When I began to think about my subject for the purpose of this address, I was rather staggered by its vastness. It is really a matter for a course of lectures; but as President Eliot has not proposed that I should occupy a chair of dramatic literature in this University, and as time and opportunity are limited, I can only undertake to put before you, in the simplest way, a few leading ideas about dramatic art which may be worthy of reflection. And in doing this I have the great satisfaction of appearing in a model theatre, before a model audience, and of being the only actor in my own play. Moreover, I am stimulated by the atmosphere of the Greek drama, for I know that on this stage you have enacted a Greek play with remarkable success. So, after all, it is not a body of mere tyros that I am addressing, but actors who have worn the sock and buskin, and declaimed the speeches which delighted audiences two thousand years ago.
Now, this address, like discourses in a more solemn place, falls naturally into divisions. I propose to speak first of the Art of Acting; secondly, of its Requirements and Practice; and lastly of its Rewards. And, at the outset, let me say that I want you to judge the stage at its best. I do not intend to suggest that only the plays of Shakespeare are tolerable in the theatre to people of taste and intelligence. The drama has many forms—tragedy, comedy, historical-pastoral, pastoral-comical—and all are good when their aim is honestly artistic.
The art of acting.
Now, what is the art of acting? I speak of it in its highest sense, as the art to which Roscius, Betterton, and Garrick owed their fame. It is the art of embodying the poet’s creations, of giving them flesh and blood, of making the figures which appeal to your mind’s eye in the printed drama live before you on the stage. “To fathom the depths of character, to trace its latent motives, to feel its finest quiverings of emotion, to comprehend the thoughts that are hidden under words, and thus possess one’s-self of the actual mind of the individual man”—such was Macready’s definition of the player’s art; and to this we may add the testimony of Talma. He describes tragic acting as “the union of grandeur without pomp and nature without triviality.” It demands, he says, the endowment of high sensibility and intelligence.
“The actor who possesses this double gift adopts a course of study peculiar to himself. In the first place, by repeated exercises, he enters deeply into the emotions, and his speech acquires the accent proper to the situation of the personage he has to represent. This done, he goes to the theatre not only to give theatrical effect to his studies, but also to yield himself to the spontaneous flashes of his sensibility and all the emotions which it involuntarily produces in him. What does he then do? In