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Play Length

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0459  Wednesday, 14 November 2012

 

[1] From:        Gabriel Egan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         November 13, 2012 6:29:20 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: Play Length 

 

[2] From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         November 14, 2012 5:20:50 AM EST

     Subject:     RE: Play Length 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Gabriel Egan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         November 13, 2012 6:29:20 PM EST

Subject:     Re: Play Length

 

Dom Saliani wrote

 

> We need to remember that plays did not appear in

> print until they had lost their commercial viability

> on the live stage.

 

I’d be very interested to hear of evidence in support of this statement. Against it, I’d place the title-page of George Wilkins’s The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1607) which says “As it is now playd by his Maiesties Seruants”. And the same year, the title-page of John Day, William Rowley and George Wilkins’s The Travels of the Three English Brothers claimed to represent the play “As it is now play’d by her MAIESTIES Seruants”.  These sound like publications exploiting the ongoing commercial viability of the performed versions.

 

More generally we have records of lucrative performances of plays that had already been printed. On 28 August 1594 the take for a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamberlaine (published in 1590) was 3 pounds 11 shillings while Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (still unpublished) took less than a third of that five days later. Indeed, the take for Tamberlaine is higher than that of almost all the plays in the season. See R. A. Foakes’s edition of Henslowe’s Diary pp. 23-24.

 

Gabriel Egan

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         November 14, 2012 5:20:50 AM EST

Subject:     RE: Play Length

 

I agree with Hardy and Dom Saliani that standing to watch a play for 4 hours or so would be uncomfortable. The assumption that contributors to this discussion seem to have made is that since ‘we’ focus exclusively on ‘the play’ and on nothing else, whether in the study or in the theatre, that Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences did too.  Agreed that there are references to playtexts that have been shortened for performance, and the assumption is that the manuscript version was simply ‘too long’. 

 

When ‘we’ attend theatre performances for the most part we sit in the dark, and we are irritated by the rustle of sweet-papers, coughing, or any other minor distraction.  In short we expect the theatrical experience to mirror in terms of concentration the process of reading.  But what if distractions were to be built into the experience: ushers/usherettes selling ice-cream during the performance, the odd pick-pocket sidling up to us, a prostitute or two touting their wares, nut-sellers etc.  And then there is the odour of unwashed bodies.

 

North American audiences have no problem sitting at a football stadium for periods of up to 4 hours, and frequently crowds at professional wrestling events stand for that amount of time, and appear to welcome the various distractions that Hulk Hogan or Vincent McMahon et al devise. In the Elizabethan public theatre the play proceeded among a whole range of distractions, and if the evidence of Jacobean plays like ‘A Mad World My Masters’ or ‘The Knight of The Burning Pestle’ are anything to go by the boundaries between the play and the audience could be dissolved in a number of creative ways. 

 

Are we not in danger of allowing our own heavily sanitised assumptions of playgoing (and reading) to colour our sense of what might well have been a much more dangerous and protracted experience for Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences at the public theatres? It might also be worth reminding ourselves that ‘presentism’ isn’t simply a case of reading the past through the rosy-coloured spectacles of the present. It is, surely, a question of separating out our own perspectives from a past whose contours may well have been radically different from our own, and acknowledging that difference.

 

Cheers

John Drakakis 

 

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