This compendium opens the stagedoor for those with little or no practical experience in acting. For actors and other theatre specialists grappling with the challenges posed by performing or staging the works of the great Bard, here is useful instruction eloquently expressed that will enrich future interpretation and performance. "On Playing Shakespeare" takes advantage of the long tradition of Shakespearean acting by offering a rich treasury of writings by noted actors who have essayed Shakespearean roles in the past. The perspectives of these thespians offer comprehensive exposure to the challenges of acting in Shakespeare's plays and are emblematic of theatre repertories and popular tastes from the mid-eighteenth century to World War I. Here is Ellen Terry writing on her role as Mamellius in an 1856 production of "The Winter's Tale," Edwin Booth on Iago, Fanny Kemble on Lady Macbeth, and dozens of other actors who made lasting theatrical contributions with their interpretations of Shakespeare. These commentaries also bear witness to the actor's eternal struggle to get on the stage, stay on the stage, and perform Shakespearean roles to varied audiences in sometimes less-than-ideal conditions. The heart of the book, and its climax, deals with matters of interpretation, with actors' differing reactions to the same role placed side-by-side for purposes of clear contrast. The work includes photographs of John Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Edwin Booth, and others in roles they discuss in the book.
The volume proceeds in sequence from the sort of background and training necessary to approach Shakespeare with assurance through the performance itself and its aftermath. The first section of advice and commentary deals with Preliminaries, such as training, body and movement, voice and diction, ease and concentration, and more. This chapter includes four actors on Beginning in Shakespeare. In Getting the Part, which includes casting, Clara Morris writes on a young actress as Juliet. Writings on reading the play, memorizing, observation, research, and gesture are included in the section on Working the Part. Interpreting, rehearsing, and performing the part each receive separate sections. In Clusters of Commentary, the book's longest section, various actors comment on performing specific roles, such as eight actors on Hamlet, three actresses on Portia, and more. On Playing Shakespeare speaks to actors and directors who face the contemporary challenges of playing Shakespeare and to Shakespeareans and scholars with more general interests in the history, technique, and tradition of Shakespearean acting. A must for graduate and undergraduate courses in acting Shakespeare; courses in the history of acting; and graduate courses in nineteenth-century British and American theatre history.