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Submitted by: Jennifer Stover
As an educator of the arts and humanities, I wanted to share this article about performing a concise, but meaningful version of Shakespeare for a Shakespeare Festival, for times when a full Shakespearean production is far too long.
You’re a teacher looking for a shorter version of Shakespeare to perform with your students, something more manageable. You’re a writer with a particular play in mind to adapt but don’t know where to start.
You want to perform Shakespeare in a festival with a time limit. You’re a theatre company that wants to put on Hamlet, but not all four hours of it.
There are many reasons to edit Shakespeare. But where you do start? How do you keep the integrity of the piece intact? How do you know what should stay and what goes?
Here are three elements to consider for a pared down Bard.
ONE: Know the story inside-out.
Study the full play in detail. You need to know exactly how the story is told and when important pieces of plot are revealed. Act IV scene vii of Hamlet has a lengthy, lengthy dialogue between Claudius and Laertes and it may seem on the surface an easy scene to cut. Until you realize it’s the only place the poisoned sword is mentioned. Be aware of holes you might be creating in the story by removing text. Be frivolous with your cuts and you’ll find yourself with a patchwork quilt instead of a cohesive piece.
TWO: Decide what’s essential to the story and to your production.
These are two distinct elements. First, make a list of essential scenes and moments. For example, it’s hard to do Hamlet without ‘to be or not to be,’ your audience will notice! What must be in the adaptation? What must be there to tell the story?
And then, think about the direction of your production. With Hamlet for example, it may be to focus solely on Hamlet’s journey? If so then the Fortinbras sections an easy cut. Are you more interested in the politics of the situation? Then Fortinbras should stay in. If you know exactly why you’re cutting, it give the process a purpose. Always have a purpose for making cuts, and never just slash for time.
THREE: Decide on your faithfulness level.
This is in direct reference to Shakespeare’s verse structure. Are you going to keep everything in it’s proper metre? Are you more interested in the character and story and could care less about iambic pentameter? Both these options will give you a much different path toward the cuts. Think about who is going to be performing the cut – professionals? Student actors? How big a part do they play in your faithfulness to Shakespeare’s structure?
In the end, have respect for the text. Cutting Shakespeare into a concise version geared specially for a Shakespeare Festival is not an easy task. It takes time and you can do more harm than good. You can also create a lean, efficient script that highlights Shakespeare at his absolute best.
About the Author: If you’ve enjoyed all the exciting information you read here about producing a concise, yet authentic Shakespeare Festival, you’ll love everything else you find at