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Acting and Action in Shakespearean Tragedy

Acting and Action in Shakespearean Tragedy

Michael Goldman
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    Acting and Action in Shakespearean Tragedy
    Book Description:

    This intensely personal book develops a new approach to the study of action in drama. Michael Goldman eloquently applies a method based on a crucial fact: our experience of a play in the theater is almost exclusively our experience of acting.

    Originally published in 1985.

    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: 978-1-4008-5480-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. I. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    Acting and action—the two terms, obvious, vague, familiar, stand at the heart of the theatrical mystery. The novice playwright learns quickly that he needs two basic skills: the ability to write for actors and the ability to create action. Without these talents, no degree of genius in characterization, plot, or language will help him. Their importance being granted, however, it remains notoriously difficult to say how acting and action actuallyworkin drama. I would like to suggest that we can go a long way toward understanding their operation if we think of them not as separate processes, but...

  2. II. “To Be or Not To Be” and the Spectrum of Action
    (pp. 17-45)

    How does an action begin? Where does it end? What makes it an action? I sit at my desk, leafing through the newspaper. Suddenly I turn aside from it and begin to scribble this sentence on a pad. I clip it to some notes on another sheet of paper, run my eyes over them, mutter to myself, write some more, read it aloud, type it up. The paragraph is finished. I have it printed. You read it. Where did my action begin and end? What is really teasing here is not the problem of dividing the writing process into smaller...

  3. III. Othello’s Cause
    (pp. 46-70)

    InOthello, the course of the action seems all too plain. Instead of struggling, as inHamlet, to make sense of what is going on, we feel compelled to stop it. “Don’t listen to him!” we say as Iago talks to Othello, and “Don’t do it!” as he prepares to strangle Desdemona.Othellois probably, of all tragedies, the one in which the audience comes closest to intervening in the action—at any performance you will hear people talking about this feeling during intermission, usually with surprise. Indeed, one reasonOthellostrikes us as such a clear and simple play...

  4. IV. Acting and Feeling: Histrionic Imagery in King Lear
    (pp. 71-93)

    So far in this book, when discussing how Shakespeare writes for actors, I have tended to concentrate on the acting difficulties presented by the text, and moved directly from them to the dramatic effects which occur when they are successfully mastered. I have said little about the intervening process, by which the actor overcomes the difficulties. One might think of this as irrelevant to the playwright’s art, as having simply to do with the performer’s technique and talent. But the art of the playwright consists in making the exercise of that technique and talent possible—and valuable. Confronted with acting...

  5. V. Speaking Evil: Language and Action in Macbeth
    (pp. 94-111)

    One of the things our analysis ofKing Learhas indicated is that the distinctive verbal texture of a role should be a clue to distinctive actions on the part of the performer. In this essay I want to approachMacbeth—and particularly its power to involve us in the mental life of its hero—by looking closely at Macbeth’s language and the kind of acting effort it requires.

    To begin with a very noticeable stylistic feature, Macbeth’s speeches, like those of Hamlet and Lear, frequently present the actor with series of words that are strikingly similar—words which may...

  6. VI. Antony and Cleopatra: Action as Imaginative Command
    (pp. 112-139)

    Most of Shakespeare’s tragedies—Romeo and Julietis perhaps the only arguable exception—are concerned, one way or another, with human greatness. Their heroes are larger than life and recognized as such by those around them.Antony and Cleopatra, however, differs from the rest of the tragedies in that it is centrallyaboutgreatness. The discussion of greatness is the activity to which the play’s characters devote most of their time. In speech after speech, indeed scene after scene, they comment on each other’s greatness—acknowledge it, praise it, measure it by various standards, are moved and changed by it,...

  7. VII. Characterizing Coriolanus
    (pp. 140-168)

    Any discussion of acting is inevitably a discussion of characterization, and studies of Shakespearean tragedy, whatever their approach, inevitably concern themselves with Shakespeare’s characters and how we are meant to take them. Though we may feel, for example, that we know Antony or Cleopatra rather differently from the way we know Macbeth, nevertheless we do feel we know them. And when we discuss them, we find ourselves talking about their characters as we talk about people we know in real life—though most of us will adopt a stern tone from time to time and point out that there is...