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Play Length

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0464  Monday, 20 November 2012

 

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

     Date:         November 19, 2012 5:57:18 PM EST

     Subject:     RE: Play Length 

 

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

     Date:         November 19, 2012 10:22:59 PM EST

     Subject:     On Play Length 

 

 

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

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

Date:         November 19, 2012 5:57:18 PM EST

Subject:     RE: Play Length

 

Thanks to Extrapolitzing Steve for his comments and compliment.

 

I have not been described as being “jaunty” for a long time, but I kinda like it.

 

Steve is worried that our jaunting “may crash splat into disagreeable data or into contrary opinions held with equal enthusiasm” and I appreciate his concern but I need to declare that I am a fierce supporter of T.S. Eliot’s licensing of such jaunting when he says that “About anyone so great as Shakespeare, it is probable that we can never be right; and if we can never be right, it is better that from time to time we should change our way of being wrong.”

 

Now there is a challenge for all of us.

 

Steve should also be assured that I do NOT wonder “if Shakespeare would actually write extended material that would have to be presented to intellectually incapable groundlings.”

 

Of course he would – but his shadows (who were fearful of offending groundlings who were challenged by anything more than “dumb shows and noise”) would have presented on stage – as stated in so many prologues and on title pages – far less than what was printed – especially in the cases of Romeo and Hamlet.

 

I applaud Steve for admiring the stamina and patience of Elizabethan audiences in the theatres and cathedrals and we are definitely in agreement that for audience members, a day at the theatre would have been four or so hours long. But this would have included pre- and post- entertainment (balladeers, jugglers, bergomask dancers, etc.) besides the featured drama. It does not boggle the imagination to accept that the pre- and post- diversions could take anywhere from a half hour to an hour and thus the feature play would, if my math is correct, be somewhere between two and three hours.

 

I enjoyed reading many of Steve’s comments but I did take exception when he claimed that “Dom Salieri talks about cutting plays to ‘an endurable length.’”

 

Be assured that neither I nor any of my ancestors had anything to do with the murder of Amadeus.

 

Meanwhile back at the Extrapolitzing Ranch, to me it seems rather obvious, self evident and redundantly intuitive that a four hour tryst with Romeo’s Juliet or a four to five hour all-talk (21 lines per minute) marathon with a melancholy Dane would not have been many people’s cup of tea. Did they sip tea in those days?

 

Steve dismisses Alfred Hart’s listing of a dozen mentions of “two hours” as “fictive apology” but I fear that such an opinion would have elicited the following from any self-respecting Amazon: 

 

But all the story . . . told over,

And all their minds transfigured so together,

More witnesseth than fancy’s images

And grows to something of great constancy;

But, howsoever, strange and admirable.

 

In Steve’s “land of Extrapolis,” I suspect that many of its citizens would agree that the numerous notices that printed plays had been augmented and contained more than was performed serves as clear evidence that the author was interested in sharing more than just a play script.

 

Who could argue with the sentiment that Hamlet “read by candle light, yields many good sentences”?

 

And this harkens me back to my original point. Shakespeare wanted his works to be read and not just seen.

 

His augmented and improved quartos and Folio versions read extremely well – obviously because great care was taken to include in them much more than was performed during the “two hours traffic” upon the stage.

 

I’d like to end by suggesting that Hamlet (Q2 or F) reads more like a versified novel intended to be read, It is far from a faithful transcript of a stage play. The same applies to his R. and J., Lear and Antony and Cleopatra to name a few.

 

But there I go again – expressing the obvious.

 

Dom Saliani

 

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

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

Date:         November 19, 2012 10:22:59 PM EST

Subject:     On Play Length

 

The question has become intertwined with the difficulty of understanding the language.  If the words and the gist are intelligible, it is much less difficult, much less tedious, to understand the play.  If not, one loses patience.  English changes over time.  Perhaps what is difficult language, even to the expert, would have been much closer to what the groundlings and everybody else spoke day to day.

 

I thought of this:  When my grandparents came to America in 1912, a scarlet fever epidemic broke out in steerage.  My grandmother went almost completely deaf.  Though she was a bright woman, spoke three languages, and read two more, she never learned English naturally.  She learned it from books and newspapers and dictionaries.  Her favorite authors were Trollope and Dickens, and she spoke like they wrote.  l remember her saying things, in an amazing accent, she never heard how English was supposed to be pronounced, like:  “If you were ever again to enter this abode with mud beflecked boots, it would be none other than I who would most severely chastise you.”  I think that is an accurate quote.  We were used to it, but my friends thought she was nuts.  She always thought that she was speaking perfectly good English that the person in the street would think quite natural and easy to understand.  

 

So it seems to me that if the groundlings heard what they thought was natural English, they would have been able to stand still and listen patiently for a longer period of time than if they thought that they were listening to arcane, “poetic” English.  It is one thing to listen to T. S. Eliot, another to listen to Walt Whitman.  

 

Michal B. Luskin

 

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