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enemies of having had performed at his house on a Sunday evening a play in which a Mr. Wilson acted the part of Bottom, this actor afterwards for punishment having to sit "with his feete in the stocks, and attyred with his asse heade, and a bottle of hay sette before him, and this subscription on his breast,
Good people I have played the beast,
The name of the play presented at the Bishop's house is unknown, the name, A Midsummer Night's Dream, being, we are informed, "a forgery in a later hand" than that of the manuscript from which we learn of the performance. In view of the private nature of the entertainment and its having to be given secretly, an abbreviated version of the play must have been used, but evidently one that contained somewhat more of the story of Bottom than merely the interlude.
Afterward, during the period of Puritan domination, says Francis Kirkman, "when the publique theatres were shut up and the actors forbidden to present us with any of their tragedies, because we had enough of that in ernest; and comedies, because the vices of the age were too lively and smartly represented; then all that we could divert ourselves with were these humours and pieces of plays, passing under the name of a merry conceited fellow called Bottom the Weaver or some such title . . . and that by stealth too, and under the pretence of rope dancing and the like."
Immediately after the restoration of Charles II there was published, The Merry Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver, as it hath been often publikely acted by some of his Majesties Comedians, and lately privately presented by several apprentices for their harmless recreation, with great applause.
se is eing,
OTHER VERY EARLY SHORT PLAYS
It is not unlikely that the example of playing such excerpts was set by Shakespeare's own company. An excerpt of the episode of Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing seems to have been played as early as 1613, which would have been during Shakespeare's lifetime. In a warrant made out in the Lord Treasurer's accounts for Much Ado about Nothing as one of seven Shakespearean plays performed at the festivities of the Princess Elizabeth's wedding, the second paragraph calls for "one other" play "called Benedicte and Betteris," acted before the king. The episode of Benedick and Beatrice seems to have been a favorite with the royal family; the king's son, Charles I, added the name Benedick and Beatrice to the title of Much Ado about Nothing in his copy of the Second Folio.
If "Benedick and Beatrice" may have become a playlet at this early date, the discrepancy of a number of other titles of plays listed for that time1 may possibly be reconciled as indicating cuttings rather than merely mistakes in the titles of complete plays. The following titles are odd if they refer to the complete plays rather than to episodes: "The Hotspur" (Henry IV, Part I?), "Robin Goodfellow" (A Midsummer Night's Dream?), "Tom Bedlam, the Tinker" (King Lear?) and "Malvolio" (Twelfth Night?). The calling of a play for a lesser rôle than the one which most appealed to the public in the great play is not improbable but is strange enough to provoke some question of the fact.
LATER CUTTINGS THAT ARE DEFINITELY KNOWN
In 1662 Francis Kirkman published in The Wits, or Sport upon Sport a Falstaff playlet called The Bouncing Knight
1 titles of plays listed for that time. See Fleay, A Chronicle History of the London Stage 1559-1642.
(based on the scenes in Henry IV, Part I, in which Falstaff figured) and also a "droll" of The Grave-Makers, from Hamlet, both of which had been acted by stealth during the period of Puritan ascendancy. Another Falstaff playlet, curiously named, The Boaster; or Bully-Huff catch'd in a trap, was printed in 1698.
In 1738 "George Lillo presented a successful adaptation of the last two acts of Pericles at Covent Garden." This playlet began with the same scene as Charles Elliott's cutting of Pericles (1922), and the two playlets would probably be found much alike, if Lillo's were preserved, since the playwriting dictum of Lillo's time required compression of the action with a view to securing dramatic unity of time and place, and the exigencies of the now popular one-act play impel Mr. Elliott to follow the same course.
In 1754 Morgan acted and printed a cutting of A Winter's Tale, Florizel and Perdita, or the Sheep Shearing. David Garrick, the celebrated actor at Drury Lane, followed with a Dramatic Pastoral, Florizel and Perdita, in 1756, in which the text was not only cut, but considerably altered.
Garrick's version of The Taming of the Shrew, Katharine and Petruchio, was printed in the same year, and though it contains several queer distortions of the original, it was "highly praised, and held the stage till the end of the century." Indeed, it held the stage to the virtual exclusion of the complete play, until nearly the end of the next century, when John Drew appeared in the restored original in 1887.
In 1762 The Comedy of Errors was altered by Hull, and in 1783 another cutting of the same play, by William Woods, appeared under the title The Twins. The latter cutting was made with such care and respect as would almost satisfy a modern critic.
In 1764 A Midsummer Night's Dream was "cut down to two acts" by Colman and played as an "after piece" at
Drury Lane. Revived in this form fourteen years later, it held the stage for the next half century. The complete play, as Shakespeare wrote it, was not presented again in England until 1856.
There have been "selections from Shakespeare" since, and shortened plays,1 but the abridgment is usually that of the stage manager in limiting his performance to the two or two and a half hours of an evening's entertainment.
THE PRESENT PLAYLETS
The Forty-minute Plays were projected in the winter of 1913-14, when eight of them were outlined under the inspiration of witnessing performances of Reinhardt's admirable company. The first of them to be played, however, Shylock, was not presented until 1917. Since then revision, experimentation, and trial have consumed much time. An earnest attempt has been made to keep the playlets more faithful to the original than their predecessors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Several excellent cuttings of about the same length have appeared during the present century: Miss Frances E. Clark's Oberon and Titania (1915), a Katharine and Petruchio staged by Professor Maud May Babcock of the University of Utah (1915), and Charles Elliott's cutting of Pericles (1922).
In 1921 appeared outlines by Roy Mitchell for twenty-five acting episodes, irregular in length and somewhat more fragmentary in character than the playlets included here. Mr. Mitchell did not print the texts, but his book, Shakespeare
1 shortened plays. Among them were: Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, arranged in two acts for amateur presentation, by Leslie Warren (Walter H. Baker and Company, 1894); Bell's Reader's Shakespeare, a complete series of abridgments for dramatic reading, in three volumes (Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1895); the Ben Greet Shakespeare, five of the plays in separate volumes, arranged by the English Shakespearean actor, Ben Greet (Doubleday Page). These versions were rather long and not altogether adapted to children's purposes.
for Community Players (Dutton), is a boon to the producer of any Shakespearean play. Mr. Mitchell has been technical director of the Greenwich Village Theatre, New York, and filled his book with illustrations and suggestions for the staging of Shakespearean plays.
Some of the cuttings whose history has been traced are subjected to the bitter criticism, and justly so, that has been directed at the work of Dryden, Davenant, Cibber, and others who attempted to rewrite Shakespeare, "improving" his plots and changing his characters to make the plays come out more satisfactorily to themselves; but in the main the abridgments of Shakespeare have been legitimate attempts to present parts of the complete plays when circumstances have made cuttings appropriate. For the short plays in this volume, all intention is disclaimed of attempting to do more than select and simplify portions of the plays that fall naturally into units. The Supplementary Readings will give a further taste of the complete plays, and it is hoped that the reader will later study them in their entirety.