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rately acquired by the help of the foregoing principles than the methods hitherto taken. It is known that common deportment, such as may pass for elegant and proper off the stage, would no more be thought sufficient upon it than the dialogue of common polite conversation, would be accurate or spirited enough for the language of a play. So that trusting to chance only will not do. The actions of every scene ought to be as much as possible a complete composition of well varied movements, considered as such abstractly, and apart from what may be merely relative to the sense of the words. Action considered with regard to assisting the authors meaning, by enforcing the sentiments or raising the passions, must be left entirely to the judgment of the performer, we only pretend to shew how the limbs may be made to have an equal readiness to move in all such directions as may be
What I would have understood by action, abstract- P. 152 edly and apart from its giving force to the meaning of the words, may be better conceived by supposing a foreigner, who is a thorough master of all the effects of action, at one of our theatres, but quite ignorant of the language of the play; it is evident his senti-. ments under such limitations, would chiefly arise from what he might distinguish by the lines of the movements belonging to each character; the actions of an old man, if proper, or not, would be visible to him at once, and he would judge of low and odd characters by the inelegant lines which we have already shewn to belong to the characters of punch, harlequin, Pierrott,
or the clown; so he would also form his judgment of the graceful acting of a fine gentleman, or hero, by the elegance of their movements in such lines of grace and beauty as have been sufficiently described. See chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, on the composition of forms. Where note, that as the whole of beauty depends upon continually varying the same must be observed with regard to genteel and elegant acting: and as plain space makes a considerable part of beauty in form, so cessation of movement in acting is as absolutely necessary; and in my opinion much wanted on most stages, to relieve the eye from what Shakespear calls, continually sawing the air.
The actress hath sufficient grace with fewer actions, and those in less extended lines than the actor, for as the lines that compose the Venus are simpler and
more gently flowing, than those that compose the P. 153 Apollo, so must her movements be in like propor.
And here it may not be improper to take notice of a mischief that attends copied actions on the stage; they are often confined to certain sets and numbers, which being repeated, and growing stale to the audience, become at last subject to mimickry and ridicule, which would hardly be the case, if an actor were possessed of such general principles as include a knowledge of the effects of all the movements that the body is capable of.
The comedian, whose business it is to imitate the actions belonging to particular characters in nature, may also find his account in the knowledge of lines;
for whatever he copies from the life, by these principles may be strengthened, altered, and adjusted as his judgment shall direct, and the part the author has given him shall require.