part one Objective Things chapter one The Two Traditions Elizabethan and Modern Acting [The following actors took part in the program that forms the basis of this chapter: mike gwilym, sheila hancock, lisa harrow, alan howard, ben kingsley, ian mckellen, david suchet.] Playing Shakespeare. Not reading him or writing about him but playing him. Over a thousand books or articles are written about him every year. In 1980 there were 195 books and 877 articles, many in Japanese. And yet very little is put on paper about how to act him. I think I can guess why. I have been urged to write about this but I have always felt I couldn't do it. I thought that the sort of points that need to be made could only arise truly in the living context of working with actors. On this subject each actor and his experience of acting is worth many books. So what I shall be saying in Playing Shakespeare is by itself worth nothing. It only has value if it comes alive in the performances of living and breathing actors. The best guide to an actor who wants to play in Shakespeare comes, I think, from Shakespeare himself, who was an actor. Listen to Hamlet's advice to the players. It can't be quoted too often. 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, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness . . . Be not too tame neither. But let your own discretion be 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 o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as t'were, the mirror up to nature.Hamlet: III:2 I believe that speech goes to the very heart of it. It's one of those utterances which seems a bit simple and limited at first, but if you live with it you will find that it begins to resonate and to open doors. I also believe that in the Elizabethan theater the actors knew how to use and interpret the hidden direction Shakespeare himself provided in his verse and his prose. I believe that the kind of points we shall be making in these workshops work best in the theater, not by a director telling an actor about them but by an actor learning them, largely by experience, and applying them for himself. There are few absolute rules about playing Shakespeare but many possibilities. We don't offer ourselves as high priests but as explorers or detectives. We want to test and to question. Particularly we want to show how Shakespeare's own text can help to solve the seeming problems in that text. Of course, much of it is instinct and guesswork. We will try to distinguish between what is clearly and objectively so and what is highly subjective. I hope that if I'm too dogmatic the actors will challenge me. I should also make it clear what I'm not talking about. I shall hardly talk at all about directing, and at first I shall try to keep clear of interpretation. We won't talk much about individual characters, and we shall say even less about plays as a whole. We shall simply concentrate on finding out how Shakespeare's text works. Of course what we say is bound to be personal. We don't believe that there's only one way of tackling Shakespeare. That way madness lies. But out of the infinite number of questions which come up when we work on him we have picked the ones that seem to us the most important at this time. Another actor or another director would rightly stress things differently or violently disagree with us or stress points which we shall leave out. What we say will of course be colored and limited by theBarton, John is the author of 'Playing Shakespeare An Actor's Guide', published 2001 under ISBN 9780385720854 and ISBN 0385720858.