• “To Move the Spirits of the Beholder to Admiration”: Lively Passionate Performance on the Early Modern Stage

    Jonathan Holmes (see profile)
    Affect (Psychology), Drama, Sixteenth century, Seventeenth century, Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
    Item Type:
    emotion, liveliness, Mimesis, Passions, Affect, Early modern drama, Performance, Shakespeare
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    This article examines the meaning of terms such as “lively” and “to the life” in early modern plays and in commentary on dramatic performance. Scholars have tended to interpret these terms as praise for a naturalistic acting style, one that values actors’ realistic portrayals of their characters. Conversely, this article argues that liveliness meant energeia, an Aristotelian term for the aspect of language that moves an audience. Early modern poets and playwrights frequently expressed a strong desire to move their audiences, and the playwright Thomas Heywood claimed that drama was particularly well suited to achieve that goal. By attending to new research on Renaissance emotion, the article considers how a revised understanding of the passions should affect our understanding of dramatic performance. It goes on to demonstrate that liveliness required excessive passion, and though a performance could go too far and, as Hamlet says, “tear a passion to tatters,” the calibration of passion required of actors encouraged excess nonetheless. Not all acting was excessive because not all acting was lively, and it was possible for a performance to become too passionate. But acting was frequently praised as lively, and lively performance required an excess of passion that was considered unnatural.
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    4 years ago
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