Advice About Acting

Hamlet gives advice to actors

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the main character, Hamlet, gives the advice below to actors who are about to perform a play (Hamlet, Act III, Sc ii). Read Hamlet’s advice and use his advice to answer the questions. The information needed to answer each question follows that question’s number in the speech.

HAMLET: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, (1) trippingly on the tongue. But if you (2) mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor (3) do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; (4) 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 . . .

(5) Be not too tame neither; but (6) let your own discretion be your tutor, (7) 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 (8) anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, (9) to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature; to (10) show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.

1. How should actors say their lines? slowly and powerfully or quickly and nimbly?

2. Don’t mouth the speech, says Hamlet. What does “mouth” mean? exaggerate the pronunciation of every word or shout?

3. What should an actor do with his arms? make big gestures or make subtle gestures?

4. In an angry, passionate scene, should actors abandon all control? yes or no?

5. Should actors be completely quiet and calm? yes or no?

6. Who is the better judge of how to play a role? the actor himself or an acting teacher?

7.What should the actor look at to decide how to play a role? his own personality or the words in the play?

8. What style of acting is better for an actor? natural and realistic or exaggerated and extreme?

9. According to Hamlet and Shakespeare, what is the point of performing plays? to entertain or to help people understand the world?

10. Should plays show both good and evil? yes or no?

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