Editing Shakespeare

It is truly unfortunate that the concept of the novel was not around in Elizabethan Britain. Shakespeare’s work is cherished by academics all over the world as some of the finest storytelling in history, but does that make it good entertaining theatre for a modern audience? In it’s current unedited state, it does not appear to be.

If we look at his structure for creating characters, it becomes clear rather quickly that Shakespeare did not want to leave much to the imagination. This is largely because of his audience, which was far more uneducated than we encounter in the 21st century. The reason Shakespeare’s play are so long is because of this as well, every detail is laid out for the audience to absorb. If we look to playwrights in other countries writing at this time, for example Lope De Vega, their plays are much shorter, two acts shorter in fact. It was standard practice in Spain for plays to be three acts, because the way of life was better during this period.

Once looking at Shakespeare in this context, it seems almost necessary to shorten and streamline the shows. An audience will quickly become board because there is too much exposition and the story does not progress at a steady pace. As beautiful Hamlet’s soliloquies are, modern playwright leave it up to the actor to express what took Shakespeare paragraphs to convey. This is not his fault, but theatre has evolved beyond the need for what he did.

Give the actor a chance to give the final two-thirds of the “To be or not to be” speech through how he delivers the first third, that is what will keep an audience engaged, Hamlet contemplates for a short bit and then we move on. Look through any of his works and you will find an almost absurd amount of repetition of plot points and character traits, so his audience won’t forget. But our audiences will simply find it annoying and judge the show harshly because of it.

Overall, Shakespeare created some phenomenal worlds and epic characters but his delivery of them is very specific to his time. Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard, these characters are gods among men in their respective worlds. If we wish people to continue to appreciate his words we must tighten the story to keep our audiences from becoming bored and continuing the story. Only then will the Bard’s work continue to captivate audiences like it did in his time and live on past the next few generations.