Play Length


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0445  Monday, 5 November 2012


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

Date:         November 4, 2012 9:15:48 PM EST

Subject:     Re: Play Length


I’ll comment on some of Steve Urkowitz’s Shakespeare Bulletin article on play length.


> As a corollary argument, it is reasoned that the radically

> shorter first-printed “bad” quarto versions of plays such as

> Romeo & Juliet, Henry V, Hamlet, and The Merry Wives

> of Windsor represent texts somehow derived from the

> supposedly cut down “originals” found only in their

> later-printed and longer forms.


There can be no real doubt that the corrupt texts derive from plays nearer to the better texts. Urkowitz has long held that the shorter ‘bad’ texts predate the ‘good’ longer texts. The corruptions prove otherwise.


> Michael Hirrel, also writing in Shakespeare Quarterly,


Hirrel’s article is very good.


> there is no testimony that Shakespeare was forced either

> to cater to them or to cut his scripts to please them.


There is not much testimony that Shakespeare . . . anything.


> We do not know, though, anything at all about whether

> “the play [H5] as performed” more resembled the 1600

> Quarto or the 1623 First Folio. Gurr is simply assuming

> that his two hour theory is correct, that the shortened

> scripts resulted from economic or stylistic decisions by

> the acting company, and that artistic quality (in the form

> of about a third of the play’s longer Folio text) would be

> sacrificed for any number of exigent reasons.


When we realize that Q1 Henry V is a theatrical report we understand that it is “the play as performed.” Neither Gurr nor Urkowitz reach that conclusion but a “play as performed,” short & corrupt, isn’t necessarily as it was always performed. Bad quartos are short; short plays were played. Long plays were shortened, one way or another; the evidence stares us in the face. Still, I agree with Steve that longer plays were acted essentially as written. It’s not “either or” nor a question of “artistic quality.” And we are not limited to “acting company”; make them plural. After all, John of Bordeaux, which will go unmentioned (by others), was swiped for playing (by others). Q1 Hamlet is a memorial reconstruction played, recorded, and short. That doesn’t mean Hamlet wasn’t played in full. I guess it was – and that it was recorded.


> This essentially cynical view of Shakespeare, his fellow actors,

> and the enterprise of putting on plays makes them all seem

> like purveyors of adulterated . . . .


Cynical isn’t so bad. As per Hershel Brown, “the whole congregation was adulterated.” I have no gripe with the concept of “maximal texts” supplied by playwrights. Heywood’s The Captives is a good example; he and the players collaborated to chop its artistic quality. With a play written short, the druthers of the actors might send the author back to his desk (if he had one); but a longer text allows cutting without need for additions. However, there are common-sense limits to this practice and I don’t think it applies to Shakespeare’s plays very well.


> And [Ioppolo] has shown that the many dramatic manuscripts

> extant from the period—authorial foul papers . . .


Grace Ioppolo hasn’t identified any foul-paper text satisfying any definition, including her own.


> Like Orgel and Gurr, in his very well received

> Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, Lukas Erne also claims

> that Shakespeare’s long texts had to be cut down to fit into

> a time limit of two hours. Like Hart, Erne cites many dramatic

> prologues and epilogues which mention two-hour playing times.


I didn’t receive Erne’s book very well; the evidence shows clearly enough that Shakespeare had nothing to do with the publication of his playtexts. All one needs for proof is Erne’s claim that the bad quartos were part of the official effort. Shakespeare’s “fellows” denounced the published texts.


I don't discount the “two hours” testimony; it is repeated often enough (with no reason to suppose the denizens couldn’t tell time). Van Dam cites Platter (Long before Alfred Hart van Dam argued plays were held to 2 hours): “Den 21 Septembris nach dem Imbiszeszen, ettwan umb zwey Uhren, bin ich mitt meiner geselschaft uber das waszer gefahren, haben in dem streuwinen Dachhaus die Tragedy vom ersten Keyser Julio Caesare mitt ohngefahr 15 personen sehen . . . .


> a plausible duration given quickly speaking actors


What reason do actors have to speak quickly? They do nowadays, only to show they shouldn’t cram a three-hour play into two hours.


> Nevertheless the same “two houres trafficque of our Stage”

> is repeated in the far longer Second Quarto [R&J] (1599),

> . . . . The inclusion of roughly 800 lines not found in Q1 makes

> a two-hour performance of Q2 very unlikely.


No doubt; but Q1 is the record of a performance, as a comparison of the prologues shows. Although play length is an important topic I don’t have much trouble with it because I take numbers of long editions to be shorthand reports, including R&J and Lear. Schmidt argued theatrical reporting for Lear more than a century ago; for him, the length question was answered. If one doubts shorthand, as Erne, then the short-play argument helps to decide against shorthand. If one concludes for other reasons that Q1 Lear is the report of a performance – Well King, this case is closed.


Gerald E. Downs

Reading Upsy Downs and the Pathologies of Argumentation


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0443  Monday, 5 November 2012


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

Date:         November 2, 2012 9:20:01 AM EDT

Subject:     Reading Upsy Downs and the Pathologies of Argumentation


Hello, out there, all you (both of you?) continue readers! I do gamely hippity-hop along, Mr Bluebird on my shoulder, cheerfully hoping that laughter will bring its healing sense of reconciling incompatible oxymorons. (“Who you calling an oxymoron, Urkowitz? I’m a textual scholar, see?”)?   Out of disagreement, after turns in different directions, there may come a return, a reconciliation, a joining of hands, salutations, and departures towards other pleasures.


Whatever. Gerald Downs deploys several fascinating argumentative tactics in his latest contribution to our dialogue. One is really cute. Where the Oxford/Norton text of LEAR ascribes to Peter Blayney the “authority” of its creative speech prefix in the speech in 5.3, “All.  Save him, save him” where Q and F have instead “Alb” I pointed out that Blayney’s speculative “ALL” just ain’t a bibliographical argument, nor has Peter’s explanation for his suggestion been published anywhere. So, in a seeming chunk of explanation, Gerald Downs suggests that the Oxford Little Rascals “may have got it from Halio.”  


I rummaged through my KING LEAR shelf-o’-editions and came up with the longer equally non-bibliographical but quite a bit more detailed explanation offered by Stanley Wells: “HalioQ and Weis retain Q’s ‘Alb[any]’ though Halio F admits that Alb could be a misreading of All, which could also make sense dramatically. Edelman [pp.156-7] pointing out that interference with a battle of chivalry was strictly forbidden, is ‘led to agree’ with Theobald’s suggestion that ‘the words are meant to be spoken by’ Gonoril since it is logical for her ‘emotionally to beseech her soldiers to step in at a moment when Edmund appears to be in danger” (in Wells’ single volume Oxford KING LEAR p. 165n). Don’t you love these guys? Knock’em down with any huge pile of basic data contradicting their speculations and like bantam roosters they’re bounding back up, bloody but unfazed. (Hey, wait just a sec’: I do that too!)  


We just have to believe now that whoever wrote down the lost or mis-read ALL somehow was REALLY intending to inscribe “Gonoril”? Or wanted to somehow indicate that Shakespeare meant for Gonoril AND a posse of her supporters were to say SAVE HIM SAVE HIM? “Wheeee!  All aboard for the net train to Cloud-cuckooland!” (A lot of traffic on that line, getting closer to the Election Day.) But that’s how conspiracy theories work, and there are all too many souls locked up in maximum security prisons for us to take such reasoning as an innocuous scholarly foible. (Urk, you said you were hoping for reconciliation? Oops. In the Bronx, we’re still fighting the War of the Spanish Succession. Never Forget. Never Forgive. JOKING.)


One last bit. Gerald Downs announces, “Q1 gets lots of speeches [i.e. speech prefixes] wrong, many of which are followed by or mishandled in the derivative F.” “Lots” by my count equals “zero.” There’s one speech prefix in Lear’s role that is printed in the middle of a continuing speech, and then there are many that in one text go to one character and in a later text go to a different character. In each case, both versions make sense. But such a coarse judgment as “making sense” is no qualification for accepting an argument, as Marion Trousdale herself attests in her denial of authorial revision in LEAR. (Nice lady, Marion is, but last time we spoke I failed to notice her Aura of Infallibility.)


I have to go about today’s business, but if Gerald will please repeat Stone’s analyses of the “lots of” speech prefix errors in Q1 (since I can’t find ‘em, and it would likely help the others equally bewildered in this fog o’ argument), we can carry on this mental tai chi exercise.  





Rosenberg “Masks” Book Sale


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0441  Thursday, 1 November 2012


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

Date:         October 31, 2012 7:47:50 PM EDT

Subject:     Rosenberg “Masks” Book Sale


Sale of Marvin Rosenberg’s “Masks” Books:


Thank you to all those who responded to my notice about the sale of unused copies of Marvin Rosenberg’s Masks books. I still have a few copies left (hardcover $55, paperback $35, including postage). The only copies that remain of The Masks of Hamlet and The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra are hardcover: The Masks of Othello and The Masks of King Lear are still available in paperback.


If anyone is interested, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Thank you.


Mary Rosenberg


Digital Shakespeare


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0442  Thursday, 1 November 2012


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

Date:         October 31, 2012 7:22:44 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Digital Shakespeare


I’m pleased to hear of Alan Young’s success in using electronic materials in the classroom. I too find that projecting the text onto a screen is preferable to saying “let’s all turn to 3.4.22” because everyone is instantly looking at the same thing. But rather than use an iPad for this, I use my regular laptop because it has all 3,000 books of mine that I’ve digitized (and around the same number of articles), including all the major editions of Shakespeare. It also has a lot of films ripped from DVD to the hard disk.


So, if someone says “but my edition has ‘your philosophy’ not ‘our philosophy’ at that point” I can throw their particular edition onto the screen and we can all go through the collation and the explanatory notes and see where the variant comes from.  Or, if someone raises how a particular moment might be staged, we can all look at that moment in each of several film versions.  This is a bit trickier as it relies on me remembering the play well enough to find exactly that moment in the film, but with a ripped MP4 file one can jump to any moment in a fraction of a second, whereas DVDs are so clunky that one risks losing the students’ attention while the disk whirls around trying to catch up with your search.


These pedagogic benefits alone are for me justification enough for whatever licence agreement violations I committed in ripping the films and scanning the books. Then there’s research payoff . . .  Paper books and DVDs don’t come anywhere close to this kind of usefulness and I can’t see any justification for keeping them. I acknowledge Louis W. Thompson’s point about direct light as opposed to reflected light, but find that projecting the image overcomes all objections about eye-fatigue.


Gabriel Egan

November Events: George Washington University Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute and Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0440  Thursday, 1 November 2012


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

Date:         October 31, 2012 6:26:13 PM EDT

Subject:     November Events: George Washington University Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute and Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program


Join us in November for two exciting events at George Washington University Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute and Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program: 


On Monday, Nov. 12, from 1-2 pm, Dr. Dennis Kennedy will be presenting a lecture on “The Culture of the Spectator.” Currently Beckett Professor of Drama Emeritus in Trinity College Dublin, Dennis Kennedy will consider examples from sports, popular culture, and the theatre in order to open up a discussion about a ‘culture’ of the spectator in the present. 


For more information: http://www.gwmemsi.com/2012/09/the-culture-of-spectator-lecture-by.html



Erika Lin will be with us on Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 11:10 am-12:20 pm, to explore early modern theatre. Lin, an Assistant Professor of English at George Mason University, takes a close look at Thomas Dekker’s play “The Shoemaker’s Holiday” as she explores the process by which festivity was transformed into commercial theatre through the act of performance in “Playing with Time: Pancakes and Bells in ‘The Shoemaker’s Holiday.’”


For more information: http://www.gwmemsi.com/2012/10/playing-with-time-pancakes-and-bells-in.html



Both of these events are open to the public and will be held on the George Washington University campus in Rome Hall, room 771 (801 22nd St. NW, Washington, D.C., one block from the GW/Foggy Bottom metro station).  

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.