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Home :: Archive :: 2012 :: November ::
Play Length

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0477  Monday, 26 November 2012

 

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

     Date:         November 24, 2012 8:18:08 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length 

 

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

     Date:         November 25, 2012 12:02:58 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length 

 

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

     Date:         November 25, 2012 1:18:43 AM EST

     Subject:     Play Length, A Speculative Excursion 

 

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

     Date:         November 26, 2012 12:14:56 PM EST

     Subject:     Play Length String, The Ball Continues Rolling 

 

 

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

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

Date:         November 24, 2012 8:18:08 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length

 

Steve Urkowitz writes: “why-oh-why, oh pray tell me why did this luftmensch-impractical author with literary aspirations actually fail to get half of all his plays into print?”

 

A simple explanation why Shakespeare did not get everything into print may be the same reason why so many other writers do not publish every single thing they write. They may simply feel that some of their other material do not match up in standard with those they do publish.

 

Kenneth Chan

http://kenneth-chan.com/qod/

 

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

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

Date:         November 25, 2012 12:02:58 AM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length

 

>It’s not as if he didn’t have experience AND easy contacts 

>with printers. Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece

>demonstrate that he could generate literature with the best 

>of them out there. This is the same guy who could negotiate 

>with the Heraldry office for a coat of arms, who made big 

>bucks as one of the sharers in the most successful theatrical 

>troupe in London and as one of the owners of the Globe, 

>and who dealt in commodities and real estate back home.

 

And who was probably a close personal friend of fellow Stratfordian Richard Field, one of the most successful printers in London.  Field printed both V&A and R/L, as well as the 1601 edition of Love’s Martyr, containing The Phoenix and Turtle. They were close enough for Shakespeare to pun on his name in Cym, IV.ii.377, where Imogen tells Lucius that she is “Richard du Champ”.)

 

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

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

Date:         November 25, 2012 1:18:43 AM EST

Subject:     Play Length, A Speculative Excursion

 

Steve Urkowitz writes: 

 

“Erne and others are confident that Shakespeare wrote his too-long scripts as literature to be appreciated by and passed down for discerning readers. Okay. So our Will is a little impractical, and he and the company had to perform extra labor to do that cutting. Sure. So the long versions would still be printed. Right.”

 

Next, Urkowitz poses a reasonable question for those thinking that Shakespeare wanted his ‘too-long’ plays to be read: 

 

“So then why-oh-why, oh pray tell me why did this luftmensch-impractical author with literary aspirations actually fail to get half of all his plays into print?”

 

One possible answer is that it was the theatre companies that held the rights to plays, having bought them from the authors (or author’s agents, or those who had ‘memorially reconstructed’ them from performing roles or seeing performances).  If theatre companies wanted to have plays published/printed, they first had to sell them to a publisher/printer who would register the plays with the Stationer’s Company (an organization of printers and publishers that held a monopoly of the printing trade) after which the plays could be published/printed.  

 

However, theatre companies had practical reasons for not wanting their plays published/printed.  As Stanley Wells has it (William Shakespeare, A Textual Companion):

 

“The beginning of a play’s transmission into print is its acquisition by a publisher or printer.  When a playwright sold a play to a company (for, usually, £5 to £8) he lost his rights in it, and in the normal course of events lost physical possession of at least one and perhaps all of his manuscripts of it.  A theatrical company preferred Londoners to pay their money for entry to the theatre rather than for purchase of a book; nor did it want other companies to acquire the text of a play (for which it had paid), and so become able to perform it in the provinces.  Consequently, playwrights were theoretically unable, and companies theoretically unwilling, to sell play scripts to publishers.”

  

Judy Prince

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         November 26, 2012 12:14:56 PM EST

Subject:     Play Length String, The Ball Continues Rolling

 

As with other strings, if you feel this is going on too long, please skip reading. And please come up with further aspects or repeat unanswered or inadequately answered questions. My own tenacity comes from having sat quietly for decades watching what I first thought was in innocent error mushroom into an entire entitlement program or real estate bubble of free-floating speculation. Weed-whacker hanging from my shoulder, I am trying to reclaim one segment of our overgrown lawn for the flowers (which are my favorites), the interestingly variant quarto and folio texts of Shakespeare's plays.

 

So, bzzzzzzzrrrrrrrrrrtttttttttttttttttt. Steve Roth asked, “Is Steve suggesting, does he think, that Shakespeare’s plays were always played uncut? Sometimes? Often? Occasionally? Did these proportions vary by venue and audience?”   

 

Great question that calls up important documents.  

 

First off, look at King Lear. A long version gets printed in 1608, shorter one gets printed 1623. (See my Shakespeare’s Revision of King Lear for the details.) Were they BOTH in the repertory of the King’s Men at the same time? Were they both staged? The Q1 title page says “As it was played before the Kings Maiestie at Whitehall vpon S.Stephans night in Christmas Hollidayes. By his Maiesties seruants playing vsually at the Gloabe on the Bancke-side.” Like the various two-hour citations for play length, just because the title page says “As it was played” doesn’t mean we can conclude that these very words were performed. But something recognizable as King Lear did happen. Did the actors have two versions ready to go? The Q text AND the shorter F version? Based on my personal experience working with amateur and professional performers, I don’t think so. 

 

An anecdote: One Saturday afternoon in the 1980s, along with Allan Dessen, Phyllis Gorfain, Audrey Stanley, Murph Swander, and Michael Warren, I did an “open workshop” with the five-actor ACTER- Actors from the London Stage troupe that was presenting Lear. We amused and alarmed them with chunks of the variant versions, which they played for us with truly astonishing engagement and enlightenment for the players themselves, the scholars, and the audience. Wheeee! Hooorah for Textual Scholarship! Isn’t this fun? But then at the following performance, the guy playing Lear “went up,” lost his place in his role and had to come “out of character,” stop, back up a bit to recover, and then go on. Twenty-five years later I still feel guilty because I believe (without ever having spoken to him about it) that he got lost and tangled and tripped up by the extra contradictory and incompatible versions he had ingested that very afternoon. Anecdote ain’t scientifically verifiable evidence, but . . . . that story along with my eight years working with a professional vocal-music ensemble that had in its repertory some frequently-repeated programs, some one-off programs, and some revivals-after-several-years-asleep programs, which taught me that unless there’s a strong reason and a big financial reward involved you don’t really want to fuss with the kinds of variants that show up in Shakespearean multiple-text plays. 

 

Lear in F and Hamlet in F both have “final” versions somewhat cut down (10%-ish) from their longest printed texts. And Othello has similar-length chunks added or cut, depending on who is doing the counting. But unlike what we can readily see in the Padua promptbooks, these Q-F cuts or additions aren’t designed to modify the plays to a standard length, nor would the versions they represent be easily alternated—see, for example, the Q2-F Hamlets  immediately prior to Ophelia’s mad entrance.  

 

But to Steve Roth, I’d say that if the King’s Men got a fat stipend to modify a play for the Court, then sure they might revise with to-order-composed prologue and epilogue, and by adding, or cutting, or both. But then (I want to believe, sans evidence) they’d go forward to keep solely the new version in their repertory rather than flip back to the earlier one. (Actually, my memory now tickles me about playhouse manuscripts described by Grace Ioppolo with markings for alternative presentations, but they may have been for different companies. Or—Help! – was that Leslie Thomson talking about The Two Merry Milke-Maids?) So, although they could have been juggling their versions, I wouldn’t.

 

David Frydrychowski suggests longer texts with redundancies were being performed at the Globe, with shorter versions done at the Blackfriars to a more attentive upper-class audience. My objections to the difficulties of having multiple versions “at play” at roughly the same time apply here as well.  Also, I get the feeling from the various enactments of plays-within-plays that Shakespeare didn’t think much of the kindness or attention-spans of those more aristocratic audiences he shows onstage in MND or LLL or Hamlet. By and large, a nasty and inattentive bunch o’ snots.  

 

And, in general, a comment (prompted by Bob Grumman’s mild speculations about uncut versions for private venues, shortened for the big houses) on the supposed incapacity of Shakespeare’s groundling audiences, wherever they might have been found: Notwithstanding, Hamlet’s snotty “caviar” remark (meant to position him as a tyro aristocrat-amateur talking about craft to seasoned professionals), as a kid myself from the groundling-class Bronx and distinctly non-caviar CCNY, I also believe that as time went on Shakespeare’s accumulating experience onstage with his actors AND with his evidently wildly disparate audiences seems to have led him to write more and more difficult and demanding and lengthy plays. Hence Antony & Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, and Henry VIII. It seems that he wrote to raise up the layers of civility and sensibility of his fellow actors and his audiences of every degree. That’s how morally conscious artists seem to work. So, do I take o-so-easily scornful slurs by modern critics against Shakespeare’s supposedly incapable working class audiences personally? F-ing aye, Jack .

 

“If you prick us . . . .?”  

 

Ever,

Steve F-Urkowitz 

 

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