Slim Shakespeare

Lose text now! Ask me how!

When performing Shakespeare today theatres around the world will cut words, lines, and scenes out of the show. The Shakespeare Blog raises quite a few questions about the effects of editing down one of the Bard’s plays.

Cutting one of the plays is a difficult task. Length of the show obviously needs to be considered. But duration, contrary to popular belief, isn’t the only thing in question. The director (possibly in conjunction with a dramaturge or other) has to decide how much to cut, what information needs to stay in, what can be done without, and other considerations. If length was the only issue the actors could just go faster, which isn’t a bad idea. Lots of productions are too slow… but I digress. I’ll rant about that at a later time.

Speeding up won’t solve everything. Even at a faster pace the script may still be too much for the show the director has in mind. The cuts that are made really have to do a lot with what the director’s concept of the show is. If a director wants to make Julius Caesar more focused on the main conflict, he or she can cut out the various extra politicians who in their opinion “slow down the story.” Or if the director decides to show the King’s ship crashing on the island in The Tempest from a different point of view, the entire first scene can easily be cut.

What’s great about using works in the public domain is that their are no copyright laws on it so you can hack it and change it as much as you want. A director can easily whittle away text so that the script fits their concept of the show. Their are some lines that are often taken out just because they’re more or less unintelligible. If a modern audience won’t get it why should they listen to it?

Some aren’t so happy about cutting Shakespeare’s plays left and right. They may claim that the work is “genius, and should remain unaltered!” And maybe perhaps say “You wouldn’t cut anything out of Einstein’s work, why Shakespeare’s?” Well most people aren’t going to pay to see Einstein’s work onstage for 2 hours.

If the reason to cut is because a producer knows that an audience won’t sit through a 3 hour production, or because the director needs to let go of a few speeches to fit the setting they decided on, or they want to change the ending, so be it. The fact is that it’s art. Live art. Think of it as Jazz music. Old tunes are picked up, things taken out, things put in, other things changed. It’s art: you don’t have to like it.

When I’m sitting through a production and I recognize that certain parts are cut, I ask myself: does it work? If I find justification for leaving it out — it didn’t fit in the concept, the portrayal of the character, it was an obscure reference, confusing text, or didn’t move the plot forward — then it worked. If I find myself questioning the director’s choice and it takes me out of the action and into my head it probably didn’t work so well. The best is when I don’t notice anything missing at all because I’m so engrossed in a great show. That always works for me.