Something that I have recently looked at in relation to Stanislavsky's concept of realistic and naturalistic acting (in drama) is Hamlet's rules for acting as outlined in his monologue, known as "Speak the Speech, I Pray You". I thought I would share this monologue with you, and though most of you I would guess, can fluently read Shakespearean, for the less apt, I included the modern English translation. So you can keep track, the bold parts are the original Shakespearean version, and the italic parts are the modern English translation. Obviously, if you enjoy Shakespeare, skip over the italics parts, and if you can't be bothered to baffle yourself with thees and thous and pray yous, skip the bold.
Scene IIWell, from this famous monologue of Hamlet's, it was fairly simple to devise a short list of rules, or more accurately, suggestions, for an actor. They are as follows:
[Elsinore. A hall in the Castle.]
Enter Hamlet, and three of the Players.
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many
of our 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,(5)
and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must
acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.
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,(10)
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.
Speak the part, I beg you, as I read it to you,
lightly on your tongue. But if you just repeat it, as many
actors do, I would prefer the town crier spoke my lines.
And don’t saw the air too much with your hands, like this,
but use your gestures gently. Because, in the very strong
storm, and, as I may say, whirlwind of passion, you must
acquire and make an easy style that may give it
smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a hefty
fellow with a wig tear an emotion to tatters, to very rags,
to split the ears of the cheap seats, who, for the most
part, are capable of nothing but confusing pantomime
and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped for
overdoing a Moslem god, it out-herods Herod. Please
I warrant your honour.
I assure you.
Be not too tame neither; but let your own discretion be(15)
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 overdone 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(20)
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(25)
theatre of others. O, 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(30)
had made men, and not made them well, they imitated
humanity so abominably.
But don’t be too tame either, but let your own discretion
be your teacher. Fit the action to the word, the word to the
action, with this special rule, that you don’t overstep the
simplicity of being natural, for anything so overdone is not
the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and
now, was and is, to hold, as it were, the mirror up to
nature, to show truth in reality, scorn her falseness, and
his form and force to the very age and body of the time.
Now, this overacting, or lateness, though it make the
ignorant laugh, can only make the experienced grieve, in
whose opinion, you must outdo a whole theatre of other
audiences in your performance. O, there are actors that I
have seen perform and heard others praise, and highly
too, not to speak too harshly, that, having neither the
accent of Christians, nor the walk of a Christian, a pagan,
or a man, have so strutted and yelled that I have thought
some of nature's hired help had made them and not
made them well, they imitated mankind so dreadfully.
- Speak carefully and purposefully.
- Avoid over gesticulating. (Use your gestures gently because when acting, it is important to have an easy style that gives you smoothness.)
- Don't act too tamely. (As long as you don't overstep the simplicity of being natural.)
- Avoid over-acting. (The purpose of acting is to hold "the mirror up to nature" and over-acting can only poorly imitate reality.)