How to Act Out Present-day Shakespeare

Modern audiences, who are exposed to a great diversity of good acting on the screen, want their Shakespeare to be understandable and life-like; so the actor is moving fluently between verse and prose, smooth, slightly underplayed speech, and heightened speech. Hamlet’s advice to the players is the most famous short crash-course in acting, all acting, including the modern play, and after four hundred years as trenchant and wise as ever. It deserves selective quotation and must be a constituent of any observations on acting anything, let alone

Shakespeare. It’s in prose:

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced 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 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…


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 anything 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.

The contemporary English-speaking actor seems to be doing his best to follow these injunctions, and avoids posturing, orotundity and mannered speech and movement. The ideas in Shakespeare’s dialogue are very well expounded, and it’s the ideas and thinking of the characters that must come across. Periodicity is less important, and the modern actor is in fact acting the plays more naturally than was the case in preceding centuries.

Filed Under: Arts & Entertainment


About the Author: Cody Riffel is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo. She likes to write on variety of topics, whatever interests her. She also likes to share what she learns over the Internet and her day-to-day life.

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