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How to play-read our Shakespeare plays

Click on each question below to see our answer to it:

Why use the Modern First Folio?

A First Folio version of a play has a number of advantages for people who are interested in Shakespeare’s plays as theatre rather than as poetry:

  • The First Folio was based on the ‘prompt’ books from the first production. This means the text is closest to the plays as they were first performed, (probably with Shakespeare in the cast), rather than how they were first written, which is what interests most academics rather than ‘players’.
  • Many editions of Shakespeare conflate text from the First Folio and Quartos. This can confuse the plot, and moves away from how they were first performed.
  • The First Folio punctuation and capitalisation is very helpful to players in understanding how Shakespeare wanted the lines played. Most other editions have ‘corrected’ both capitalization and punctuation.
  • Many professional theatres use the First Folio as the starting point for their scripts. This has been recommended by  Peter Hall and John Barton of the RSC, and Prof. Jonathan Bate.

The First Folio suffers from one serious disadvantage. It’s rather difficult to read as the spelling is Elizabethan which is quite different from modern English. That is why our ‘Modern First Folio’ edition modernizes the spelling of each play (and also provides it on ‘modern’ media – ebooks and pdfs). You will find further details  of how we have done this in each play.

How does MFFE capitalization help the actor and director?

When acting or directing Shakespeare, I find I need as much help as I can to understand what the text says. Now I’m not talking about intention here, or any Stanislavskian techniques, all of which can help. I am just looking at the text and wondering what it is trying to say. It is mostly not easy to work that out, and if the text can give me help, I grab it gratefully.

So what’s the difference between a modern edition of Shakespeare and the MFFE. Below you’ll find the same small piece from Henry Vth – the beginning of the Prologue to Act Two, first as Arden presents it, and then how it is in the MFFE. I am not trying to get at Arden in any way. I’m using it as an example because it’s the modern edition I prefer to use. Other modern editions use the same capitalization.

Right, so now read the following seven lines in Arden’s Third Series version:

Henry V, Act Two – PROLOGUE (Arden)

Enter Chorus

Chorus

Now all the youth of England are on fire,
And silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies.
Now thrive the armourers, and honour’s thought
Reigns solely in the breast of every man.
They sell the pasture now to buy the horse,
Following the mirror of all Christian kings,
With winged heels, as English Mercuries.

This seems pretty clear and not particularly difficult. Most actors should be able to read those lines without too much difficulty.

So now let’s look at the same speech in the MFFE.

Henry V, Act Two – Prologue (MFFE)

Flourish. Enter Chorus.

Chorus

Now all the Youth of England are on fire,
And silken Dalliance in the Wardrobe lies:
Now thrive the Armourers, and Honour’s thought
Reigns solely in the breast of every man.
They sell the Pasture now, to buy the Horse;
Following the Mirror of all Christian Kings,
With winged heels, as English Mercuries.

So what’s different? It’s the same words.

The obvious difference is that a lot more words are capitalized. It’s worth exploring them in more detail:

Let’s ignore ‘Youth of England’ – I don’t see anything useful to work on there, though there probably is.

Then:

Dalliance & Wordrobe, and in the next line Armourer’s & Honour.

Well that’s interesting – the text contrasts flirting and clothes, with armour and honour. Peace with war.

And then Pasture & (war)Horse

Again the same tension between peace (Pasture = agriculture) and war (war)Horse.

So the text uses opposites in this small bit of text to increase the tension between war and peace. That’s something I can work with when saying the speech.

“But what’s different”, I hear you cry, “the words are the same in both versions”. Of course you’re right, but the capitalization isn’t, and the capitals in the MFFE version help to point out words that I need to look at and think about.

Let’s take a longer piece from the Act 4 Chorus from the same play – the chorus before the Battle of Agincourt, as both armies prepare for battle.

 Henry V, Act Four – Chorus (MFFE)

Enter chorus

Chorus

Now entertain conjecture of a time,
When creeping Murmur and the poring Dark
Fills the wide Vessel of the Universe.
From Camp to Camp, through the foul Womb of Night
The Hum of either Army stilly sounds;
That the fixed Sentinels almost receive
The secret Whispers of each others’ Watch.
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each Battle sees the other’s umbered face.
Steed threatens Steed, in high and boastful Neighs
Piercing the Night’s dull Ear: and from the Tents,
The Armourers accomplishing the Knights,
With busy Hammers closing Rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation.
The Country Cocks do crow, the Clocks do toll:
And the third hour of drowsy Morning named,
Proud of their Numbers, and secure in Soul,
The confident and over-lusty French,
Do the low-rated English play at Dice;
And chide the cripple tardy-gated Night,
Who like a foul and ugly Witch doth limp
So tediously away. The poor condemned English,
Like Sacrifices, by their watchful Fires
Sit patiently, and inly ruminate
The Morning’s danger: and their gesture sad,
Investing lank-lean Cheeks, and War-worn Coats,
Presented them unto the gazing Moon
So many horrid Ghosts.

Now I don’t pretend to be capable of doing a detailed analysis of this piece of poetry, but here’s what springs out to me by looking at the Capitalization:

 Alliteration all over the place:

Camp to Camp
Whispers of each others’ Watch
Steed threatens Steed
The Country Cocks do crow, the Clocks do toll

 And then when you’ve spotted the capitalized alliteration, there’s others as well:

stilly sounds
chide the cripple

 And then the penny drops. It’s not the alliteration that matters, but the sounds of the phrases evoke the noises of the two armies preparing for the day and battle:

 The Armourers banging on the armour is heightened in the sound of:

‘The Country Cocks do crow, the Clocks do toll:’

The horses making sounds in the lightening day –

‘Steed threatens Steed, in high and boastful Neighs’

The men on watch whisper to each other

‘The secret Whispers of each others’ Watch.’

 Now I’ve got something to work on. I can make the speech a tone poem evoking the sound of the two armies preparation for battle. Of course I’ve still got to be careful to ‘Speak the speech’ as per Hamlet’s advice to the players, but the capitalization of the First Folio (retained in the MFFE) gives me a relatively easy way in to finding a way of thinking about the speech.

 Again, to repeat, there’s no real difference in the words in Arden and the MFFE, but the rather eccentric capitalization is really helpful for the Actor and the Director.

How do you edit a First Folio play for the Modern First Folio Edition?

The editing guidelines we apply to make the First Folio easily read by modern English readers are as follows.

  • Modernise the spelling of all words with a current equivalent
  • Where a modern equivalent does not exist, leave the First Folio word, and highlight it as something which needs to be considered when editing the play for production.
  • Change words which have changed meaning and spelling to their modern equivalent (e.g. each occurrence of ‘then’ has been changed to ‘than’ where that makes sense in the context).
  • Leave First Folio punctuation as it is
  • Leave First Folio capitalization as it is.
  • Add modern Act and Scene divisions, following Arden
  • Add apostrophes to words where that aids comprehension
  • Do not modernise words which are still well-understood (e.g. Hath is not changed to has)
  • Replace ‘&’ with ‘and’
  • Remove unnecessary hyphens in the middle of words
  • Change ‘I’ to ‘Ay’ where appropriate
  • Where necessary, shorten words with apostrophes to improve scansion.
  • Move some parts of lines to improve scansion
  • Some very obvious mistakes have been corrected (e.g. mis-allocation of lines)

It should be clear that many of these guidelines require judgement and is by no means clear that the best decisions have always been made. This edition is being published under a Creative Commons licence, and it is hoped that, as well as being free, this will encourage people to suggest changes to improve the text of all books in the edition, so that the edition continues to evolve.

Why do we need two new editions of Shakespeare?

The plays of Shakespeare are now over 400 years old, and are beginning to show their age.

Our modern culture (language, behaviour, beliefs) is quite different from Elizabethan culture, and for many people this makes the plays of Shakespeare in their original form too difficult to understand, and hence irrelevant to them.

Needless to say, we think Shakespeare is very relevant to the modern age. Along with the Authorised Version of the Bible, Shakespeare’s plays formed the language we speak and think in. In his plays he documents the birth of our modern culture based on Protestantism; capitalism (with the founding of the first joint stock companies); and the scientific revolution of Francis Bacon and others leading to the founding of the Royal Society in 1660.

In a play, the actors tell the audience a story. For a number of reasons, the stories that Shakespeare tells are capable of infinite re-telling and re-shaping. So a play which gripped and moved a C16 audience can be re-shaped to grip and move a C21 audience.

So how does a modern director of Shakespeare make his production of interest to a modern audience, whilst remain ‘true’ to Shakespeare’s play.

The approach we have adopted is to use the First Folio, together with information about the context at the time it was first performed as the starting point for understanding how Shakespeare’s audience would perceive the play.

As we cut and edit the play we look for correspondences in modern times which will help the audience to identify with the story of the play. The finalised script (if successful) becomes a part of the  ‘C21 Edition’. So the starting point for any play is the Modern First Folio and the result may be a C21 Edition script.

Some examples of this process may help.

As You Like It‘:

First a rather trivial example. A minor problem in ‘As You Like It‘ is that the exiled Duke and his followers decide to go and live in the forest. This seems rather unlikely. Mostly, people don’t go off to live in the forest. However in our own time (well, the 60s and 70s), the Hippies very much dropped out of society, and often went to live in rural settings. This gives rise to the idea of a production which sets Arden as a hippy encampment, and replaces the rather lovely Elizabethan folk songs, with equally lovely hippy songs.

We directed just such a version (to the delight of aging hippies) and plan to publish that version of ‘As You Like It‘ as part of the C21 Edition.

Macbeth‘:

Macbeth has a reputation for being such a difficult play that the theatrical profession really don’t like to mention its name. Very successful productions are difficult to think of.

In our view, the root causes of these problems are differences between our culture and Stuart culture . For example:

  • The witches, in the seventeenth century, were feared representatives of the devil, and were frequently burnt at the stake compared with the fairly child-like representation of evil they have today. James VI or 1st was so interested in them that he wrote a book about them.
  • The play was first performed less than two years after the Gun Powder Plot, which had the same sort of impact on Stuart society as 9/11 has had in our day. The emphasis on equivocation in the Porter’s speech; the discussion of the Devine Right of kings, and whether it is ever right to overthrow the king all heightened the interest in the play for the Stuart audience.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the second half of the play is, it has to be said, rather boring for a modern audience. Where the Stuart audience would be watching with fascination as Macbeth descends to hell, it has less interest to a modern audience who are less religious, and find the conflict between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the first half of the play far more interesting than Macbeth‘s descent into despair and death, despite the wonderful poetry. Macbeth is a play of two halves.

So how can we resolve these problems for a modern audience?

Let’s approach the problem of Macbeth as a play of two halves. Most audiences have an expectation that a play will follow the story of the hero from beginning to end. Hitchcok, in ‘Psycho’ creates confusion in the minds of his audience, by playing on this audience identification He kills off the person they have started to identify with in the shower.

Perhaps we can solve the difficulty with Macbeth by treating the first half of the play as the story of Macbeth‘s and Lady Macbeth‘s descent into evil, and the second half of the play as the overthrow of an evil man by good men. If we adopt this approach, how do we move the audience from identifying with Macbeth to identifying with Malcolm, Ross, and Macduff?

In our promenade performance of Macbeth we adopted this approach and made the following changes to shift the audience’s identification:

  •  Enhance the role of Seyton (?Satan) so that he becomes the evil henchman of Macbeth. He murders Banquo; the other murderers; reports back to Macbeth in the banquet scenem, and murders Lady Macduff. This emphasises the growing evil of Macbeth and his regime.
  • Cut A4S3 to remove the discussion of the English king’s sanctity and focus the scene on Malcolm and Ross and Macduff, bonding together when Macduff hears of his wife’s murder, so that they become committed to the overthrow of Macbeth, and the audience start to identify with our three heroes.
  • From A5S2, have the audience with the English forces, watching Macbeth in the distance, and in A5S4 they become English soldiers carrying boughs of Birnam wood, and continue as English soldiers until the end of the play, putting them in opposition to Macbeth, and on the side of Malcolm, Ross, and Macduff.

In production, the audience loved it. Cries of “I’m playing a soldier in the English army” came from all sides, and the audience seemed very happy with the play. Macbeth as a problem play had disappeared

Whatever you think of the directorial choices, perhaps we could agree that this version of the play might be better suited to the C21 Edition, that the Modern First Folio.

 

Why do I need to edit a Shakespeare play?

The major things that drive the need for editing or cutting a Shakespeare play are outlined below:

Length of performance:

In the Prologue of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, there is talk of ‘Two hours traffic  of our stage’ and this is not a bad rule of thumb for the length of a show. The last thing you want to happen during your run, however excellent the show, is for the audience to be thinking ‘When oh when is this going to end?’ Two hours is quite long for most people’s attention span.

I have directed outdoor Promenade performances in the evening.  The play starts at 7:30pm (the cast can’t get there and ready earlier). It’s getting dark by 10:00pm (pitch black by 10:30pm) and the audience need a 20 minute break. The play can’t be longer than 2 hours (or 20,000 words of script in my environment – another useful rule of thumb), so I have to keep cutting until I get to the magic 20,000 words.

Most uncut Shakespeare First Folio plays would run at much more than two hours. Those Elizabethans must have spoken a lot faster than we do!

 Repetition:

An Elizabethan audience seems to have listened far less intently to a play than modern audiences. They were in the open air and could see each other. Their attention could be diverted by seeing a friend; someone of power and influence; a pretty girl (or boy).

Perhaps for this reason, Shakespeare often repeats ideas and plot elements in the hopes that the audience will pick them up at least once. Repetition maybe within a speech (Twelfth Night adopts this approach, as does Troilus and Cressdia) or may occur in different scenes entirely.

With a modern audience’s more focused attention on the play, a lot of this repetition can be cut, and this perhaps gives us the most opportunity of getting down to a 20,000 word or 2 hour performance. However, we don’t want to lose all repetition. There’s much to be said for the speech-giver’s approach of “I’ll tell you what I’m going to tell you; tell you it; and then tell you what I told you”.

Audience entertainment:

We want to tell the audience a story and we want that story to be entertaining. There are some parts of even Shakespeare’s plays which are hard to make entertaining. If they get in the way of being entertaining, then I say cut them unless they are essential to the plot.

Audience understanding:

We want to tell the audience a story, and for that to happen effectively, they have to listen to it. Whenever they come across words that they don’t understand it has two bad effects. The audience don’t understand  the sentence with the word in it, and they miss probably at least the next two sentences as they wonder ‘What did that mean?” So we need to cut, or horror, even change it.

Of course these decisions are not easy. There’s a beautiful speech in ‘Twelfth Night’ where Viola describes the love triangle between her, Olivia, and Orsino. In the middle of the speech she says “How will this fadge?” A lovely word, fadge, but how many in your audience will know what it means. Do you? I didn’t. What to do? In my production I swithered between leaving it as “How will this fadge?” and “How will this work out?” with another change to make sure the line still scanned. Such decisions are part of what makes cutting the play take such a long time.

Conclusion:

So there you have it. Lots of reasons to edit even Shakespeare’s plays. Enjoy it! By editing the play to tell a story to the audience, you will deeply enrich your understanding of the play.

What makes the Modern First Folio modern?

The things which make the Modern First Folio ‘Modern’ are the following:

  • The spelling has been ‘modernised’ to fit twenty-first century usage. Note that the punctuation and capitalization are as in the First Folio. The punctuation and capitalization provide clues to the actor and director as to how Shakespeare wanted his lines to be spoken.
  • Plays in the Modern First Folio edition are available free for most e-readers (including Kindle, Nook, Applie iPhone and iPad, Android IPhone and iPad and .pdf). This allows a group of people to get together with different equipment to read the same script.
  • Plays in the Modern First Folio edition are available as editable documents in MS-Word and Open Office (Word) formats. This lets directors / editors cut the play to produce their own script.
  • Provided Players-Shakespeare.com’s guidelines are followed, edited scripts can be sent to Players-Shakespeare.com for conversion into supported e-reader formats.
  • The Modern First Folio edition will continue to evolve. We don’t believe we have got it right first time, and want it to be improved. Players-Shakespeare.com invites contributions from those interested to provide feedback on how it could be improved. (See MFF Feedback in the Feedback menu).
  • In addition Players-Shakespeare.com welcomes contributions from individuals with something to offer in the form of ‘Blog’ contributions, or plays derived from Shakespeare.

Who owns Players-Shakespeare.com?

Players-Shakespeare.com is owned by ‘The Director’ of the web-site.

Why should we read Shakespeare or watch his plays?

The simplest answer to this question is that Shakespeare has written some extraordinarily good stories, and that’s the best reason for reading him, watching him, or even perform in his plays.

A number of things get in the way of that:

  • The language is old and is getting more and more difficult to understand
  • At school many of us have had to study Shakespeare, instead of listening to the stories. Studying Shakespeare often kills people’s enjoyment in the stories.
  • Shakespeare is associated with ‘high culture’ which is off-putting for many.

Which equipment lets me read Players-Shakespeare.com books?

If you want to be able to read the Shakespeare plays available on Players-Shakespeare.com, they are available in a number of different formats:

  • Use a Web-browser to read the play online.

  • Download one of the scripts to an Apple iPad, iPhone, or MacIntosh using iBooks (free)

  • Download one of the scripts for an Android Smartphone or Tablet, using Google Play Books (free)

  • Download one of the scripts for an Amazon Kindle Fire, using their AZW3 reader (free)

  • Download one of the scripts for a Windows Laptop using Icecream, Calibre, or Sigil (all free)

  • Download one of the scripts and convert to PDF in Calibre and then print it.

Step 1: Make sure you have an appropriate piece of kit to read e-books on. The most likely are:

  • A Kindle (from Amazon): A dedicated e-reader. Other (probably less popular dedicated e-readers include the Nook and Kobo and many others. Players-Shakespeare.com’s ebooks have been tested on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.
  • Apple iPhones and iPads: Smartphones and Tablets which can run many applications (Apps) including e-reader software. The most common e-reader software is iBooks. Kindle and Nook applications will also run on iPhones and iPads. Players-Shakespeare.com’s
  • Android smartphones and tablets: Android (supplied by Google) smartphones and tablets run similar applications including e-reader software. Perhaps the most common e-reader apps are; Play (from Google,  Kindle software from Amazon, Nook, from Barnes and Noble, and Moon+ Reader Pro (an independent software supplier). Players-Shakespeare.com’s ebooks have been tested on Play, Kindle, Nook, and Moon+ Reader Pro on an Android smartphone (Nexus 4) and an Android tablet (Nexus 7).
  • A host of other e-readers, many of which are supported by Adobe Digital Editions (ADE)
  • PCs (running Windows 7 and 8; Ubuntu) and Macs, running e-reader software, including Kindle and Nook. Playeers-Shakespeare.com’s ebooks have been tested on Windows PCs and Ubuntu PCs running Kindle and Nook.

Step 2: Make sure you the e-reader software you want to use is installed on your equipment.

Step 3: Download the e-books you require from Players-Shakespeare.com and make sure the e-reader software can find them and read them.

Each of these steps is explored in other FAQs on this web-site.

What you can do using our play-reading facilities

We hold the scripts of Shakespeare’s plays in a format which allows you to do things which are not easy to do with more standard formats of scripts. The additional things you can do include:

Cast Lists:

  • There will be multiple cast lists for different numbers of play-readers. Typically, there will be castings for 6 – 12 players, and one further casting, which is the original casting as it was played in the Elizabethan or Jacobean era. This will usually have somewhere between 16 and 25 players
  • Each cast liar allocates all the speaking roles in the play to the players in that cast list. Typically this means that each player will have one ‘principal’ role and a number of minor parts. These parts are allocated to try and make the number of lines for each player as similar as possible, and also to minimise the same player speaking to themselves in different roles.
  • A word of warning about cast lists. It is very important that everyone in a playreading is using the same cast list, which should be for the number of players in the play-reading. The most common problems which occur with play-readings using cast list is when:
    • Different players are using player nos from different castings (when the same minor part may be allocated to different players), or
    • The play-reading group use a cast list which is for more players than are present, in which case, some of the characters will not be allocated to anyone to read.

Play-reading format:

Plays may be play-read in a number of different formats:

  • Round-robin: In a round-robin format (typically for 2 – 5 readers), each player reads one speech of the play, and then the next player reads the following speech. This means that no player speaks any one character’s speeches.
  • Highlit Text:  This format is used with a cast list. The whole play is shown to the player, and speeches for the characters played by that reader, are highlit in colour. The speeches for different characters are in different colours, to make it easier to identify different characters. Every player reads through the whole play, and each individual player speak s when they come to a speech which is highlit.
  • Parts and Cues: In this format (similar to the scripts that Elizabethan actors  weree given), the player is only shown the lines for the characters which he is playing – plus the last three words of the previous speech to act as a cue. Stage Directions are also displayed. If you read a part in this format, it means you have to pay attention, listening out for your next cue. If you run a play-reading with most of the players using Parts and Cues format, it is helpful if one or more players read the play in Highlit Text format, so they can act as prompt if the play-reading falls apart.

Play media:

The play can be read in one on three main media:

  • On the Internet (WWW): If you go to the Home Page of Players-Shakespeare.com (https://players-shakespeare.com/) you will find a table of the plays we have already published in this format. If you click on the title of a play that interests you, you will be taken to that play script. You can use the cast list links in the index to the right of the script, (or after thes cript on smartphones) or the setup wheel, to choose the role you want to play. Everyone in a play-reading can do this.
  • On an e-reader: If you select a cast list from the index to a play, you can download an epub  of the play, customised for a particular player in a cast list. These epubs can be loaded into most common e-readers, including
    –   Apple iPads, iPhones, Mackintoshes running iBooks (free)
    –   Android Smartphones and tablets running Google Play Books (free)
    –   Amazon Kindle Fire using their AZW3 reader (free)
    –   Windows laptops running the Icecream e-reader (free), or Calibre (free) or Sigil (free)The details of how to load  a Players-Shakespeare.com epub into these different environments are covered in subsquent questions in this FAQ.
  • On paper: A downloaded epub can be loaded into Calibre (a free e-book  library management softwarae package) and converted to PDF format in US letter, or European A4 format, and then printed (on a colour printer, if printing a Highlit Text format script).

Play-readings can be run with different players using different media. It is perfectly feasible to have some players using the Internet-based script; some players using e-readers; and some players using paper scripts.

It is, perhaps, easier to run a play-reading with everyone using a web-browser. However, although be slightly more difficult to use e-readers, there are significant advantages with that approach:

  • The play-reading is not affected by the performance of the Internet
  • There is more variety in the fonts available and the font sizes, which makes the text adjustable to user taste
  • Most people can use their ‘favourite’ e-reader software which they are familiar with.

Other sections of this FAQ provide technical details of how to access the scripts using these different media.

 

 

 

Why use the Modern First Folio?

A First Folio version of a play has a number of advantages for people who are interested in Shakespeare’s plays as theatre rather than as poetry:

  • The First Folio was based on the ‘prompt’ books from the first production. This means the text is closest to the plays as they were first performed, (probably with Shakespeare in the cast), rather than how they were first written, which is what interests most academics rather than ‘players’.
  • Many editions of Shakespeare conflate text from the First Folio and Quartos. This can confuse the plot, and moves away from how they were first performed.
  • The First Folio punctuation and capitalisation is very helpful to players in understanding how Shakespeare wanted the lines played. Most other editions have ‘corrected’ both capitalization and punctuation.
  • Many professional theatres use the First Folio as the starting point for their scripts. This has been recommended by  Peter Hall and John Barton of the RSC, and Prof. Jonathan Bate.

The First Folio suffers from one serious disadvantage. It’s rather difficult to read as the spelling is Elizabethan which is quite different from modern English. That is why our ‘Modern First Folio’ edition modernizes the spelling of each play (and also provides it on ‘modern’ media – ebooks and pdfs). You will find further details  of how we have done this in each play.

How does MFFE capitalization help the actor and director?

When acting or directing Shakespeare, I find I need as much help as I can to understand what the text says. Now I’m not talking about intention here, or any Stanislavskian techniques, all of which can help. I am just looking at the text and wondering what it is trying to say. It is mostly not easy to work that out, and if the text can give me help, I grab it gratefully.

So what’s the difference between a modern edition of Shakespeare and the MFFE. Below you’ll find the same small piece from Henry Vth – the beginning of the Prologue to Act Two, first as Arden presents it, and then how it is in the MFFE. I am not trying to get at Arden in any way. I’m using it as an example because it’s the modern edition I prefer to use. Other modern editions use the same capitalization.

Right, so now read the following seven lines in Arden’s Third Series version:

Henry V, Act Two – PROLOGUE (Arden)

Enter Chorus

Chorus

Now all the youth of England are on fire,
And silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies.
Now thrive the armourers, and honour’s thought
Reigns solely in the breast of every man.
They sell the pasture now to buy the horse,
Following the mirror of all Christian kings,
With winged heels, as English Mercuries.

This seems pretty clear and not particularly difficult. Most actors should be able to read those lines without too much difficulty.

So now let’s look at the same speech in the MFFE.

Henry V, Act Two – Prologue (MFFE)

Flourish. Enter Chorus.

Chorus

Now all the Youth of England are on fire,
And silken Dalliance in the Wardrobe lies:
Now thrive the Armourers, and Honour’s thought
Reigns solely in the breast of every man.
They sell the Pasture now, to buy the Horse;
Following the Mirror of all Christian Kings,
With winged heels, as English Mercuries.

So what’s different? It’s the same words.

The obvious difference is that a lot more words are capitalized. It’s worth exploring them in more detail:

Let’s ignore ‘Youth of England’ – I don’t see anything useful to work on there, though there probably is.

Then:

Dalliance & Wordrobe, and in the next line Armourer’s & Honour.

Well that’s interesting – the text contrasts flirting and clothes, with armour and honour. Peace with war.

And then Pasture & (war)Horse

Again the same tension between peace (Pasture = agriculture) and war (war)Horse.

So the text uses opposites in this small bit of text to increase the tension between war and peace. That’s something I can work with when saying the speech.

“But what’s different”, I hear you cry, “the words are the same in both versions”. Of course you’re right, but the capitalization isn’t, and the capitals in the MFFE version help to point out words that I need to look at and think about.

Let’s take a longer piece from the Act 4 Chorus from the same play – the chorus before the Battle of Agincourt, as both armies prepare for battle.

 Henry V, Act Four – Chorus (MFFE)

Enter chorus

Chorus

Now entertain conjecture of a time,
When creeping Murmur and the poring Dark
Fills the wide Vessel of the Universe.
From Camp to Camp, through the foul Womb of Night
The Hum of either Army stilly sounds;
That the fixed Sentinels almost receive
The secret Whispers of each others’ Watch.
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each Battle sees the other’s umbered face.
Steed threatens Steed, in high and boastful Neighs
Piercing the Night’s dull Ear: and from the Tents,
The Armourers accomplishing the Knights,
With busy Hammers closing Rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation.
The Country Cocks do crow, the Clocks do toll:
And the third hour of drowsy Morning named,
Proud of their Numbers, and secure in Soul,
The confident and over-lusty French,
Do the low-rated English play at Dice;
And chide the cripple tardy-gated Night,
Who like a foul and ugly Witch doth limp
So tediously away. The poor condemned English,
Like Sacrifices, by their watchful Fires
Sit patiently, and inly ruminate
The Morning’s danger: and their gesture sad,
Investing lank-lean Cheeks, and War-worn Coats,
Presented them unto the gazing Moon
So many horrid Ghosts.

Now I don’t pretend to be capable of doing a detailed analysis of this piece of poetry, but here’s what springs out to me by looking at the Capitalization:

 Alliteration all over the place:

Camp to Camp
Whispers of each others’ Watch
Steed threatens Steed
The Country Cocks do crow, the Clocks do toll

 And then when you’ve spotted the capitalized alliteration, there’s others as well:

stilly sounds
chide the cripple

 And then the penny drops. It’s not the alliteration that matters, but the sounds of the phrases evoke the noises of the two armies preparing for the day and battle:

 The Armourers banging on the armour is heightened in the sound of:

‘The Country Cocks do crow, the Clocks do toll:’

The horses making sounds in the lightening day –

‘Steed threatens Steed, in high and boastful Neighs’

The men on watch whisper to each other

‘The secret Whispers of each others’ Watch.’

 Now I’ve got something to work on. I can make the speech a tone poem evoking the sound of the two armies preparation for battle. Of course I’ve still got to be careful to ‘Speak the speech’ as per Hamlet’s advice to the players, but the capitalization of the First Folio (retained in the MFFE) gives me a relatively easy way in to finding a way of thinking about the speech.

 Again, to repeat, there’s no real difference in the words in Arden and the MFFE, but the rather eccentric capitalization is really helpful for the Actor and the Director.

How do you edit a First Folio play for the Modern First Folio Edition?

The editing guidelines we apply to make the First Folio easily read by modern English readers are as follows.

  • Modernise the spelling of all words with a current equivalent
  • Where a modern equivalent does not exist, leave the First Folio word, and highlight it as something which needs to be considered when editing the play for production.
  • Change words which have changed meaning and spelling to their modern equivalent (e.g. each occurrence of ‘then’ has been changed to ‘than’ where that makes sense in the context).
  • Leave First Folio punctuation as it is
  • Leave First Folio capitalization as it is.
  • Add modern Act and Scene divisions, following Arden
  • Add apostrophes to words where that aids comprehension
  • Do not modernise words which are still well-understood (e.g. Hath is not changed to has)
  • Replace ‘&’ with ‘and’
  • Remove unnecessary hyphens in the middle of words
  • Change ‘I’ to ‘Ay’ where appropriate
  • Where necessary, shorten words with apostrophes to improve scansion.
  • Move some parts of lines to improve scansion
  • Some very obvious mistakes have been corrected (e.g. mis-allocation of lines)

It should be clear that many of these guidelines require judgement and is by no means clear that the best decisions have always been made. This edition is being published under a Creative Commons licence, and it is hoped that, as well as being free, this will encourage people to suggest changes to improve the text of all books in the edition, so that the edition continues to evolve.

Why do we need two new editions of Shakespeare?

The plays of Shakespeare are now over 400 years old, and are beginning to show their age.

Our modern culture (language, behaviour, beliefs) is quite different from Elizabethan culture, and for many people this makes the plays of Shakespeare in their original form too difficult to understand, and hence irrelevant to them.

Needless to say, we think Shakespeare is very relevant to the modern age. Along with the Authorised Version of the Bible, Shakespeare’s plays formed the language we speak and think in. In his plays he documents the birth of our modern culture based on Protestantism; capitalism (with the founding of the first joint stock companies); and the scientific revolution of Francis Bacon and others leading to the founding of the Royal Society in 1660.

In a play, the actors tell the audience a story. For a number of reasons, the stories that Shakespeare tells are capable of infinite re-telling and re-shaping. So a play which gripped and moved a C16 audience can be re-shaped to grip and move a C21 audience.

So how does a modern director of Shakespeare make his production of interest to a modern audience, whilst remain ‘true’ to Shakespeare’s play.

The approach we have adopted is to use the First Folio, together with information about the context at the time it was first performed as the starting point for understanding how Shakespeare’s audience would perceive the play.

As we cut and edit the play we look for correspondences in modern times which will help the audience to identify with the story of the play. The finalised script (if successful) becomes a part of the  ‘C21 Edition’. So the starting point for any play is the Modern First Folio and the result may be a C21 Edition script.

Some examples of this process may help.

As You Like It‘:

First a rather trivial example. A minor problem in ‘As You Like It‘ is that the exiled Duke and his followers decide to go and live in the forest. This seems rather unlikely. Mostly, people don’t go off to live in the forest. However in our own time (well, the 60s and 70s), the Hippies very much dropped out of society, and often went to live in rural settings. This gives rise to the idea of a production which sets Arden as a hippy encampment, and replaces the rather lovely Elizabethan folk songs, with equally lovely hippy songs.

We directed just such a version (to the delight of aging hippies) and plan to publish that version of ‘As You Like It‘ as part of the C21 Edition.

Macbeth‘:

Macbeth has a reputation for being such a difficult play that the theatrical profession really don’t like to mention its name. Very successful productions are difficult to think of.

In our view, the root causes of these problems are differences between our culture and Stuart culture . For example:

  • The witches, in the seventeenth century, were feared representatives of the devil, and were frequently burnt at the stake compared with the fairly child-like representation of evil they have today. James VI or 1st was so interested in them that he wrote a book about them.
  • The play was first performed less than two years after the Gun Powder Plot, which had the same sort of impact on Stuart society as 9/11 has had in our day. The emphasis on equivocation in the Porter’s speech; the discussion of the Devine Right of kings, and whether it is ever right to overthrow the king all heightened the interest in the play for the Stuart audience.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the second half of the play is, it has to be said, rather boring for a modern audience. Where the Stuart audience would be watching with fascination as Macbeth descends to hell, it has less interest to a modern audience who are less religious, and find the conflict between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the first half of the play far more interesting than Macbeth‘s descent into despair and death, despite the wonderful poetry. Macbeth is a play of two halves.

So how can we resolve these problems for a modern audience?

Let’s approach the problem of Macbeth as a play of two halves. Most audiences have an expectation that a play will follow the story of the hero from beginning to end. Hitchcok, in ‘Psycho’ creates confusion in the minds of his audience, by playing on this audience identification He kills off the person they have started to identify with in the shower.

Perhaps we can solve the difficulty with Macbeth by treating the first half of the play as the story of Macbeth‘s and Lady Macbeth‘s descent into evil, and the second half of the play as the overthrow of an evil man by good men. If we adopt this approach, how do we move the audience from identifying with Macbeth to identifying with Malcolm, Ross, and Macduff?

In our promenade performance of Macbeth we adopted this approach and made the following changes to shift the audience’s identification:

  •  Enhance the role of Seyton (?Satan) so that he becomes the evil henchman of Macbeth. He murders Banquo; the other murderers; reports back to Macbeth in the banquet scenem, and murders Lady Macduff. This emphasises the growing evil of Macbeth and his regime.
  • Cut A4S3 to remove the discussion of the English king’s sanctity and focus the scene on Malcolm and Ross and Macduff, bonding together when Macduff hears of his wife’s murder, so that they become committed to the overthrow of Macbeth, and the audience start to identify with our three heroes.
  • From A5S2, have the audience with the English forces, watching Macbeth in the distance, and in A5S4 they become English soldiers carrying boughs of Birnam wood, and continue as English soldiers until the end of the play, putting them in opposition to Macbeth, and on the side of Malcolm, Ross, and Macduff.

In production, the audience loved it. Cries of “I’m playing a soldier in the English army” came from all sides, and the audience seemed very happy with the play. Macbeth as a problem play had disappeared

Whatever you think of the directorial choices, perhaps we could agree that this version of the play might be better suited to the C21 Edition, that the Modern First Folio.

 

Why do I need to edit a Shakespeare play?

The major things that drive the need for editing or cutting a Shakespeare play are outlined below:

Length of performance:

In the Prologue of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, there is talk of ‘Two hours traffic  of our stage’ and this is not a bad rule of thumb for the length of a show. The last thing you want to happen during your run, however excellent the show, is for the audience to be thinking ‘When oh when is this going to end?’ Two hours is quite long for most people’s attention span.

I have directed outdoor Promenade performances in the evening.  The play starts at 7:30pm (the cast can’t get there and ready earlier). It’s getting dark by 10:00pm (pitch black by 10:30pm) and the audience need a 20 minute break. The play can’t be longer than 2 hours (or 20,000 words of script in my environment – another useful rule of thumb), so I have to keep cutting until I get to the magic 20,000 words.

Most uncut Shakespeare First Folio plays would run at much more than two hours. Those Elizabethans must have spoken a lot faster than we do!

 Repetition:

An Elizabethan audience seems to have listened far less intently to a play than modern audiences. They were in the open air and could see each other. Their attention could be diverted by seeing a friend; someone of power and influence; a pretty girl (or boy).

Perhaps for this reason, Shakespeare often repeats ideas and plot elements in the hopes that the audience will pick them up at least once. Repetition maybe within a speech (Twelfth Night adopts this approach, as does Troilus and Cressdia) or may occur in different scenes entirely.

With a modern audience’s more focused attention on the play, a lot of this repetition can be cut, and this perhaps gives us the most opportunity of getting down to a 20,000 word or 2 hour performance. However, we don’t want to lose all repetition. There’s much to be said for the speech-giver’s approach of “I’ll tell you what I’m going to tell you; tell you it; and then tell you what I told you”.

Audience entertainment:

We want to tell the audience a story and we want that story to be entertaining. There are some parts of even Shakespeare’s plays which are hard to make entertaining. If they get in the way of being entertaining, then I say cut them unless they are essential to the plot.

Audience understanding:

We want to tell the audience a story, and for that to happen effectively, they have to listen to it. Whenever they come across words that they don’t understand it has two bad effects. The audience don’t understand  the sentence with the word in it, and they miss probably at least the next two sentences as they wonder ‘What did that mean?” So we need to cut, or horror, even change it.

Of course these decisions are not easy. There’s a beautiful speech in ‘Twelfth Night’ where Viola describes the love triangle between her, Olivia, and Orsino. In the middle of the speech she says “How will this fadge?” A lovely word, fadge, but how many in your audience will know what it means. Do you? I didn’t. What to do? In my production I swithered between leaving it as “How will this fadge?” and “How will this work out?” with another change to make sure the line still scanned. Such decisions are part of what makes cutting the play take such a long time.

Conclusion:

So there you have it. Lots of reasons to edit even Shakespeare’s plays. Enjoy it! By editing the play to tell a story to the audience, you will deeply enrich your understanding of the play.

What makes the Modern First Folio modern?

The things which make the Modern First Folio ‘Modern’ are the following:

  • The spelling has been ‘modernised’ to fit twenty-first century usage. Note that the punctuation and capitalization are as in the First Folio. The punctuation and capitalization provide clues to the actor and director as to how Shakespeare wanted his lines to be spoken.
  • Plays in the Modern First Folio edition are available free for most e-readers (including Kindle, Nook, Applie iPhone and iPad, Android IPhone and iPad and .pdf). This allows a group of people to get together with different equipment to read the same script.
  • Plays in the Modern First Folio edition are available as editable documents in MS-Word and Open Office (Word) formats. This lets directors / editors cut the play to produce their own script.
  • Provided Players-Shakespeare.com’s guidelines are followed, edited scripts can be sent to Players-Shakespeare.com for conversion into supported e-reader formats.
  • The Modern First Folio edition will continue to evolve. We don’t believe we have got it right first time, and want it to be improved. Players-Shakespeare.com invites contributions from those interested to provide feedback on how it could be improved. (See MFF Feedback in the Feedback menu).
  • In addition Players-Shakespeare.com welcomes contributions from individuals with something to offer in the form of ‘Blog’ contributions, or plays derived from Shakespeare.

Who owns Players-Shakespeare.com?

Players-Shakespeare.com is owned by ‘The Director’ of the web-site.

Why should we read Shakespeare or watch his plays?

The simplest answer to this question is that Shakespeare has written some extraordinarily good stories, and that’s the best reason for reading him, watching him, or even perform in his plays.

A number of things get in the way of that:

  • The language is old and is getting more and more difficult to understand
  • At school many of us have had to study Shakespeare, instead of listening to the stories. Studying Shakespeare often kills people’s enjoyment in the stories.
  • Shakespeare is associated with ‘high culture’ which is off-putting for many.

Which equipment lets me read Players-Shakespeare.com books?

If you want to be able to read the Shakespeare plays available on Players-Shakespeare.com, they are available in a number of different formats:

  • Use a Web-browser to read the play online.

  • Download one of the scripts to an Apple iPad, iPhone, or MacIntosh using iBooks (free)

  • Download one of the scripts for an Android Smartphone or Tablet, using Google Play Books (free)

  • Download one of the scripts for an Amazon Kindle Fire, using their AZW3 reader (free)

  • Download one of the scripts for a Windows Laptop using Icecream, Calibre, or Sigil (all free)

  • Download one of the scripts and convert to PDF in Calibre and then print it.

Step 1: Make sure you have an appropriate piece of kit to read e-books on. The most likely are:

  • A Kindle (from Amazon): A dedicated e-reader. Other (probably less popular dedicated e-readers include the Nook and Kobo and many others. Players-Shakespeare.com’s ebooks have been tested on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.
  • Apple iPhones and iPads: Smartphones and Tablets which can run many applications (Apps) including e-reader software. The most common e-reader software is iBooks. Kindle and Nook applications will also run on iPhones and iPads. Players-Shakespeare.com’s
  • Android smartphones and tablets: Android (supplied by Google) smartphones and tablets run similar applications including e-reader software. Perhaps the most common e-reader apps are; Play (from Google,  Kindle software from Amazon, Nook, from Barnes and Noble, and Moon+ Reader Pro (an independent software supplier). Players-Shakespeare.com’s ebooks have been tested on Play, Kindle, Nook, and Moon+ Reader Pro on an Android smartphone (Nexus 4) and an Android tablet (Nexus 7).
  • A host of other e-readers, many of which are supported by Adobe Digital Editions (ADE)
  • PCs (running Windows 7 and 8; Ubuntu) and Macs, running e-reader software, including Kindle and Nook. Playeers-Shakespeare.com’s ebooks have been tested on Windows PCs and Ubuntu PCs running Kindle and Nook.

Step 2: Make sure you the e-reader software you want to use is installed on your equipment.

Step 3: Download the e-books you require from Players-Shakespeare.com and make sure the e-reader software can find them and read them.

Each of these steps is explored in other FAQs on this web-site.

What you can do using our play-reading facilities

We hold the scripts of Shakespeare’s plays in a format which allows you to do things which are not easy to do with more standard formats of scripts. The additional things you can do include:

Cast Lists:

  • There will be multiple cast lists for different numbers of play-readers. Typically, there will be castings for 6 – 12 players, and one further casting, which is the original casting as it was played in the Elizabethan or Jacobean era. This will usually have somewhere between 16 and 25 players
  • Each cast liar allocates all the speaking roles in the play to the players in that cast list. Typically this means that each player will have one ‘principal’ role and a number of minor parts. These parts are allocated to try and make the number of lines for each player as similar as possible, and also to minimise the same player speaking to themselves in different roles.
  • A word of warning about cast lists. It is very important that everyone in a playreading is using the same cast list, which should be for the number of players in the play-reading. The most common problems which occur with play-readings using cast list is when:
    • Different players are using player nos from different castings (when the same minor part may be allocated to different players), or
    • The play-reading group use a cast list which is for more players than are present, in which case, some of the characters will not be allocated to anyone to read.

Play-reading format:

Plays may be play-read in a number of different formats:

  • Round-robin: In a round-robin format (typically for 2 – 5 readers), each player reads one speech of the play, and then the next player reads the following speech. This means that no player speaks any one character’s speeches.
  • Highlit Text:  This format is used with a cast list. The whole play is shown to the player, and speeches for the characters played by that reader, are highlit in colour. The speeches for different characters are in different colours, to make it easier to identify different characters. Every player reads through the whole play, and each individual player speak s when they come to a speech which is highlit.
  • Parts and Cues: In this format (similar to the scripts that Elizabethan actors  weree given), the player is only shown the lines for the characters which he is playing – plus the last three words of the previous speech to act as a cue. Stage Directions are also displayed. If you read a part in this format, it means you have to pay attention, listening out for your next cue. If you run a play-reading with most of the players using Parts and Cues format, it is helpful if one or more players read the play in Highlit Text format, so they can act as prompt if the play-reading falls apart.

Play media:

The play can be read in one on three main media:

  • On the Internet (WWW): If you go to the Home Page of Players-Shakespeare.com (https://players-shakespeare.com/) you will find a table of the plays we have already published in this format. If you click on the title of a play that interests you, you will be taken to that play script. You can use the cast list links in the index to the right of the script, (or after thes cript on smartphones) or the setup wheel, to choose the role you want to play. Everyone in a play-reading can do this.
  • On an e-reader: If you select a cast list from the index to a play, you can download an epub  of the play, customised for a particular player in a cast list. These epubs can be loaded into most common e-readers, including
    –   Apple iPads, iPhones, Mackintoshes running iBooks (free)
    –   Android Smartphones and tablets running Google Play Books (free)
    –   Amazon Kindle Fire using their AZW3 reader (free)
    –   Windows laptops running the Icecream e-reader (free), or Calibre (free) or Sigil (free)The details of how to load  a Players-Shakespeare.com epub into these different environments are covered in subsquent questions in this FAQ.
  • On paper: A downloaded epub can be loaded into Calibre (a free e-book  library management softwarae package) and converted to PDF format in US letter, or European A4 format, and then printed (on a colour printer, if printing a Highlit Text format script).

Play-readings can be run with different players using different media. It is perfectly feasible to have some players using the Internet-based script; some players using e-readers; and some players using paper scripts.

It is, perhaps, easier to run a play-reading with everyone using a web-browser. However, although be slightly more difficult to use e-readers, there are significant advantages with that approach:

  • The play-reading is not affected by the performance of the Internet
  • There is more variety in the fonts available and the font sizes, which makes the text adjustable to user taste
  • Most people can use their ‘favourite’ e-reader software which they are familiar with.

Other sections of this FAQ provide technical details of how to access the scripts using these different media.

 

 

 

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