Maybe Shaw was right…

I’m slogging my way through the fifth act of Cymbeline again, as part of my deeper dive into the play. Slogging, I say.

At well over 800 lines, it’s the second longest fifth act in the Canon (nobody can top the 1000+ line behemoth that is Richard III’s final act). And it contains the longest Act Five, Scene Four (thanks, Jupiter!), and Act Five, Scene Five (nearly 500 lines of tying up loose ends) in all of Shakespeare.

And at times, reading it, it just feels interminable. One begins to understand what Shaw meant by saying the play “goes to pieces in the last act.”

Worse, on a second reading, I know what else needs to be resolved narratively speaking, so it’s not like we hit one reunion/reconciliation/revelation or what-have-you and can sigh and think, “OK, we’re done here” only to realize there’s at least one more corner to round.

It’s a long act. If I still have time later in the month, I’m going to run a little experiment and see how much I can cut without losing the essence.

But there are dangers and questions involved:

  • Does shortening the act actually help the audience experience?
  • Does the cutting lessen the impact of the reunions and revelations?
  • Would the edits reduce the act to comedy (beyond what Bloom believes is a certain level of “self-parody”)?
  • Am I really going to cut my favorite line in the play (“Thanks, Jupiter!”)?

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