Suit the Action to the Word

Hamlet’s Advice to the Players continues! There’s a lot he has to say about acting. After all, he wants the lines he wrote in The Mousetrap acted well.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor.

You must find a delicate balance between the energy you give to the speech and the naturalism. Too much energy and you’re bombastic, too little and the audience falls asleep. Experiment until you find what feels right.

This is harder than it sounds. Acting Shakespeare’s text is entirely about finding a balance between making yourself understood and letting the words come out, having lots of energy and being relaxed, using the poetry and sounding natural.

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,

This is another part of that balance you must find. Rather than explain this part (it sort of explains itself) I think it’s best that go in a different direction.

What you need to do here is match your intention/objective/motivation to the text. You have a NEED to speak these words in order to get what you want. If you let yourself be taken by the text — don’t force it — to the emotional level that it requires and you are all the while aware of your objective while speaking it, any actions you take will be suited to the words and the words to the action.

with this special observance: that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature; for any thing 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 feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.

Good drama is based in truth. Truth doesn’t necessarily mean realism, but an honest sort of acting. Mean what you say so that what you say has meaning. If you ham it up too much we stop believing you, stop caring, and stop listening.

After all, theatre is all about expressing something about the world we live in, no matter how different the setting may seem from our ordinary lives. That’s why Shakespeare’s works are still produced today. His stories are about the human condition, there are always parts we can relate to. So make your acting something that people can relate to! If you yell and gesture madly the whole time the audience will not want to find anything to relate with. Hold the mirror up to nature, the audience, yourself in performance. Do you like what you see in that mirror?

Find that balance and then the person in that mirror will earn the applause they deserve.
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