And now the first in the series of posts expounding Hamlet’s Advice to the Players. Let’s begin at the beginning.
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc’d it to you, trippingly on the tongue.
With a couple couples of alliteration Hamlet speaks volumes. “Speak the speech … trippingly on the tongue.” Chapters of acting books and entire books have been written on being able to speak a speech trippingly on the tongue. Well what exactly does that mean?
Trippingly means light and quick, with a sense of ease, fluently. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Basically this means that when you speak, it generally shouldn’t sound like you’re proclaiming your lines “Full of Sound and Fury” (Macbeth), but rather let them come out.
Easier said than done. You need a detailed understanding of everything you’re saying, the important words needed to tell the story, awareness of the literary devices that make the verse and prose come alive, memorization of the piece so good that you could recite it in your sleep, and a very well exercised set of articulators (mouth, tongue , lips) for excellent diction. It’s a lot, but who ever said acting was easy?
Having a detailed understanding of everything you say is the end product of a tedious process. There are plenty of arcane words and references in the text to confuse you. Remember though that there are resources out there that will make it easier for you. The internet won’t cut it most of the time. certain books will have nearly everything you need. Remember to check your pronunciation of everything. There are unfamiliar words here and there and everywhere. A few looks similar to words you may be familiar with but they could have a different emPHASis on another syllABle. It may also mean something other than the word it looks like. For example, the word “revenue” may be pronounced (depending on your director/text coach) re-VEN-yoo. Who knew?
Important words in any text aren’t hard to find but less experience actors like to avoid the right ones for some reason. Emphasis must be placed on the words that tell the story. Use those verbs. They are the action words, and are usually your best friends when telling the story. Hit those nouns as well. We need to know what you’re talking about. Hamlet should probably say, “I have of late LOST all my MIRTH.” The rest of the words are just links between the stronger ideas and images — don’t dwell on those links.
Alliteration, assonance, metaphor, allusion, antithesis, imagery. Know what these things are, find them in your text. Let them have significance, play with the poetic language be it prose or verse. Let the punctuation guide you as well. It will help you make sense of the text to yourself and the audience.
Memorize your lines as if your life depended on being word perfect. What’s great about memorizing Shakespeare is that the plays are available at every bookstore and all over the internet! You don’t need to wait for your director to hand you a script or even order a copy. Go online and find them and start memorizing before you start working on the play. The longer you work with the lines, the deeper they will be ingrained into your memory. There is no such thing as speaking fluently when you mind has to work to recall the words. “Take pain, be perfect.” (Midsummer)
Make sure that you over-enunciate every line when you’re practicing. The more you do that the easier good diction will be in performance. The words can be hard enough to understand already. Give your audience the give of clear diction.
But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.
If you just exclaim all your lines, as some do, might as well have a newscaster do it.
In just a couple sentences Hamlet gives us novels of advice. Let the words come out easily! It’s a lot of work to get there but the payoff will be great. Imagine you are in the audience watching yourself. Work hard enough so that you are an actor you love to see onstage, not a weak link in the cast.
Hamlet’s a pretty critical fellow. He’s seen a lot of theatre and knows what he likes to see and what he really doesn’t like. Most audiences know what they like too. Be that — just follow Hamlet’s advice.
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