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to gull the ragamuffins that stand aloof gaping at you, throw the cards, having first torn four or five of them, round about the stage, just upon the third sound, as though you had lost. It skills not if the four knaves lie on their backs, and outface the audience; there's none such fools as dare take exceptions at them, because, ere the play go off, better knaves than they will fall into the company.
Now, sir; if the writer be a fellow that hath either epigrammed you, or hath had a flirt at your mistress, or hath brought either your feather, or your red beard, or your little legs, &c., on the stage; you shall disgrace him worse than by tossing him in a blanket, or giving him the bastinado in a tavern, if, in the middle of his play, be it pastoral or comedy, moral or tragedy, you rise with a screwed and discontented face from your stool to be gone. No matter whether the scenes be good, or no; the better they are, the worse do you distaste them. And, being on your feet, sneak not away like a coward; but salute all your gentle acquaintance, that are spread either on the rushes, or on stools about you; and draw what troop you can from the stage after you. The mimics are beholden to you for allowing them elbow-room: their poet cries perhaps, "A pox go with you"; but care not for that; there's no music without frets.
Marry; if either the company or indisposition of the weather bind you to sit it out, my counsel is then that you turn plain ape. Take up a rush, and tickle the earnest ears of your fellow gallants, to make other fools fall a laughing; mew at passionate speeches; blare at merry; find fault with the music; whew at the children's action; whistle at the songs; and, above all, curse the sharers, that whereas the same day you had bestowed forty shillings on an embroidered felt and feather, Scotch fashion, for your mistress in the court, or your punk in the city, within two hours after you encounter with the very same block on the stage, when the haberdasher swore to you the impression was extant but that morning.
To conclude. Hoard up the finest play-scraps you can get; upon which your lean wit may most savourly feed, for want of other stuff, when the Arcadian and Euphuized gentlewomen have their tongues sharpened to set upon you: that quality (next to your shuttlecock) is the only furniture to a courtier that's but a new beginner, and is but in his A B C of compliment.
The next places that are filled, after the play-houses be emptied, are, or ought to be, taverns; into a tavern then let us next march, where the brains of one hogshead must be beaten out to make up another.
THOMAS DEKKER, The Gulls Horne-booke 1609
§4. The Actor and his craft
...A strutting player, whose conceit
Lies in his hamstring, and doth think it rich
To hear the wooden dialogue and sound
'Twixt his stretch'd footing and the scaffoldage.
Troilus and Cressida, 1. iii. 153-156
Hamlet. 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. 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. 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 such a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it out-herods Herod : pray you, avoid it. First Player. I warrant your honour.
Hamlet. Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor : suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature; 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. Now, this overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the censure of which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O! there be players that I have seen play, and heard
others praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely, that, neither having the accent of Christians nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of nature's journeymen had made men and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
First Player. I hope we have reformed that indifferently with us.
Hamlet. O! reform it altogether. And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered that's villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. Hamlet, III. ii. 1—50
The character of a player (two views)
The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them. A Midsummer Night's Dream, v. i. 215
Whatsoever is commendable to the grave orator, is most exquisitely perfect in him; for by a full and significant action of body, he charms our attention: sit in a full theatre, and you will think you see so many lines drawn from the circumference of so many ears, whiles the actor is the centre. He doth not strive to make nature monstrous; she is often seen in the same scene with him, but neither on stilts nor crutches; and for his voice, 'tis not lower than the prompter, nor louder than the foil and target. By his action he fortifies moral precepts with examples; for what we see him personate, we think truly done before us: a man of a deep thought might apprehend the ghost of our ancient heroes walked again, and take him (at several times) for many of them. He is much affected to painting, and 'tis a question whether that make him an excellent player, or his playing an excellent painter. He adds grace to the poet's labours: for what in the poet is but ditty, in him is both ditty and music. He entertains us in the best leisure of our life, that is between meals, the most unfit time either for study or bodily exercise. The flight of hawks and chase of wild beasts, either of them are delights noble: but some think
this sport of men the worthier, despite all calumny. All men have been of his occupation: and indeed, what he doth feignedly, that do others essentially: this day one plays a monarch, the next a private person. Here one acts a tyrant, on the morrow an exile: a parasite this man to-night, to-morrow a precisian, and so of divers others. I observe, of all men living, a worthy actor in one kind is the strongest motive of affection that can be: for when he dies, we cannot be persuaded any man can do his parts like him. But to conclude, I value a worthy actor by the corruption of some few of the quality, as I would do gold in the ore; I should not mind the dross, but the purity of the metal.
Sir THOMAS OVERBURY, Characters 1614-16
Players are discredited in the very subject of their profession, which is only scratching the itching humours of scabbed minds with pleasing content and profane jests; and how can he be well reputed, that employs all his time in vanity and lies, counterfeiting and practising nothing else.
Player is afraid of the plague, as much as a coward of a musket: for as death is formidable to the one, so is poverty and wants to the other.
Player is afraid of the statute, for if he have no better supportation than his profession, he is neither admitted in public, nor if he be a roamer dares justify himself in private, being a flat rogue by the statute.
Player's practices can hardly be warranted in religion: for a man to put on woman's apparel, and a woman a man's, is plain prohibition; I speak not of execrable oaths, artificial lies, discoveries of cozenage, scurrilous words, obscene discourses, corrupt courtings, licentious motions, lascivious actions, and lewd jestures: for all these are incident to other men. But here is the difference in these they come by imperfection, in them by profession.
Player is a great spender, and indeed may resemble strumpets, who get their money filthily, and spend it profusely.
Player is much out of countenance, if fools do not laugh at them, boys clap their hands, peasants ope their throats, and the rude rascal rabble cry "excellent, excellent”: the knaves have acted their parts in print.
Player hath many times many excellent qualities: as dancing, activity, music, song, elocution, ability of body, memory, vigilancy, skill of weapon, pregnancy of wit, and such like: in all which he resembleth an excellent spring of water, which grows the more sweeter and the more plentiful by the often drawing out of it: so are all these the more perfect and plausible by the often practice.
Player is at the first very bashful, as stricken with amaze at the multitude, which being of various dispositions, will censure him accordingly: but custom maketh perfectness, and emboldeneth him sometimes to be shameless.
Player must take heed of wrested and enforced action: for if there be not a facility in his deliverance, and as it were a natural dexterity, it must needs sound harsh to the auditor, and procure his distaste and displeasure.
Player is like a garment which the tailor maketh at the direction of the owner; so they frame their action at the disposing of the poet so that in truth they are reciprocal helps to one another; for the one writes for money, and the other plays for money, and the spectator pays his money.
T. G., The Rich Cabinet 1616
The magnificence of players' dress
Overlashing in apparel is so common a fault, that the very hirelings of some of our players, which stand at reversion of six shillings by the week, jet it under gentlemen's noses in suits of silk, exercising themselves to prating on the stage, and common scoffing when they come abroad, where they look askance over the shoulder at every man, of whom the Sunday before they begged an alms. I speak not this, as though every one that professeth the quality so abused himself, for it is well known that some of them are sober, discreet, properly learned, honest householders and citizens, well thought on amongst their neighbours at home, though the pride of their shadows (I mean those hangbys whom they succour with stipend) cause them to be somewhat ill talked of abroad.
STEPHEN GOSSON, The Schoole of Abuse 1579