Question for Shakespeare Scholars

Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 09:48am
There has always been a lot of discussion about how prolific Shakespeare was. And that has led some to speculate that others wrote the work and Shakespeare just took credit for it.

But do you think that any of the work came out of the rehearsal process? Did Shakespeare show up with a complete play already written or did his actors improvise some of the story and dialogue?
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
MikeInTheDistrict
Featured Actor
joined:8/27/11
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 12:08pm
Jonathan Bate, in the (excellent) introduction to the RSC edition of the First Folio writes about this very possibility. The plays were in a constant state of flux during the (very short) rehearsal periods and even for some time afterward. Actors would receive -- not a complete script -- but "sides", which basically just contain their own character's lines plus the last few lines of the characters who spoke immediately before and after them. Shakespeare himself would have written a "foul copy" (rough manuscript), which would then be given to a scribe to translate into a "fair copy" (for use by the company's prompter). It's likely that the final form the plays took was a collaborative effort, but I doubt that anyone but Shakespeare's most highly esteemed actors (like Richard Burbage) would have had a HUGE part in forming the play.
CurtainPullDowner
Broadway Legend
joined:11/4/04
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 01:03pm
You can't really "improvise" Shakespeare.
NotTheComfyChair
Chorus Member
joined:3/19/13
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 01:45pm
It is believed that some of the comic actors added their own bits, certainly if Hamlet is to be believed:
"...And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for them;
for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to
set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
too..." III.2
beaemma
Stand-by
joined:11/24/09
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 02:53pm
I don't have access to my academic library right now, so I can't cite sources. However, there is evidence (journals and diaries) that the plays in performance were seldom more than two hours long, while the folio versions of some plays are much longer. An uncut LEAR is close to four hours, as is HAMLET. Thus, we can gather that changes, especially cuts, happened during the rehearsal process. Of course, we can never be sure of what the changes were. The clowns/comics did sometimes ad-lib or insert their own bits. The plays were done in repertory, often with one actor playing major roles in more than one play at a time. There were bound to be slip-ups remembering lines, and evidence suggests that most actors could cover their mistakes by ad-libbing in iambic pentameter.
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 04:04pm
"However, there is evidence (journals and diaries) that the plays in performance were seldom more than two hours long"

I sort of felt that. When watching a performance in Central Park, I always wonder how those audiences could remain focused on a long play especially because they were living under more uncomfortable circumstances.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
Rinaldo
Understudy
joined:5/5/09
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 05:34pm
The Elizabethan audiences were much more ear-oriented than we are, though. Possibly because literacy was not universal and there was no amplification or home entertainment systems to make ears lazy, people seem to have been accustomed to pay attention to public speech delivered at speed. The extent to which plays were or weren't cut in performance remains under discussion -- you can find a scholarly article somewhere to back up wherever your opinion falls.

However, the idea that the plays underwent revision (by the author) in the course of production is no longer controversial -- it's the basis for the textual choices for two of the relatively recent editions, the Oxford and the RSC. In general, Shakespeare scholarship is vastly more in tune with the reality and pressures of live theatrical performance than it was even a quarter-century ago.
broadwayguy2
Broadway Legend
joined:5/18/03
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 06:29pm
Since. Utting for running time has been mentiond in this thread, I feel it prudent to mention how vastly misinformed most people are as to the running time of Shakespeare's works. Most people are basing these off of the spoken word when using standard, modern British dialect which is far more pristine, carefully pronounced and slow when when compared to Elizabethan english, which was fast, lower and more guteral and closer to a Scottish or Irish accent . In recent years, this has been addressed in "Original Pronunciation", a movement to perform Shakespeare's works in itheir original dialect. This massively rims running time without changing a word. In fact, when the Old Globe performed an existing staging of Romeo and Juliet in "OP", it trimmed over two minutes from the Capulet ball scene alone, requiring them to rechoreograph the entire dance in order for the fated leads to meet face to face at the appropriate moment.
NotTheComfyChair
Chorus Member
joined:3/19/13
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 09:13pm
It's not just the accents, as the Standard American accent can be just as "careful" as Standard British. The acting styles in Elizabethan/Jacobian times are very different than they are now. Actors on both side of the pond can often try to "explain" to the audience what is being said and layer emotion on top of the action rather than trusting the text. However, in the famous film of Brook's Midsummer, Ian Holm as Puck spoke his lines at break next speed. It was still possible to follow the words.

If you want to learn more about OP, this is a great place to start.
http://www.pronouncingshakespeare.com
David Crystal is, I think,the foremost authority on OP in the world. There are CDs you can buy of all the sonnets and, I think, some scenes in OP.

(This post has been edited for sense and spelling. Lesson - Never type on an iPad without glasses as this site comes up way too small!)







Updated On: 7/25/14 at 09:13 PM
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/25/14 at 09:53pm
The problem with Americans doing Shakespeare is that they are so "precious" about it. Everything is so stylized. And then weirdo directors want to be cool so they set Taming Of The Shrew in the Wild West.

And sometimes you get glimpses of good Shakespeare acting from Americans but others in the production foul up the good work. I'm thinking of Romeo & Juliet in Central Park a few years ago. Christopher Evan Welch performed the Mercutio death scene better than anyone I've ever seen do it. He found some amazing moments in that death scene. And then Lauren Ambrose ruins it by playing Juliet like she was Lady MacBeth just murdering someone.

I blame American productions for being afraid of the language.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
broadwayguy2
Broadway Legend
joined:5/18/03
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/26/14 at 01:23am
Thanks, ComfyChair!
I was hesitant to dive too far into an OP discussion, but aince I first learned OP, I have come to the mimd that you simply can not have a factual discussion of the Bard's work without basing it in OP. It changes running time, pace, tone, etc of the e tire body of work and significantly alters the rhymes, puns and double entendres, many of which you will only discover once you process them through OP.
Crystal's work is required srudy for EVERYONE in my book.
I also find OP grounds the works as populist in an entirely different way. They feel much more accessible and less intimidating than drawn oit, grand declamations in high brown Modern British dialect.
Updated On: 7/26/14 at 01:23 AM
wonkit
Broadway Legend
joined:9/30/08
Question for Shakespeare Scholars
Posted: 7/27/14 at 10:35am
One of the reasons for the extreme length of Shakespeare's plays as we read them today is the likelihood that there were multiple sources remembering the text from different points of view. If you look at Lear, for example, it is entirely possible that quartos and folios contained language remembered by audiences, professional "listeners" and individual actors, and that plays were changed in performance based upon the casts. As someone noted earlier, many comic speeches were tailored to the talents of clowns. The closing speeches of Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT exist in, I think, four versions. SO regardless of accents and delivery speeds, many of the plays are compilations and so never ran anything like full length as they appear in print.