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The Idea of the Actor

The Idea of the Actor

Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Idea of the Actor
    Book Description:

    Analyzing the relationship between dramatic action and the controversial art of acting, William Worthen demonstrates that what it means to act, to be an actor, and to communicate through acting embodies both an ethics of acting and a poetics of drama.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5753-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    Let me raise two questions that will begin to clarify the close affinity between acting and drama: What is an actor? And what does he do? In one sense, to act is to deceive, to become ahypocrite(Greek for “actor”). And yet in another, to act is simply to do something, to express or create meaning through action (Greekdrama: an “act” or “deed”). Acting seems to bring a certain kind of falsehood into focus. Onstage, the actor both is and is not there for us. He is present as an actor, strutting his stagey stuff; but he is...

  5. 1 Is it not monstrous: The Demonic Dialectic of Renaissance Acting
    (pp. 10-69)

    A man playing a man called Hamlet watches another man playing a man, called simply “player,” who plays a man in a play. Visibly moved by the player’s performance, the man called Hamlet rebukes himself for failing to make his own actions in the court suit with such expressive forms to his conceit. Hamlet’s self-criticism is fitting, for he has been playing a host of parts: Gertrude’s melancholic son, Old Hamlet’s dutiful heir, Horatio’s thoughtful companion, Ophelia’s distracted lover, the antic actor plaguing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Polonius, the hectic raging in Claudius’ court. And at this point, Hamlet has...

  6. 2 Realize the feelings of his Character: Gesture, Feeling, and Community in the Sentimental Theater
    (pp. 70-130)

    The personal stamp of David Garrick’s acting fascinated the eighteenth-century audience, and Garrick’s image dominated the public imagination both in and out of the theater. Garrick was continually cast before the eyes of his admiring public, as an actor, as a popular portrait subject, as the object of stage and literary parody, and as an important figure in fiction, biography, memoir, and correspondence. Predictably, Garrick played an exemplary role in acting and elocution manuals, and his stage performance provided an eloquent paradigm in more general studies of taste and beauty. Of course, Garrick himself was no mean publicist, and devoted...

  7. 3 Self-Betrayal: The Optics of Modern Acting
    (pp. 131-228)

    Henry Irving and Bernard Shaw. The names suggest a constellation of values dividing the old theater from the new: Boucicault and Tennyson versus Ibsen and Chekhov; the star versus the ensemble; the deadly theater versus the immediate theater. Shaw, of course, is largely responsible for this crisp metonymy. As the voice of the new theater, he relentlessly besieged Irving, shelling his overstuffed and egocentric Lyceum Shakespeare with mortars of the new drama. Naturally, Shaw had both personal and strategic reasons for embodying the Victorian stage in the figure of its actor-knight. As an acclaimed actor, and as a recognized arbiter...

  8. Postscript
    (pp. 229-232)

    Hamlet’s confrontation with the player is an evocative metaphor for the experience of stage acting. We have seen Hamlet’s outburst at the player’s monstrous seeming in the context of Shakespeare’s theater, and in relation to the special duplicity of the Renaissance actor. There is something both trivial and menacing to Hamlet in the player’s assumption of another identity, in the wanning of his complexion and the flow of his tears. Enthralled by a feigned passion, the actor’s physical expression is nonetheless alarmingly potent; had he Hamlet’s motive and cue, he would be a man of overwhelming, maddening power. OnHamlet’s...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 233-260)
  10. Index
    (pp. 261-269)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)