The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0485  Friday, 30 November 2012


From:        Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 30, 2012 11:55:48 AM EST

Subject:     Re: Play Length


Steve Urkowitz’s answer to my question—how frequently were Shakespeare’s plays played uncut—seems to be “mostly” or “almost always.” He only envisions one (type of) situation—a command performance at court—wherein a separate playing version might be prepared. And he doesn’t suggest anything about play length in such a situation. A script might be expanded, or re-arranged, or cut. 


Steve’s personal experience with repertory players and the difficulty of multiple versions carries some weight in supporting that, but absent wider and more systematic evidence from contemporary performance folks, it only moves my Bayesian certainty by a skootch.


Nevertheless, fine.


But I have to wonder how he squares that belief with his long-standing contentions – going back at least to his concluding chapter twenty years ago in The Hamlet First Published – that Q1 Hamlet and other “bad” quartos constitute valid (playing?) versions in their own rights.


And I want to cut to what’s really important to me: is there any validity to “literary” interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays—interpretations that seem to require understandings which could only be achieved by a careful reader (or a very diligent multiple auditor with a very busy commonplace book)?


I think the common and long-standing rhetorical dismissal of such readings and interpretations (“no auditor would have noticed that”) is misplaced. Whether you go all New Critical (“It’s there; it doesn’t matter if the author ‘intended’ it.”), or Intentional (“S obviously knew that he was being read, and had to have written for those readers.”), or some other approach, what I’ve defined here as “literary” interpretations and understandings are not, IMHO, anachronistic, specious, or misguided. When well-done (feel free to define that yourself), they serve to enrich and illuminate and I would even say expand the plays just as they do Don Quixote or your choice of dense and unpack-able non-dramatic works—without negating (quite the contrary) the play’s simultaneous status as theatrical scripts, or the the critical import of that status.


For me, the play-length discussion is mainly about addressing that question. 

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