Why not Shorten Shakespeare Plays

Sly:

“Well, well see’t. Come, madam wife, sit by my side, and let the

world slip, we shall ne’er be younger.”

These words, spoken in the introduction of “The Taming of the Shrew,” condenses the feeling many people have toward the plays of Shakespeare – time passes quickly, and most of us don’t have the time (or take the time) to understand the Bard in the fullness of his writing. It has become common practice to condense, to paraphrase, and to contextualize the classic nature of Shakespeare’s plays as to “give” them to a modern, less patient audience.

The problem with this thought is that it somehow cheapens the very nature of what Shakespeare is. Studied for centuries as the mean of drama, shortening these works of literary art removes vital organs that give them their timelessness, and their beauty. As a word smith, Shakespeare was not accidental in either his word choice, his humor, or his plot line. Picking and choosing parts of, say, “Romeo and Juliet” will get across the main theme of star-crossed, suicidal lovers. But what of the tension between family relationships? What of the angst felt by the families, realizing their stubbornness has driven the youngsters to their deaths?

A sophomorish understanding of these great works can easily surmize them in shortened, less burdensome pieces. But what things would be lost – things that are crucial to keeping these plays “great”? True, simplifying these plays by amputating certain pieces do make them attainable to those not willing to work hard to understand the Bard. Is what is gained greater, however, than what is lost in the process?

In my experience, those that study great literature often sell amateur students short when they make decisions to sacrifice the whole for easily attainable, partial comprehension. Most students, when given the time and the guidance, find the complete works rich and rewarding. Plus, there’s a certain satisfaction, the “ah-ha” moment when, after wrestling with “Othello” or “The Merchant of Venice,” a student reaches a point of understanding that opens the entire play up to them. And, like so many other “treats,” once a student comes to understanding Shakespeare, they often are thirsty for more.

In my opinion, the worst “effect” of shortening the plays of Shakespeare is cheapening them for future generations. These great works, which have stood the test of time, stand as good literature because of their multiplicity. To shorten them, to pick and choose parts that make Shakespeare seemingly more attainable, robs the author of his richness, and robs the reader of the experience.