Do not saw the air too much

Hamlet’s advice to the players continued…

Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently;

I think you know what this is about. Have you ever seen an actor (or someone in your life) who repeatedly uses the same gesture? It gets old pretty fast. We all have this problem to some degree, but it may be harder to notice in some. Video tape yourself acting a piece and watch it in fast forward. If you see the same gesture over and over: stop doing that! Actors sometimes feel the need for one super strong gesture but it can get pretty annoying. Find actions that match what you’re saying. A downward chopping motion into your other hand means nothing.

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.

I’ve seen an actor onstage who was trying to be mad who just walked back and forth and did the same hand gesture over and over and over. Don’t be him.

Think about the words and what you’re saying. Tell the story, that will create the smoothness. Hamlet is telling us not to get caught up in our passions and splash in our puddle of emotion. Share your words with us. Don’t blast us with noise…

O, 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 whipt for o’erdoing Termagant, it out-Herods Herod, pray you avoid it.

Termagent and Herod were popular roles back in the day and were famous for being over dramatic. Hamlet doesn’t like to see that. It’s not interesting to an audience to see an actor wallowing in their sorrow or anger. A huge spectacle of yelling and screaming doesn’t impress us.

Once you have put in the work to speak the speech trippingly on the tongue, you don’t need to worry so much about tearing “a passion to tatters, to very rags…” because you will let the words just flow out from you. Telling the story is what it’s all about.

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