Cutting one of Shakespeare’s plays is a common practice for obvious reasons: many of them are long. Not everyone has the patience for a three and a half hour (or more) Hamlet. Performing an uncut version of one of The Bard’s plays is in fact uncommon. But if you ever see an CUT version of The Comedy of Errors – Shakespeare’s shortest play – the director is probably crazy or is performing for an entire crowd with Attention Deficit Disorder.
But what happens to a play when we cut the tail end off of it? What is changed when the resolution of the conflict is ended but there is no return to a new or the old stasis? It might put a different spin on what the full play is showing. For example: after Romeo and Juliet kill themselves there is still another 125 lines of text consisting of Friar Laurence, the kids’ families, the Prince, and others coming to the scene. The incredulous spectators of this horrible event listen to the Friar tell how it all came to pass; Lord Montague and Capulet, in their grief, put aside their differences and end their feud; the Prince wraps everything up with a nice speech ending in a rhyming couplet.
In an uncut ending of this play, the audience is not left to think that this play “glorifies teenage suicide,” as it is often critisized of doing. We are made to see how this terrible tragedy affects the families of the two deceased. At the same time, the feuding heads of the family have to deal with the consequences of their fighting. Like at the end of most tragedies, we get some sort of an answer to the question, “How far is too far?”
How often do you see all this produced? In many of the movie versions and on stage this scene has quite a bit of text sheared from its body. Lets say a production were to have Juliet stab herself, blackout. This leaves the audience with less closure. Hopefully the director has a few notes in the program about what her/she was trying to do with the production, in case anyone is confused. But this ending elicits a host of different things to think about at the end of the show. I won’t say that this is better or worse, it is an option for anyone putting on this play.
The same goes for any of Shakespeare’s plays, but I won’t discuss them all. Just one more: Hamlet. After Hamlet dies, Fortinbras comes in and claims the throne; The English Ambassador comes to tell us that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead; Horatio will speak to the people about how this happened, etc. What if we don’t see anymore after “Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”? Maybe the director has cut out most the Fortinbras storyline, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to show up. Maybe they wanted to leave us thinking about the sort of tottering state Denmark would be in after the entire royal family has been killed.
There aren’t any concrete answers to these questions I bring up, just some food for thought. Directors should be mindful of what effect your cuts might have. Audience members – be aware of the effect the conclusion of a play or movie has on you. What are you left thinking, wondering, guessing? And how does that affect your enjoyment of a production?
All’s well that ends well; still the fine’s the crown;
Whate’er the course, the end is the renown.
– All’s Well That Ends Well (IV.iv)
The great potential that classic drama has to changes like this to create different responses is what really lets creativity soar sometimes, and maybe less desirable effects at other times. If you have any thoughts on this please comment and continue the discussion! I’d love to hear your thoughts too.