Back near the beginning of the month, when we were just starting our discussion of Richard the Third, I asked a pretty straightforward question: What to Cut? Citing the length of the play, and the fact that it’s rarely done uncut, I said we would need to cut.
This simple statement set off a series of comments that were illuminating… and for the past couple of weeks, all has been quiet. Well, I think it’s time to crank open that can of worms again.
After reading the play twice, I know what I’d want to cut on an initial run-through.
- Act One, Scene Three: I would want to tighten up Margaret’s speeches, cut some of the repeated cursing. If I felt that the play could stand alone, through either setting or other cuts (with little or no reference made to the Henry the Sixth plays from the tetralogy), then I might consider cutting the entire character of Margaret…
- Act One, Scene Four: While I love the poetry of Clarence’s dream sequence, it runs well over sixty lines (when you take into account the Keeper’s questions)… some cuts could come from that, definitely. I’d want to tighten the “two murderers” sequence as well… while some of the banter is useful (for both characterization and humor), just how important is it that we have insights to the different personalities of the two murderers when we won’t see them again. The same with the interaction between Clarence and the murderers. I think that could use some judicious editing.
- Act Two, Scene One: I might want to tighten some of Richard’s long speech, and Edward’s even longer response… but only after some rehearsal time; here, I wouldn’t want to preemptively cut.
- Act Two, Scene Two: For clarity’s sake, I think I’d want to lose Clarence’s children… keep the focus on just the two Princes.
- Act Three, Scene Six: I love the speech the scrivener has here… it’s got some great observations and some wry humor. But it stops the play cold… of course, we CAN’T lose it in a stage production. Why? Because the last people we see before the scrivener are Richard and Buckingham, who exit, saying they’ll meet at Baynard Castle. And Act Three, Scene Seven opens with them arriving “at several doors” (III.vii opening stage direction) at said castle. So unless you want them to leave and then come right back, which would seem silly, you’re out of luck in trying to cut the scene. [unless, of course, you place the intermission at the end of Act Three, Scene Five… but there’s no climatic punch to the end of that scene] So long story short (too late): the scrivener kids stays in the picture, er, stage production
- Act Four, Scene One: I’d like to tighten up some of the Yorkist women’s pity party … the only problem with that is they have so few lines to begin with. So again, I wouldn’t want to make any preemptive cuts here, but if the pace seems to flag at all during rehearsal, we might have to trim
- Act Four, Scene Four: If we cut Margaret entirely, we’re going to have to modify the first half of this scene pretty dramatically; if we don’t cut her out of the play, I think we can certainly lose some of the repetitious and gratuitous gloating she spews here. I think there’s some tightening that can take place in the second wooing scene between Richard and Elizabeth as well (not all of those call/refutations are needed). I’d also want to tighten up some of the repetitious and conflicting messengers at the end of the scene. But I wouldn’t want to lose too much, as it displays the descent of Richard’s mental faculties.
- Act Five, Scene Three: I think this scene needs tightening. But we can’t cut too much from Richmond; we need every possible opportunity for this character to prove himself worthy of the crown (at least to us, the audience). I might trim the ghosts’ blessings of Richmond; they just feel like they’re keeping us from getting to the battle (what little there is of it).
OK, so that’s my initial edit list… but more would need to be lost during rehearsal, I’m sure. So have at it: tear me to shreds for shredding the text!
More importantly, though, where do you cut… for intermission? One intermission or two? Where? If memory serves, the two productions I’ve seen both broke after Act Three, Scene Seven, when Richard has accepted the crown, but is not crowned yet… I think one of them had the coronation onstage (not on the page) just before the break. Uncut, that’s nearly two-thirds of the way through the play. (If you wait until the end of Act Four, Scene One, so that when you return from break, we find Richard crowned for the first time, then that’s pretty much exactly at the two-third point) So if I read this correctly, if I make the cuts above, and I make the intermission at that crowning point, then most of the cuts come before intermission, and the break would come closer to the half-way point.
Something to keep in mind, I guess.