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Play Length

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0461  Thursday, 15 November 2012

 

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

     Date:         November 14, 2012 4:57:50 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length 

 

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

     Date:         November 15, 2012 9:46:03 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length 

 

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

     Date:         November 15, 2012 11:10:15 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: Play Length 

 

 

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

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

Date:         November 14, 2012 4:57:50 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length

 

John Drakakis muses, “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.”

 

I think John is correct, at least about our bringing 20th-21st century assumptions to the question. I agree with Larry Weiss’s point about 4 hours including pre- and post-play entertainment, and suspect, having just had the most amazingly wonderful Shakespeare experience of my life in Staunton VA, that many of the audience would arrive during the on-going music, juggling, etc. that preceded the actual play, so that not all of them would be standing for the full 4 hours.

 

Frankly, I would have stood, plantar fasciitis and all, for 4 hours to watch the American Shakespeare Center Company perform! Though I was happy enough to sit . . . I did wish the plays were longer!

 

Mari Bonomi, who’s already planning her next visit to Staunton. 

 

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

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

Date:         November 15, 2012 9:46:03 AM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length

 

Dom Saliani wrote:

 

> Even in his time, it was recognized that to get 

> Shakespeare, his words had to be read. <snip>

>

> Thomas Nashe said as much - much earlier: “yet 

> English Seneca, read by candle light, yields many 

> good sentences, as ‘blood is a beggar,’ and so
> forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning,
> he will afford you whole Hamlets; I should say 

> whole handfuls of tragical speeches.”

>

> Notice he talks about reading English Seneca 

> (Shakespeare) by candle light and NOT seeing the

> play at a theatre.

 

In his preface to Menaphon, Nashe is not dispensing literary advice or praise, and his “English Seneca” is not a reference to Shakespeare. He is ridiculing the shallow scholarship of popular playwrights of revenge tragedies “that could scarcelie latinize their neckeverse if they should have neede” by pointing out their dependence on Seneca His Tenne Tragedies. Translated into Englysh (1581), a collection of ten Latin plays then ascribed to the Roman dramatist Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65). 

 

Nashe’s mention of Hamlet is usually taken to refer to an early version written by Thomas Kyd, with “read by candle light” being a reference to Kyd’s mistranslation of Tasso’s “ad lumina” (till dawn) as “by candlelight”, and “bloud is a beggar” (not found in Seneca) as probably a line from the now-lost Hamlet. The phrase “if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning” alludes to boththe weather in the first act (indicated in the extant version by “tis bitter cold”; “The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold”; “It is nipping and an eager air.”) and the ghost whom Horatio and Hamlet entreat. Clearly the “him” who is being entreated is the long-dead Roman playwright.

 

Tom Reedy

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         November 15, 2012 11:10:15 AM 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.

 

And Gabriel Egan replied:

 

>I’d be very interested to hear of evidence in support 

>of this statement.

 

There is none. I’ve long wondered why anyone would think the proposition credible: we’d have to imagine stationers—professionals primarily interested in investing in material likely to sell quickly and in large numbers—who would willingly risk their money on texts that had evidently lost their popular appeal, at least on stage. I don’t think that makes much sense, and to the extent that we can assess the connection between stage success and print, there is little evidence that such a business model existed.

 

Henslowe’s diary is pretty much our only reliable source of information about plays’ commercial success, and comparing the figures in the diary to a list of titles entered into the Stationers’ Register shows that virtually all plays purchased by stationers were successful on stage, usually up to and often after the date of entry into the Register (or the date of publication).

 

That said, it’s also true that stage popularity did not always translate into print popularity, nor did success in print clearly reflect continued popularity in the theatre. The Spanish Tragedy is one case in point: it was one of the best-selling plays of the age in print, but faded rapidly on stage in the mid-1590s. And Marlowe’s drama played almost no role in the Admiral’s Men’s repertory after 1594—and did poorly when it was staged.

 

Holger Schott Syme

Associate Professor of English

University of Toronto

 

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