Hamlet’s advice to the players
Shakespeare was an ACTOR! He wrote for ACTORS and AUDIENCES – not scholars and exam boards.
Here’s what he says about acting:
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.
Keep the pace going and the diction precise – but don’t overdo it! Be naturalistic.
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, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.
Avoid hand acting, keep it natural – even when the emotion runs high.
O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have sucha fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.
Over-acting is horrible. It’s not about you and how epic, heroic and sing-song you can make the lines, but how truthfully you can become the channel of communication between the text and the character.
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, theword to the action; with this special o'erstep notthe modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone isfrom the purpose of playing, whose end, both at thefirst and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, themirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,scorn her own image, and the very age and body ofthe time his form and pressure.
Don’t underplay it either: you are still on a stage and need to be understood. Don’t do any actions unless prompted by the words, and in all things, be natural. Your emotions must be real and proportional.
Now this overdone,or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; thecensure of the which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there beplayers that I have seen play, and heard otherspraise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,that, neither having the accent of Christians northe gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have sostrutted and bellowed that I have thought some ofnature's journeymen had made men and not made themwell, they imitated humanity so abominably.
If you overdo it, you may make foolish people laugh, but you will never be able to move thoughtful people to tears. I have seen some actors who have been so bad that they were unrecognizable as human beings – as if they had been made not by nature, but by nature’s apprentices.
And let those that playyour clowns speak no more than is set down for them;for there be of them that will themselves laugh, toset on some quantity of barren spectators to laughtoo; though, in the mean time, some necessaryquestion of the play be then to be considered:that's villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it.
And make sure the comic characters (and everyone else for that matter) say the lines as written. Going over the top and adding to them may make the audience laugh, but it draws attention away from the plot of the play.
Go, make you ready.