Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

“Romeo and Juliet,” Critiquing the Hundsness abridgement

Followers of this journal will recall that, when I was cast, I was not pleased to find out that we were using an abridged script. While I’ve gotten accustomed to it, rehearsing the show and hearing the other parts just made me more aware of its deficiencies.

Notes to the adapted script say: “Edited and adapted by David Hundsness, 2008…. This adaptation retains Shakespeare’s original language. It has been shortened to under two hours, cutting scenes that are typically slow to modern audiences. Dated references are minimized so the story may be set anytime and anywhere. A Wedding Ceremony and Juliet's Funeral are created from cut-and-pasted lines, and some scenes are altered for dramatic impact (all from the original script, of course). To see all lines that were cut, see the unabridged version at”

Mr. Hundsness has also posted one comment, by “Austin Live Theater,” “This is no Reader's Digest edition. The adapter did a scrupulous, ethical job of fileting the original text, preserving the story line and the essentials of the characters. Almost all of the most memorable lines of verse were retained. Purists would certainly object to his reducing the text by 30 to 40 percent, adroitly stitching together scenes while adhering to original texts and crafting both a brief marriage scene in Friar Laurence's chambers and a funeral for Juliet. But none of this diminishes a whit the power of Shakespeare's language or plot. The adaptation is directly in the centuries-old tradition of moving the bard to the audience."

Well, I beg to differ. I admit that I am one of the purists referred to, and that cutting any play, let alone Shakespeare, is problematical. I much prefer to start with the uncut text, and then prune where you find you can’t make it work, rather than, as we did, starting with someone else’s idea of what a good abridgement is, and adding bits back in. 

Admittedly also, that’s a big job and not everyone may be up for it.
Some of Mr. Hundsness’ cuts I didn’t have a problem with.  The sections where Capulet’s servants are sent to invite friends to the ball doesn’t advance the plot too much, nor does Capulet’s dialogue with his uncle at the party, and I didn’t mind not having to add that to my role. On the other hand, the adaptation entirely cut Paris visit to the Capulet tomb, his duel with Romeo and death, and Friar Laurence’s  dialog with Juliet before he flees the scene. All these we added back in. On the other hand, Friar Lawrence’s confession to the Prince doesn’t add anything the audience didn’t know, so I don’t so much mind that being cut. However, Hundsness then goes on to cut out the text of Capulet and Montague’s reconciliation, which I think is vital. The street scene with Romeo, Murcutio, and the Nurse, wherein the wedding plans are made, is vital and went back in. We also added back in the short scene wherein Juliet convinces her father she has repented and will marry Paris, which I think was good to have in, although perhaps not as crucial. Other cuts were also restored.

Perhaps worse than the cutting of entire scenes is the picking out of words and phrases from individual speeches, with the result that what remains makes little sense. Here’s the unabridged version of Capulet inviting Paris to his party:

“This night I hold an old accustomed feast,
Whereto I have invited many a guest
such as I love; and you among the store,
if you be not of the house of Montagues,
One more, most welcome, makes my number more.
At my poor house look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
When well-appareled April on the heel
Of limping winter treads, even such delight
Among fresh femalel buds shall you this night
Inherit at my house. Hear all, all see,
And like her most whose merit most shall be;
Which, on more view of many, mine, being one,              
May stand in number, though in reck'ning none.
Come, go with me.”

And here’s what I was left with:
“This night I hold an old accustomed feast,
whereto I have invited many a guest
Such as I love, not of the house of Montagues,
And you, most welcome. Look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
Among fresh female buds. Hear all, all see,
And like her most. Come, go with me.”

I had the biggest problem with the lines “such comfort as do lusty young men feel among fresh female buds.” Say what? This isn’t even a complete sentence. I added back in the words, “thou shalt inherit,” so it at least had a verb and made some sense.

Mercutio suffers badly under this regime.  Not only does Hundsness hack away at the “Queen Mab” speech, probably the most famous in the play after the balcony scene, he also makes pointless changes to poor Mercutio’s death scene.  Instead of:

Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much.
No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me
tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

We get:
“No, 'tis not so deep, nor so wide,
but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me
tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

Not so deep nor so wide as what? The logic of the  cut puzzles me. Even in the name of removing dated references, I would think a modern audience could be relied upon to understand that a well is typically deep, and a church door typically wide.

So, in sum, I find Mr. Hundsness’ abridgement objectionable, not alone because it is an abridgement, but because, in my opinion, it is a badly done abridgment.

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Tags: shakepeare
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