
imperfect resource. It does not seem to give dates for Henry Glapthorne, so 
although 
his 1640 play should have been worth a look, a search limited to people whose 
dates 
were properly entered in LION might have missed it. This example should have 
counted 
on both Egan's "see" and his "hear" lists.

Some rather more important omissions occur because Egan confines his examples to 
those having "verb-article-noun" structure (e.g., "see a play," or "hear the 
plays"). This would be less of a problem if he confined restricted his 
discussion to 
the idioms he looked for, but the conclusion he draws from his limited evidence 
is 
much broader than that: "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."

To see the effect of what Egan is NOT considering, look at his observation that 
"[n]early half (3/8) of the rare aural examples are by Shakespeare..."  The 
three 
Egan cites may well be the three that Shakespeare wrote in Egan's strict "verb-
article-noun" format, but surely if there are additional Shakespearean 
references to 
hearing plays that don't happen follow this format they should also be taken 
into 
account.  Egan's requiring an article before the word "play" means that we miss 
the 
Chorus's request of the audience in the prologue to *Henry V* 

 Gently to heare, kindly to iudge our Play.  

Also ignored is the prologue to *Henry VIII*, in which we are told,

                  Onely they 
That come to heare a Merry, Bawdy Play, 
A noyse of Targets: Or to see a Fellow 
In along Motley Coate, garded with Yellow, 
Will be deceyu'd.

This instance is missed because "Merry, Bawdy" comes between "heare a" and 
"Play," 
but surely it should not be overlooked if what one is interested in is not 
merely a 
few highly restricted idioms but what it is people "commonly thought."

Egan's "verb-article-noun" rule means that we miss an instance in *A Midsummer 
Night's Dream because Theseus says, "I will heare THAT play" rather than I will 
hear 
THE play." Egan counts three instances from Shakespeare; I have mentioned three 
he 
does not count. If half of Shakespeare's references to plays as something to 
"hear" 
do not follow Egan's "verb-article-noun" rule, then perhaps that rule is not the 
best one to use.

It's not only Shakespearean examples that the rule causes to be overlooked.  A 
Theseus-like use of "that" instead of "the" occurs in this passage from Stephen 
Gossen's *School of Abuse*:  

 Enter euery one into your selues, and whensoeuer you 
 heare that playe a gaine, or any man els in priuate conference 
 commend Playes, consider not, so much what is spoken to 
 colour them, as what may bee spoken to confounde them.  

Had Gossen written "heare THE playe" rather than "heare THAT playe," Egan would 
included the example. 

The presence of the word "stage" between "a" and "play" eliminates an example 
from 
Henrie Pettie's *Sinorix and Camma*: 

 The banquet beeing ended, euery one prepared themselues to 
 heare a stage playe, which was then ready to bee presented.

John Hind's *Lysimachus and Varrona* (1604) has among its many borrowings from 
Pettie an extremely similar instance of a play as something to be heard:  

The banquet being ended, euery one of them prepared themselues to 
heare a stage play, which was then readie to be performed:


A relevant example from Brian Melbancke's *Philotimus* is missed because it does 
not 
follow's Egan's "verb-article-noun" rule: 

 Thou preachest a goodly spell, to infringe ye interdiction
 of youth from hearing of plaies, wherein the intent of thy 
 speech, and the euent of thy speede, maye well couple 
 the in a comparison with that witles courtier in Lodouicus 
 his courte, the eleuenth frech king of that name.

Because Melbancke wrote "hearing OF plaies" rather than "hearing THE plays" this 
instance does not count for Egan.

Here is an example from George Wither that departs further from Egan's rule 
(why, 
there is not even an article!), but should, I think, have been looked at, given 
the 
broadness of Egan's conclusion:

  His Poetry is such as he can cull 
  From Plaies he heard at Curtain, or at Bull ; 


These are by no means all the examples on can find by broadening the search a 
bit, 
and doing so would also increase the number of "see" (with or without articles) 
instances. My impression is that there would still be quite a few more "see" 
than 
"hear" instances (although perhaps not at the 12 to 1 ratio Egan found), and 
that 
Egan's larger conclusion might have been more strongly supported if he had done 
a 
more thorough search.

One other point: Egan's approach is binary, but there are also several passages 
where plays are something both to see AND to hear. Egan quotes Jonson's prologue 
for 
*The Staple of Newes*

 For your owne sakes, not his, he bad me say, 
 Would you were come to heare, not see a Play

Because of his "verb-article-noun" rule, this counts for "see" and not for 
"hear," 
but as Egan notes, "If we were looking more generally for evidence about hearing 
plays (that is, when the syntax was other than 'verb-article-noun') this would 
count 
once for 'see' and once for 'hear'"; his notes also point to another example 
that 
might be considered for each camp if his rules were not so strict. Surely 
"evidence 
about hearing plays" rather than "evidence about using an article between 'hear' 
and 
'play' is more to the point. As I mentioned above, Egan's conclusion is not 
limited 
to verb-article-noun cases, but concerns instead whether plays were "commonly 
thought of" as something to see rather than something to hear.  

Of course, as the examples Egan mentions in his notes suggest, it did not have 
to be 
a question of either/or. Here is an article-less (and hence not counted) example 
from Jonson's *Magnetick Lady*:

 This were a strange Empire, or rather a Tyrannie, you would 
 entitle your Poet to, over Gentlemen, that they should come 
 to heare, and see Playes, and say nothing for their money.

These examples from Jonson, like the Glapthorne one I quoted above, could be 
counted 
"once for 'see' and once for 'hear'" but perhaps both should also be counted as 
"see 
AND here." One might do the same with this example from John Taylor (*Taylors 
Revenge*):

  To see vs two the people did repaire, 
  And not to see or heare or play or Player. 

I don't mean to cut out more work for Egan: his survey was, as I have said, 
quite 
interesting, and thanks to him I do think it might well be the case that people 
in 
Shakespeare's time were somewhat more likely to speak of "seeing" than "hearing" 
a 
play -- but the force of his conclusion is (I think) more than the limits of 
searches will bear.  

Terry

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Steve Roth <
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 >
Date:         July 26, 2010 5:39:24 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0312 Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0312 Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays

All the research I've found on the duration of plays in Shakespeare's day has 
looked 
at the public and "private" theaters. Spurred by seemingly plausible but 
unsupported 
speculations like George Melchiori's:

 "I suggest that in several cases the author himself provided, side by
side with the full script meant for private occasions, a shorter
acting version for the public stage." (Melchiori, "The continuing
importance of New Bibliography" in Thompson and McMullan, eds. In
Arden)

I got curious about plays in private venues and at court, and went
looking with intention of writing up what I found. I never got around
to it, so I'll just share here some quotes and citations, undigested,
plus some conclusions based on that research.

As for the court, my conclusion is the same as Professor Chambers':

"the court performances were always at night, beginning about 10 p.m.
and ending about 1 a.m."

He is drawing on his (literally) encyclopedic knowledge of
contemporary accounts. But he only cites two items to support his
statement:

"Tarlton, 10, records a jest, 'Tarlton having plaied before the queen
till one a clock at midnight'. De Silva describes entertainments of
Elizabeth in private houses early in the reign which ended at 1:30 and
1 a.m. (ch. V pp. 161, 162). Under James a play on 7 Jan. 1610, begain
at 10 p.m. (Arch. Xii. 268)." Chambers, ES I:225

And it is partially contradicted by another Chambers cite (though from
the Jacobean era post-Shakespeare):

...they went to see the play of pirrocles...which lasted till 2 a clocke.
Chambers ws II:346. 1619 letter gerrard herbert to dudley carlton.
s.p. dom. Jac. I, cix. 46

I did not find any other references or quotations suggesting playing
times at court greater than three hours.

Long plays were performed at the universities. Notable among these:
Thomas Legge's monumental Richardus Tertius, staged at St. John's
College, Cambridge in March, 1580 (with possible revivals up to 1588).
Alan Nelson calls it "the most ambitious dramatic performance ever
attempted in England (before or since)...a play in three parts given on
three successive nights, running to a total of some 10,000 lines, with
the same actor taking the lead role on all three nights." (Early
Cambridge theatres, Cambridge, 1994. p. 61)

But -- what with being banned from the universities -- public players
rarely played there. Hamlet Q1's title-page reference to playing at
the universities is a (perhaps not singular, but very rare) anomaly.

Here's a small collection of additional cites for those as is interested:

"the Queenn came out to the hall, which was lit with many torches...the
comedy ended, and then there was a mask of certain gentlemen who
entered....and after dancing a while of of them approached handed the
queen a sonnet in English, praising her.' A banquet followed, ending
at 2. a. m." ES I:161 n. 2. De Silva to Philip (sp. P. i. 367, 385).
Calendar of Letters and State Papers, relating to english affairs,
principilally in the Archives of Simancas. Ed. Hume, 4 vols, 1892-99

"they had a play which kept them up till 1 a clocke after midnight"
quotes ES I:220. Sydney Papers II:90

RIII 47-48: "It's supper-time, my lord,/It's nine a' clock."

Spanish tragedy:
The Italian tragedians were so sharpe
   Of wit that in one houres meditation
   They would performe any-thing in action.

 LOR.  And well it may, for I haue seene the like
   In Paris, mongst the French tragedians.


MSND:

THESEUS

   Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have,
   To wear away this long age of three hours
   Between our after-supper and bed-time?

But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,
Which makes it tedious; for in all the play

The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve:
Lovers, to bed; 'tis almost fairy time.


Hamlet just after the mousetrap: 'tis now the very witching time of
night"-around midnight.


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