The Actor in History
- Publish Date: 10/1/1990
- Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
- Page Count: 166 pages
- Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-00622-2
In this book an eminent scholar considers the relation which Shakespeare establishes between the values of the supreme world of Elizabethan and Jacobean reality, that of the kings and soldiers at the top of the tree, and his own domain, the poetry of the theater. Ostensibly, that poetry emphasizes straightforwardly the values of the plot of the play —by his poetry, the king or soldier becomes more visible to us. The rhythms of his voice, the verbal images and innuendos, reinforce the man's kingship or soldiership. But at other times, what takes place is different. Starting from a shadowy identification of the character with his position in the play, the poetry begins to substitute its independent or nearly independent values—its power to charm and to threaten and expand the "meaning" of the actor vis-à-vis his role. The character we watch on the stage escapes into an area where the sensations with which his acting affects us come also directly from his histrionic relation to us. He becomes an actor as such and less an actor of Brutus or Antony or Coriolanus. We are all the more moved because we know that the histrionic is a representation of the reality of emotion, as definite and valid as impressionism is of the visual truth of the external world. In certain plays Shakespeare puts at variance our sense of the histrionic against the more usual values which we set upon political and military achievement. The fantasy of Richard II, for example, is his escape from the harshness of the historical circumstances that belittle his capacity; clothed in poetry and growing into the actual presentation of the actor who rendered the part, it dominates us to the devaluing of the winner in the plot's competition.