So my buddy Hamlet hired me to perform in a play he wrote. His family will be there, so he’s being pretty picky about it. I asked him for a little acting advice, and he kept going on and on about what he’s looking for… Here’s our conversation:
Mike: Hey Hamlet, quick question—How do you want me to do my monologue?
Hamlet: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.
M: So, speak tip—tipping—TRIPP-ing-ly. Trippingly on the tongue! Gee, that takes a bit of vocal agility to spit that one out! … Oh… I get it. Alright, I’ll make sure I’ll EE-NUN-see-ATE EV-ree-THINGuh!
H: But if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines.
M: Oh. Sorry. No town crier delivery. Got it. Smooth and natural, not forced.
H: 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 passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.
M: Interesting, so you’re saying flailing and wailing doesn’t show off an actor’s ability to portray great emotion, it just reveals a lack of self-control. Hey, did you see Nicolas Cage in—
H: —Oh, 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 dumb-shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it.
M: I warrant your honor. I’ll keep everything toned down.
H: Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor.
M: Well okay, but what if I’m still not sure what to do or how?
H: Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.
M: Ah! The script! Of course! All the keys to a natural performance are already in the script. If I’m true to what is written, what I say will be believable. And if what I say is believable, then what I do as a result will also be believable. And the other way around!
H: For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.
M: Wow… so if I exaggerate in order to show off my acting ability… not only do I show my lack of self-control instead, but I am working against everything that theatre is trying to accomplish. To simply reflect life back to the audience. The good times, the bad times… life itself. But, I mean, this is a comedy, isn’t it? No one’s taking it that seriously, are they? Can’t we act a little silly just because it’s funny?
H: Now this overdone or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others.
M: You’re right. Sorry. Some people might like the cheap laughs, but most people come to the theatre to see real relationships, real connections, real people… Oh, speaking of relationships… if you ever decide to dump Ophelia, do you think I—
H: Go, make you ready!
M: Oh! Right! Places in five. Thanks for the advice, m’lord!