Play Length


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0452  Thursday, 8 November 2012


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

     Date:         November 7, 2012 4:17:44 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length 


[2] From:        William Proctor Williams <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 7, 2012 9:33:07 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length


[3] From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         Thursday, November 8, 2012

     Subject:     Play Length 




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

Date:         November 7, 2012 4:17:44 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length


If we accept Steve Urkowitz’s arguments and conclusions wholesale, we must be convinced that Shakespeare’s longer plays were at least sometimes played uncut. (I don’t think that he would claim “always,” or even close, though I may be wrong.) Fair enough. But “sometimes” is more than a little squishy. Given the predominance of two- and (less-frequent) three-hour references throughout the period, and the many quite explicit references to longer plays being cut for the stage, I tend to conclude that those plays were often or even most often (but okay: not always) cut for performance. The frequencies, beyond these rather vague adverbs, seem impossible to determine.


A key question which arises in my mind, at least: how did these proportions vary in different venues? Were they more frequently cut for Globe performances, and perhaps to a lesser extent at Blackfriars? Were they played uncut at court? (Despite some rather energetic digging, I have found no solid evidence for long playing durations at court.) Did more-educated audiences have more tolerance for lengthy performances? This seems like a perfectly reasonable surmise, but nothing more. I don’t think there’s any solid evidence showing that private-theater, inns-of-court, court, or private-residence performances by S’s company (or others) were longer than those in the public theaters.


University performances are quite another matter, one that’s of particular interest because despite bans on public players performing at universities (bans which seem to have been largely enforced and honored), a very short version of S’s longest play (Q1 Ham) advertises on its title page that it (or the play, anyway, in some form) was performed at both Oxford and Cambridge—the universities, not just the towns.


We have very good evidence of university men tolerating/enjoying long performances. I’m surprised to find that Steve doesn’t cite the most monumental of those: Thomas Legge’s Richardus Tertius, staged at St. John’s College, Cambridge in March, 1580 (with possible revivals up to 1588). Alan Nelson calls it “the most ambitious dramatic performance ever attempted in England (before or since) . . . a play in three parts given on three successive nights, running to a total of some 10,000 lines [in Latin], with the same actor taking the lead role on all three nights.”  (Early Cambridge Theatres, Cambridge, 1994. p. 61.) 


So it’s a perplexingly contradictory conundrum to find the Hamlet university performances cited in a half-length edition—a conundrum no matter what provenance and intention one asserts for that version.


But in any case: assuming Steve is right, S’s long plays would sometimes be played uncut. What’s important, it seems to me, is that S knew that. And we can surmise (though only that) that those uncut playings were more frequently before his best customers—the educated courtiers, inns-of-court men and the like who would also pay three or six pence for the gallery seats at the Globe, and (later) even a shilling for a Blackfriar’s seat and more yet for a seat on the stage—or multiple pounds for command and private performances at court and elsewhere. Shakespeare knew that, too.


So that in itself could explain why he wrote such long scripts, even though he knew that they would (most?) often be cut for performance. He was writing for his best customers, and knew that the groundlings could and would be served as well via shorter versions. This hardly seems like a stretch or a crazy notion.


But here’s what Shakespeare also knew, unequivocally: that his plays were being purchased and read in print form. At least a dozen had been published, for instance, prior to the 1600/1601 debut of Hamlet as we know it (plus the very popular narrative poems, and the sonnets that seem to have been circulating in manuscript among those who could afford transcripts—all of which were explicitly for reading, whether silently or aloud). 


Those printed plays were being read. They weren’t being purchased as prompt books or scripts for performance (except perhaps rarely—certainly not enough to support a publisher’s edition). And again, the plays were being purchased and read by his best, most educated, most prestigious customers—those who were inclined and able to drop a shilling for the published versions (plus binding).


Plus: considering the incestuousness of the cross-pollination and competition among his fellow playwrights—especially the densely cross-referential poetomachian melee in the late 1590s and 1600/01, pre-Hamlet—he must have known that his rival/fellow playwrights were buying and reading his plays as well. 


It’s true that we have no evidence of S’s involvement in his plays’ publication, and some circumstantial evidence of his non-involvement. But publication involvement notwithstanding, it seems wildly improbable to me that S would have ignored a large audience of attentive, prestigious, interested, and moneyed readers when composing.


As a writer I am keenly aware of how difficult it is to write well for multiple audiences, much less multiple venues and media. It seems to me that Shakespeare’s rather amazing ability to do that—to write simultaneously (and successfully) for both apprentices and for earls, for the stage and the page—goes a long way towards explaining why Shakespeare became “Shakespeare.”



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

Date:         November 7, 2012 9:33:07 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length


>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.


I believe George Walton Williams made just this point some years ago in a paper at a Blackfriars Conference, if I remember correctly.



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

Date:         Thursday, November 8, 2012

Subject:     Play Length


I can easily accept John Briggs’ (and George W. Williams’ at Blackfriars Conference and in Shakespeare Newsletter) contention that two-hours traffic meant anything less than three hours, but I find it difficult to believe that, at least, the Globe audiences would have stood for four or four and a half hours for a play.

Speaking of Shakespeare with Nagle Jackson and James Shapiro


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0451  Thursday, 8 November 2012


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

Date:         November 7, 2012 7:01:00 PM EST

Subject:     Speaking of Shakespeare with Nagle Jackson and James Shapiro


Speaking of Shakespeare


After memorable conversations in September with JOHN LAHR, senior theatre critic for the New Yorker magazine, and in October with Hunter College’s IRENE DASH, the Shakespeare Guild is pleased to remind you about two upcoming programs that will continue its focus on the classical tradition in the dramatic arts.



A Conversation with Director Nagle Jackson


Monday, November 19, at 7:30 p.m.   

National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South 

No Charge, but Reservations Requested


Not only has he earned acclaim on Broadway, at the Kennedy Center, and in other settings around the nation; NAGLE JACKSON was the first American to be invited to direct in the Soviet Union. As a producer he has enjoyed lengthy artistic directorships at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (1970-76) and at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre (1979-90), which has been recognized with a regional-theatre Tony Award. He has seven productions to his credit at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, along with shows in such settings as the Hartford Stage Company, the Seattle Repertory Company, San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre. Mr. Jackson is also a dramatist and actor, and his many Bardic roles have included Autolycus (The Winter’s Tale), Bertram (All’s Well That Ends Well), Demetrius (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Feste (Twelfth Night), Lucio (Measure for Measure), and Octavius (Antony and Cleopatra).



James Shapiro’s BBC Series on Shakespeare


Monday, December 17, at 7:30 p.m.    

National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South 

No Charge, but Reservations Requested


As the author of such award-winning volumes as Shakespeare and the Jews (1996), Oberammergau (2000), 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), and Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (2010), Columbia University’s JAMES SHAPIRO has established himself as one of today’s most prominent scholars and reviewers, with frequent appearances on the Charlie Rose Show and other television and radio programs, and with numerous articles in periodicals such as the New York Times. On this occasion he’ll preview a riveting segment from his latest endeavor, a three-hour BBC documentary, The King and the Playwright, which has been shortlisted for a major TV award in the UK. After Mr. Shapiro screens his fascinating account of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot against James I and his court, and its impact on the chief dramatist for the theatrical company that profited from the monarch’s own patronage, he and the Guild’s John Andrews will join the audience for an engaging discussion of the episode.



Looking ahead, we’ll soon be announcing details about a special GIELGUD AWARD gala to take place on Sunday, April 14, at the GIELGUD THEATRE in London. This benefit will feature many of the luminaries who graced our April 2004 GIELGUD CENTENARY GALA, which occurred in the same venue and was co-sponsored by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.


For additional information about these and other offerings, as well as about membership in The Shakespeare Guild, visit the website below or contact


John F. Andrews

The Shakespeare Guild

5B Calle San Martin       

Santa Fe, NM 87506

Phone 505 988 9560

Play Length


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0450  Wednesday, 7 November 2012


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

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!)


John Briggs

British Shakespeare Educational Project


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0449  Wednesday, 7 November 2012


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

Date:         November 7, 2012 11:00:25 AM EST

Subject:     British Shakespeare Educational Project


I found the following announcement of considerable interest.


In time, it would be very worthwhile to hear about the experiences of those teachers involved.


Alan R. Young

Professor Emeritus, Acadia University




Shakespeare schools cash means all the world's a stage


By Judith Burns

BBC News education reporter


Thousands of children in the UK will get the chance to stage a Shakespeare play in a theatre to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth in 2014.


Some 50,000 pupils and their teachers will get use of a local theatre, plus expert rehearsal and staging tips.


The Shakespeare Schools Festival plans to spend £3.2m to treble the number of schools it reaches.


Education Secretary Michael Gove said he wanted pupils to “stage their own version of Shakespearean magic”.


The Department for Education has announced a donation of £140,000 to help the Festival kickstart a major expansion in England, particularly into primary schools. It currently works in 700 schools but aims to reach 1,000 by 2013 and 2,000 by 2014.


The charity’s chief executive, Penelope Middelboe, told BBC News there was still a lot more money to raise but said: “It is really helpful for us to know the government is supportive of the project.



Key role


“We place so much importance on the role of drama and Shakespeare in schools. We have seen it change lives. It is key to education - not just an add-on.”


Concerns have been raised about the future of cultural education in schools after the government announced plans for an English Baccalaureate for 16-year-olds to be taught in schools from 2015.


[ . . . ]


The department is also giving the Royal Shakespeare Company £125,000 to provide all state secondary schools with a free copy of the RSC Shakespeare Toolkit for Teachers, a hoard of information on Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.



‘Depth and power’


Mr Gove said: “I was enraptured by a Shakespeare Schools Festival performance of Macbeth by a primary school at the Royal Court earlier this year. The Festival enables students to bring the plays of the great playwright to life and does fantastic work to improve cultural education in our schools.”


Ray Fearon, currently appearing in the RSC’s Julius Caesar, said: “For passionate English teachers, the challenge is similar to that of the RSC, which seeks to widen access to Shakespeare’s work - how to bring the depth and power of this material to a new audience without compromising its integrity or patronising that audience.


“Through the Toolkit, the RSC shows how the techniques of one of the world’s leading theatre companies can be applied in the classroom to unlock some of the richest, most challenging and rewarding texts in the English language. Thanks to the Department for Education, every state secondary school will have their own copy.”


[ . . . ]


Play Length


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0448  Tuesday, 6 November 2012


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

Date:         November 6, 2012 2:19:02 PM EST

Subject:     Whack-a-mole, anyone?


I’m pleased, puzzled, and a little dismayed by Gerald Downs’ response to my essay, “Did Shakespeare’s Company Cut Long Plays Down to Two Hours Playing Time” in the most recent issue of SHAKESPEARE BULLETIN (30, 2012) 239-62.  


If he had written only this line, “I agree with Steve that longer plays were acted essentially as written” then we’d have gone out for a pizza and traded Textual Scholarship jokes. That’s all I wanted to prove in this essay, one more brick in a wall of evidence I’m building to separate the reasonable from the unfounded speculations about these early scripts.   But he found other chunks he disagrees with.


For example, he claims: “There can be no real doubt that the corrupt texts derive from plays nearer to the better texts.” 


First, I have to stress that my goal in this essay was to counter the hypothesis that ALL of Shakespeare’s long plays were cut down for performance. I didn’t offer any evidence about sources for the shorter versions of plays like Q1 Romeo and Juliet. The more modest goal was to show evidence that some plays were longer than two hours and need not have been cut down to that length. As part of my conclusion I said only that those textual arguments which depended on the shorter texts as being derived from the longer ones should be re-examined.


But ““There can be no real doubt “is a debater’s trick that gives the appearance of certainty without the obligation for further evidence or argument on the order of “There can be no real doubt” that the Earth is flat. or “There can be no real doubt” that Democrats are engaging in voter fraud.  But important, consistently-structured and patterned textual variants he ascribes to “corruption” could with greater likelihood arise from different sources found in related documents such as authorial manuscripts. (Downs’s favored sources, hypothetical, corrupt transcriptions from dictation, or shorthand, or from memory, however, do not account for any of the rich theatrical embrocation and varying connections to source material found among the “bad,” and the “good” quartos and the folio texts. But that’s not the issue in my essay under discussion.) 


Another problem: For R&J, he claims that “Q1 is the record of a performance, as a comparison of the prologues shows” Well, dears, Gerald can SAY that a comparison will show, but in order for standers-by to believe him he really should do the showing. (I always told my writing students, “If you want someone to believe what you believe, show them what you saw that made you believe it yourself.”) Maybe Q1 R&J indeed was performed as it appears in the printed text. Or a performance with quite different words and actions may have been badly transcribed and the transcriber accidentally and creatively came up with what we read in Q1.  


The proposed story I think Gerald believes of it being a record of performance, i.e., a transcription taken down by shorthand – or memorially reconstructed, or generated through a transcription of a  purposefully compressed Q2 text in order to reduce it into two hours traffic – though appealing to most editors including Lukas Erne, the most recent editor of Q1, is still quite shaky and requires us to buy into many subsidiary and unlikely hypotheses . (I’ve published some pieces of a longer study about the “bad” quartos which is now in the works, (and if I ever stop juggling dead fish with Jerry Downs I’ll get back to writing it.) Nevertheless, that whole kettle ain’t important to my essay.


Jerry asks, “What reason do actors have to speak quickly?” Ah. Here we’re at the aesthetics of performance.  Slow speech by actors of Shakespearean texts yields b-o-r-i-n-g performances. You like ‘em that way? Fine. But my experience as a director and as a member of audiences tells me that verbal quickness is a sign of lively performance. What reason do dancers make quick steps? why do musicians enjoy flighty arpeggios? Why not?


Jerry also suggests that the corruption of the early printed versions is proven because “Shakespeare’s “fellows” denounced the published texts.” But the “stolne and surreptitious copies” stuff from the Folio preliminary pages represent a jaunty appeal by Heminges and Condell to encourage purchases, not a true avowal or declaration that the earlier publications were all untrustworthy.  


But then Gerald Downs swings at one of the fine practitioners of our scholarly craft. He says: “Grace Ioppolo hasn’t identified any foul-paper text satisfying any definition, including her own.”  


This is where I have to get off this particular Bibliographic Train. I just ain’t interested in riding anymore with Jerry. Grace Ioppolo has done the tough and painstakingly detailed work of examining the documents. Here’s a sample: “Heywood’s 1624 autograph manuscript of his play The Captives is a foul-paper text that offers a full example of an author in the act of composition. Other foul-paper manuscripts also survive, although they have not always been recognized as such. . . . In his manuscript of The Captives, Heywood is obviously in the act of composing, not copying, unsure as he writes which characters will appear in which scene, at what point they will enter, what they will say, and even what relationship they will bear to one another (Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood, pp. 94-5). Her discussion is crystal clear, her illustrations abundant, and her conclusions consistent with the evidence she so generously provides.   


If Gerald Downs can’t see the virtue and validity in Grace Ioppolo’s work, then all I can do is recommend that we all look at Grace’s work and learn from it, And that we then turn to Gerald Downs derogation of her excellent scholarship and hold him up to the ridicule of the polis. Pugh!  


It’s Tuesday. Let’s go out and vote. Clear the air. Likely after the results are in I’ll come back with shovel and broom to continue cleaning up after the Textual Circus parade. That’s Show Biz.


Steve Bozowitz


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