Should Theaters Remove the “Boring Bits” from Shakespeare?

In an article in the Daily Mail, hobbit Martin Freeman discusses cutting the “boring bits” out of Shakespeare plays so younger people enjoy them. He’s currently starring in a production of Richard III in London – which I won’t see, because it’s too far to go to see someone like him play Shakespeare – and wants to attract more young people.

Freeman is quoted as saying:

‘Among very educated, very smart, very theatre literate people who sort of tolerate the boring bits and boring passages without telling anybody and tolerate the bits of the play where they think, “I don’t know who she is” and “who’s he talking to” without saying so because that would sort of be a black mark against them.’

Well, let’s be honest; he’s being a bit controversial just to get press. I’ve seen more than a dozen Shakespeare plays since I moved to the UK a bit more than a year ago, and I don’t think any of them had all the lines from the original text. In some cases, deep cuts are made, in others, selective trimming is made to keep up the pacing. While I don’t know all of the plays well enough to spot what’s cut, I do recall in last year’s RSC production of Hamlet some specific sections that had been excised. Yet Hamlet may be the play with the fewest boring bits.

I do agree that there are some “boring bits,” and Henry IV part 2, which I saw twice so far this year at the RSC, certainly has enough of them. In fact, it’s probably the history plays – which includes Richard III – that have the most boring bits. But even the boring bits can be great theater when played by great actors.

Perhaps an actor of his type shouldn’t be playing Shakespeare then. His claim that:

there can often be a slight conspiracy of silence around people going to see Shakespeare.

Is a bit ridiculous. I don’t think anyone – other than a handful of fundamentalists – has that type of attitude. On the other hand, I think some contemporary plays that I’ve seen – some live, some in cinemas through NTLive – are way too long. It’s almost as though there’s a conspiracy to ensure that the simplest story drags out to three hours, to a) ensure that there’s an intermission, so the theater can sell wine and ice cream, and b) to make people feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. Most of the plays I’ve seen that last three hours could do with a good 45 minutes cutting, to make them more palatable.

It’s funny that an actor whose claim to fame is The Hobbit – a short novel stretched out into three long movies – is talking about cutting out the boring bits…