Shakespeare’s Advice To The Players

by Peter Hall

I’ve read a lot of Acting Shakespeare books and posted reviews on some of them here. Many good, some not up to par, but Peter Hall’s Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players is definitely a winner in my book.

How can you argue with a man who has had over 50 years of experience directing the Royal Shakespeare Company (and elsewhere) with the likes of Laurence Olivier, Edith Evans, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Dench, Anthony Hopkins, and Ian McKellen? The man knows what he’s talking about. Great part of this book number one: Real authority.

Hall makes it clear in the book that he speaks from a place of authority. Not because he says it, but because he learned it from the best actors. The above actors, as well as the great John Barton, have been among his tutors for creating the best use of Shakespeare’s text onstage.

I say using Shakespeare’s text and not acting for a reason. This isn’t abook about acting, per se. It’s about using the text to effectively bring meaning, emotion, story, and acting to the audience; all necessary to “act” Shakespeare. Hall continuously repeats the fact that the text will serve as your strongest ally if you know how to use it. If my post about it can’t convince you of that fact, Peter Hall’s book can.

The advice is wonderfully concise. By page 61 Hall has already laid out and explained “the rules.” The next hundred pages or so are textual analysis of scenes and monologues that are not to be skimmed or skipped. Read the whole book! The explanation at the beginning has plenty of value, but until you see the techniques in action you won’t fully get it. This is probably the closest you will get to having Peter Hall giving you a private lesson on Shakespeare.

If you aren’t already familiar with the acting process the book might not be for you. The book assumes that you have a decent understanding of what Shakespeare’s text is and how it works. It seems to me that there’s too much info in here for someone new to acting Shakespeare. Not that you’d get nothing out of it, but some of the ideas won’t sink in as well as one who has more Shakespearience.

As an added bonus, you can hear Peter Hall working with a couple actors on the publisher’s website. Go ahead and listen to it now for a preview of what’s in the book.

Is this the best book ever? I haven’t had anything bad to say about it yet. Rather than looking for a criticism, I’ll conclude. Peter Hall has been working with some of the best actors for the past 50 years or more. He’s picked up a lot of great knowledge and wisdom along the way. Pick up a copy. Whether you’re an actor, director, vocal coach, dramaturg, student, or scholar, I’m sure you’ll find it helpful.

Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players is available from