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October 04, 2013


As is happening more often, wikipedia provides some answers (or at least a jumping off point):'s_a_stage

Ultimately the words derive from quod fere totus mundus exerceat histrionem (because almost the whole world are actors) attributed to Petronius, a phrase which had wide circulation in England at the time...

..that notion of private behaviour not matching up with public presentation.

I am not sure you have the meaning correct. You may even have it backwards. My understanding of the speech is not that private and public do not match this way, but rather that people really are stereotypes, that they do actually behave in accordance with some standard roles.

"Remember that you are an actor in a play, and the Playwright chooses the manner of it: if he wants it short, it is short; if long, it is long. If he wants you to act a poor man you must act the part with all your powers; and so if your part be a cripple or a magistrate or a plain man. For your business is to act the character that is given you and act it well; the choice of the cast is Another's."
--from the Enchiridion of Epictetus.

Demonstrating -- alas, not for the first time -- that if I can't remember what happened last week, at least a text I read once in Humanitities 11 in 1959 will be more accessible.

Thanks all and good point about the meaning

One of the things Shakespeare is doing there is asserting the primacy of drama, I think.

Being of an occasional melancholy disposition, I prefer this bit from MacBeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing...

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.

Song of Songs, 1:15

date unknown, but before Shakespeare

"You have the most eyes I have ever seen"

Play It Again, Sam, couch

after Shakespeare

Porlock, I may be misunderstanding you. But the playwrights and actors that I know have a very different view. In a play, what is required in any production is that the words be spoken exactly was written.

Beyond that, the diretor and actors have essentially total license. They can change the sets. They can change the costumes. They can change their posture and expression, and move about the stage, so as to utterly change the meaning that the audience takes from the play. All they cannot change are the words.

This contrasts with a screenplay. In a screenplay, what is locked down are the images -- what is shown, including the scene and the expression on the actors' faces if specified in the screenplay. But the actors are free the change the words that they speak as seems good to them (subject to the approval of the director) . . . and they routinely do so.

wj, not necessarily. It depends on the playwright, the genre etc. Extemporizing was once a very important part of being an actor and the audience expected interaction with the stage. We don't even have to go to commedia dell'arte for that. The idea of that being a violation of the author looks post-Elizabethan to me.
Btw, it's even stronger on the opera stage. It was uncommon for composers to fix the whole part of the singer on paper because the virtuosos were expected by everyone to show their art by filling the gaps. Gluck tried to limit abuse there (still kept a few 'ad libitum' in his scores) but it was not appreciated at the time. It did not stop before Verdi and Wagner actively fought it and set a new standard that we now take for granted.

I think the difference between Shakespeare and Plato would be, that the latter sees an essence, i.e. the ideas, behind the appearances, while the former is a humanist anti-essentialist who would say that this is all there is and we should be happy anyway.

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