Hamlet (in A3S2) tells the newly-arrived Players how he wants them to act the speech which he has inserted into The Mousetrap to test whether Claudius feels guilty about Hamket’s father’s death.
Now it’s usually not usually safe to assume that Shakespeare feels personally the emotions that he puts into the speeches of his characters. Macbeth may be feeling complete despair when he comes to the ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrw’ speech, but we should not assume that Shakespeare felt that same despair.
However, perhaps we can make the assumption that Hamlet speaks for Shakespeare in the following extract, for at least two reasons:
Hamlet’s intention when making the speech seems pretty clear. He wants the players to be effective in the delivery of the speech, so as to move Claudius. Shakespeare, too, would frequently have this intention – to make the players of his plays to be as effective as possible in moving the audience.
In this scene, Hamlet is in a similar situation to one very common for Shakespeare: he is the author of (part of) a play, and is instructing the players how to play the scene.
So it is reasonable to assume that Hamlet’s advice given in the following extract, can be thought of as Shakespeare’s view on how the players should act. The extract is intentionally played with limited emotion to help you listen to the content. Click on the arrow in the middle of the image, to play the extract::
The speech could be summarised as follows:
- Speak lighltly, not heavily
- Don’t exaggerate your movements
- Be temperate
- Avoid going over the top or hamming it up.
- Don”t be too tame, suiting action to the word and vice versa.
- If you overdo things, you will appear unnatural.
All of this is particularly relevant to play-reading where you, the other players, and the audience (also the players) are all in the same room. But it is advice which applies in nearly every acting situation.
It is such good advice that it is worth reading again (and again), so here’s your chance to say it outloud, by clicking on the link to Hamlet below: