Shakespeare’s Advice

Shakespeare’s Advice

From Peter Hall’s Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players

Shakespeare tells the actors when to go fast and when to go slow; when to come in on cue, and when to accent a particular word or series of words. He tells the actor much else; and he always tells him when to do it (provided the actor knows where to look). But he never tells him why. The motive, the why, remains the creative task of the actor.

Working through the text for my next book, Dramatic Irony, which is nothing more than cookbook astrology with recipes for delinating transits, I paused long enough to grab that book off the shelf, Shakesapeare’s Advice to the Players, looking something up.

Part of what Dramatic Irony (see for details) is about? Why.

Answer “Why” while straying from some modern astrology that is nothing more than thinly-veiled teleology.

The planets and their influence as they prescribe an arc through the heavens? What does it mean, and how can that be most effectivley harnessed?

Then, too, as the title alludes to, there’s Hamlet’s advice to the players:

Enter Hamlet and three of the Players.

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc’d it to you, trippingly on the tongue, but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear apassion to totters, to very rags, to spleet the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipt for o’erdoing Termagant, it out-Herods Herod, pray you avoid it.

First Player (Player King):
I warrant your honor.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone, or come tardy off, though it makes the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the censure of which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be players that I have seen play—and heard others praise, and that highly—not to speak it profanely, that, neither having th’ accent of Christians nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and bellow’d that I have thought some of Nature’s journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

First Player (Player King):
I hope we have reform’d that indifferently with us, sir.

O, reform it altogether. And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be consider’d. That’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. Go make you ready.

Exeunt Players.

Hamlet act 3 scene 2 line 1-

Many times over, that’s Shakespeare’s advice to the players.


Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players – Peter Hall

Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players

Kramer Wetzel

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