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How long was a play performance?

In Romeo And Juliet, the Prologue refers to the "the two hours' traffic of our stage". Most Shakespeare plays require substantially more time to perform today. An uncut production of Hamlet, Shakespeare's longest play, today takes between four and five hours to perform. Possibly Elizabethan actors spoke faster. Since there were no sets, scene changes took no time. There may have been substantial cuts from the written texts in performance. Many of the "bad quartos" -- early unauthorized printed versions of the plays probably based on actors' recollections of their performances -- are much shorter than the 1623 First Folio versions.

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Copyright 2002 Dana Spradley, Publisher, for shakespeare.com