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TOPIC: Any tips for cutting Hamlet?

Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 4 weeks ago #6850

I seriously wish I could do this entire text completely uncut. But alas, I must cut it down to two and a half hours. :S :(

So, I intend to direct a production of Hamlet this year. I'm editing. And editing. And editing. And coming close to banging my head against the wall. First of all, how do you TIME YOUR SCRIPT? Do you have any other tips besides just reading it and timing how long it took?

I read what I cut (and added in any pauses and stuff like that) and I think it's only about 20 minutes or so I cut out.

I also gotta remember to factor in things like scene changes.

Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks very much.
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 4 weeks ago #6851

  • Ron Severdia
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It's not an easy task. The full version of Hamlet has just over 4,000 lines and that's just over 4 hours long if you assume that the rate at which actors are "supposed to" speak it is accurate (around 1000 lines/hour).

Since you have scene changes and possibly an intermission to take into consideration, you're probably looking at cutting the play in half to around 2,000 lines. I've seen a production cut to this length (no intermission) and it was a pretty bad cut.

Rosencrantz & Guidenstern can go. The gravedigging scene can be cut down. The players and Mousetrap can be cut down. I'm sure it can be done, but it's going to take some careful work.
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 3 weeks ago #6852

Another possibility is to do what the RSC intended to do for David Tennant, before they changed their mind, which is to look at the First Quarto (the 'Bad' Quarto). It's a lot shorter and more streamlined, though the text isn't as good; but you can essentially take the good lines from a later edition and put them together in the bad quarto order. That's a bit more work than just cutting, though, and I don't know if anyone's published a version like that you could look at. But it makes for a much quicker and more energetic play.

Other than that, as Ron says, R&G can go, though it's not ideal, and so can the 2nd Gravedigger (you just have Hamlet come across the Gravedigger as he's singing). Everything relating to Fortinbras can be removed, though that means you lose 'How all occasions do inform against me'. You could do what Olivier's film did and cut the play-within-a-play to just the dumb show. Reynaldo can go, along with Valtemand. Essentially, the politics can vanish. Beyond that, it's very much a case of choosing lines that can go. But as I say, the first quarto (you can find it here: internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Annex/Texts/Ham/Q1M/default/) can provide a good guide.
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 3 weeks ago #6853

  • Ron Severdia
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You can also get the Q1 from our library here:

www.playshakespeare.com/library/cat_view/430-hamlet-documents

:)
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 3 weeks ago #6854

  • Hugh
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We -- Baltimore Shakespeare Factory -- cut only 200 lines and did it in less than 2.5 hrs, and Still had time for a nice long fight scene. Just use the verse, keep the pick-ups tight, and use original performance conditions wherever possible, e.g., have entrances and lines start on the prev scene's end line without waiting for actors to clear, minimal set and therefore minimal set changes, and don't let anybody be self-indulgent.
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 3 weeks ago #6855

You can also get the Q1 from our library here:

True, but that's somewhat less legible.
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 2 weeks ago #6859

Hugh wrote:
We -- Baltimore Shakespeare Factory -- cut only 200 lines and did it in less than 2.5 hrs, and Still had time for a nice long fight scene. Just use the verse, keep the pick-ups tight, and use original performance conditions wherever possible, e.g., have entrances and lines start on the prev scene's end line without waiting for actors to clear, minimal set and therefore minimal set changes, and don't let anybody be self-indulgent.

That may be the amount of lines I've cut. Good to know!

Do you think it's feasible to cut the lines where R and G are getting back to the King after they've observed Hamlet. (The scene that starts with "And can you by no drift of conference...") I'm wondering if I can get away with it since at that point in the play we've already established that the King is using R and G to spy on him and Hamlet figured it out.

I'm also thinking about cutting a lot out of the part where Hamlet and his friends swear on the sword. They can still swear on the sword but I can cut out all the instances where the Ghost moves around and just skip to "Rest, rest perturbed spirit". (But I'd still squeeze in "there are more things in Heaven and earth").

Thoughts?
:dry:
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 1 week ago #6861

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After previous posting, I went back and looked and I misinformed you somewhat. We did cut more like 600 lines, but on the other hand we ran in 2 hrs 10 min! So I wasn't far off in sum.

I'd hate to cut the "Can you by no drift of circumstance ..." scene, because it's important in Claudius' progression to the point where he feels like he has to off Hamlet. Also it sets up the importance of "THE PLAYERS!" And then of course the irony that Claudius thinks the play will be an entertainment and the exercise will distract Hamlet from whatever is bothering him.

The swearing scene doesn't save you much and it's an opportunity for comedy, with the soldiers' reaction to the disembodied voice, and for reinforcing the idea that ghost were very real for these people -- if that's the interpretation you plan. You could keep that effect and cut some of Hamlet's "Rest old worm, .."

Are you cutting the "What forces are these?" lines? Some interpretation still need these because of Fortinbras' intent: Does he mean to keep his promise to his uncle? This, to me seems like something you have to decide; it's not "actors' business."

Can you think about cutting lines and parts of speeches, more than looking for whole scenes and blocks of speech to cut? What are your budget and casting limitations? Can you preserve all the characters?

Although we didn't do it, probably because we had a great Polonius, I'd think about cutting some of his bullshit. You and he can establish his personality and relationships to the other characters with fewer lines. If you want him to be a complete idiot, and keep blather for comedic effect, fine, but then you have to decide why Claudius and Gerte keep him around.

This is such a great play. I hope you enjoy every part of your experience.
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 1 week ago #6862

Hugh wrote:
After previous posting, I went back and looked and I misinformed you somewhat. We did cut more like 600 lines, but on the other hand we ran in 2 hrs 10 min! So I wasn't far off in sum.

I'd hate to cut the "Can you by no drift of circumstance ..." scene, because it's important in Claudius' progression to the point where he feels like he has to off Hamlet. Also it sets up the importance of "THE PLAYERS!" And then of course the irony that Claudius thinks the play will be an entertainment and the exercise will distract Hamlet from whatever is bothering him.

The swearing scene doesn't save you much and it's an opportunity for comedy, with the soldiers' reaction to the disembodied voice, and for reinforcing the idea that ghost were very real for these people -- if that's the interpretation you plan. You could keep that effect and cut some of Hamlet's "Rest old worm, .."

Are you cutting the "What forces are these?" lines? Some interpretation still need these because of Fortinbras' intent: Does he mean to keep his promise to his uncle? This, to me seems like something you have to decide; it's not "actors' business."

Can you think about cutting lines and parts of speeches, more than looking for whole scenes and blocks of speech to cut? What are your budget and casting limitations? Can you preserve all the characters?

Although we didn't do it, probably because we had a great Polonius, I'd think about cutting some of his bullshit. You and he can establish his personality and relationships to the other characters with fewer lines. If you want him to be a complete idiot, and keep blather for comedic effect, fine, but then you have to decide why Claudius and Gerte keep him around.

This is such a great play. I hope you enjoy every part of your experience.

I worked on the "can you by no drift" scene and just decided to cut part of it. I kept in the first two replies by R and G. My justification for that (and I realize this is all relitive) is that I've established how important the play within the play is and the play within the play itself will show that.

As for Fortinbras, I can't even begin to stress this enough, absolutely nothing will be cut from him and because of that I have to keep in the "what forces are these" lines. (I'm assuming you mean when Hamlet asks Fortinbras' man "who's powers are these"). I have to digress for a second and say how much I ABSOLUTELY HATE IT when directors cut out Fortinbras. I could talk all day about that. I wrote a lengthy essay about that in one of my college courses about Shakespeare and got an A. I plan to have that essay on display at the showings of the play. B)

I really REALLY don't wanna cut the "old mole" scene because there's a really good effect I wanna use (assuming I get the budget for it). Oh, and expect me to post a kickstarter video in the next month or so. :whistle:
I've thought about cutting some stuff that Hamlet says to Gertrude after he killed Polonious.

I think at this point I have to find sections of dialogue that can go. I'm gonna read it and say to myself "ok, has this point been made in the play at this point? If so, cut it". That's just what my instinct is telling me to do.

As far as lines I've cut roughly the same amount you've cut but how do you time it? I'm wondering if I could just read my cut of the play out loud the way I'm planning it to be performed and time how long that takes. I did that a couple weeks ago... and it was about 4 hours. But even so, how can I be sure that's accurate? :(
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Any tips for cutting Hamlet? 5 months 1 week ago #6863

  • Hugh
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It's clear you have some strong ideas, which should make for a strong production, and lots of interest for those familiar with the play. Good on you. But 4 hours! Whew -- sounds like the Kabuki version.

We think 2 hrs was standard in The Globe: "our two hours traffic on the stage." So beyond our own experience, other original performance condition companies do manage to cut modestly and perform within that time frame. I would refer you to The American Shakespeare Theater, Black Friars, Staunton VA.

That said, there are published likely running times per number lines, but I have found them excessive, if you are moving along and tight on the pick ups. Can you have several people read it for you, tell them to emphasize the verse, and time that? The verse makes it possible to go fast, because even if the audience only hears the stressed syllables, they "get it." e.g. "be not be is question" communicates the same content as "To be or not to be, that is the question." Try reading it that way and see if it's short enough.

Given your interest in Fortinbras, you may enjoy reading the Lee Blessing play by the same name about what happens next. I also enjoyed "Claudius and Gertrude" by John Updike, as I was trying to give Claud a human dimensionality.

I very much look forward to seeing your video clip.

Break a leg.
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