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The speech itself has played two important roles independent of the play. It has been analyzed as a historical document for clues about the nature of early modern acting practices and it has also been used as a contemporary guide to the performance of Shakespearean drama.
While there is some justification for each of these approaches, they should be distinguished from other, far less valid assertions: on the one hand, that Hamlet expresses the opinions of Shakespeare on the art of acting in a straightforward and unproblematic way; on the other, that the speech offers a proto-Stanislavskian view of the art of acting. The first elides the difference between author and character, while the second ignores the historical specificity of the discourses and meanings attached to theatrical performance.
|“||Hamlet: Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, |
trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it as many of your 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. Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split
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 whipped for o'erdoing Termagant — it out-Herods Herod.
Pray you avoid it.
First Player: I warrant your honour.
Hamlet: 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; to show virtue her own 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 make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the
which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of
others. Oh, there be players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise and that highly, not to speak it profanely, that neither having
the accent of Christians nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man,
have so strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of nature's
journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated
humanity so abominably.
First Player: I hope we have reformed that indifferently with us, sir.
Hamlet: Oh 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 meantime some necessary question of
the play be then to be considered. That's villainous, and shows
a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. Go make you ready.