The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0450 Wednesday, 7 November 2012
Date: November 6, 2012 5:41:25 PM EST
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length
One suggestion for the “two-hour play length” question, is that precisely because it was mentioned so often, then people assumed that all plays lasted two hours. Just as we all assume (or did until recently) that feature films last 90 minutes, despite high-profile bloated exceptions. (I am old enough to remember when features which lasted much longer than that came with an intermission - complete with an intermission title card.) Woody Allen’s films (and Woody Allen is perhaps the modern equivalent of Beaumont & Fletcher - if not Shakespeare himself) consistently weigh in at about 90 minutes. So consistently, in fact, that it comes as a shock when “Match Point” (2006) runs to 119 minutes.
A far simpler explanation, however, is that “two hours” meant “less than three hours” - so a play lasting 2 hours and 59 minutes would still be regarded as being “two hours” long.
(That actors “spoke quickly” shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Ten years ago the BBC gave an anniversary broadcast of a recording of the original French radio production of “En attendant Godot”. This was an abridged text, but what startled me was the speed with which it was taken - I couldn’t turn the pages of my text fast enough!)