Performing words #1: what is an actor?

This post is part of a series on theatrical words. For an introduction to the series, see Performing words: introduction to a new thread on theatre and language.

Do actors act? And what would it mean if they did?

The current post concerns the word ‘actor’ and its surprisingly untheatrical history. It asks why and when people started identifying performance practitioners by this highly active, act-and-action-focused noun. Indeed, it will suggest that calling someone an actor when the rest of the world around you is more likely to call that person a player is an ideological intervention in the status and meaning of theatre. The key arguments of this blog are that, in the early modern period:

  1. ‘Actor’ is not yet a theatrical word by default.
  2. When used in a theatrical context, ‘actor’ does not refer to performers by default.
  3. Where ‘actor’ does mean ‘performer’, it does so only in specific contexts and with specific intents. Its use is an ideological intervention in the early modern theatrical scene.

But first we need to return to a period which did not immediately equate actors with theatre. Anyone wanting to take this word as self-evidently theatrical needs to confront the much more widespread and better-established use of the word to describe anyone taking action (which is also the primary meaning of its Latin root).

Non-theatrical actors

This might mean someone who attempts or enacts sex or sexual violence. In Edward III, when the Countess refuses ‘To be an actor in [the king’s] graceless lust’, she is refusing to commit adultery rather than the opportunity to perform a sexy stage routine. In the argument (ie, plot summary) to Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1592), Lucrece, ‘first taking an oath of [her supporters] for her revenge, revealed the actor’: that is, she named her rapist.

An actor may also be someone who takes non-sexual violent action. In The English Mirror (1586), for example, George Whetstone paraphrases Erasmus’ view that ‘in murder the consenter is as guilty as the actor’. In Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris, the Guise refers to ‘They that shall be actors in this Massacre’. In Jack Straw, the King calls those involved in the revolt ‘the Actors of the same’. In Arden of Faversham, Mosby calls Michael and the painter ‘Chief actors to Arden’s overthrow’. In each of these cases, an actor is an associate, enabler or overseer of violence.

But an actor might also be someone who takes any kind of action, however small in physical scope. Thus Gabriel Harvey could accuse Thomas Nashe in Pierce’s Supererogation of being, ‘as he weeneth himself, the valiantest and bravest Actor, that ever managed pen’. Nashe is a textual producer in the most physical sense; a pen-pusher, if you will. And in some cases, the word ‘actor’ can be used to designate the opposite of a stage performer. In John Marston’s Histriomastix, a character is described as a ‘Player’ by other characters and protests that he would make a terrible soldier: ‘Alas, sir, press me?/ I am no fit Actor for th’action’. If we begin with the assumption that ‘Actor’ always refers to the theatrical, this looks like a pun; considered in the light of the evidence gathered above, it may simply show us how untheatrical the word ‘actor’ was. We might also note how gendered this term is; unlike the word ‘player’, ‘actor’ seems bound to the world of aggressive sexual or violent activity, and very rarely describes women. Whilst the preference for either actor or actress to designate female performers continues to be controversial in modern idiom, one of the joys of writing this blog post has been the discovery that the female equivalent to actor in the sixteenth century was actrix, which I consider to be badass.

In considering untheatrical usages of the word actor, it’s important to recognise the word’s useful non-specificity: if an actor is simply someone who does something (an enactor of an act), it can be used for more or less any purpose. When Shakespeare’s Cleopatra tells a messenger that ‘The actor may plead pardon’, she is reassuring him that she won’t shoot the messenger. When Angelo in Measure for Measure asks, rhetorically, ‘Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?’, he is talking of criminals. In the second part of Barnabe Riche’s Don Simonides (1584), where the Roman statesman Gaius Marius is described as a tyrant who not only wanted his followers to kill his enemies, ‘but also endeavoured to be an actor in ministring the torment’. In other word, Marius wants not only to order atrocities but to be involved in committing them. Compare this to Holinshed’s Chronicles, which repeatedly employs ‘actor’ in its marginalia. Thus Mary, Queen of Scots is called ‘an actor in this purposed conspiracy’, a reference to the Babington plot, and an unusual example of the word describing a woman. Across the quotations we have seen so far, it is important to note that the word rarely appears without plenty of other qualifying descriptors: ‘actors in this Massacre’; ‘Actors of the same‘; ‘actor in this purposed conspiracy’. These phrases are necessary to give meaning to an otherwise unusually imprecise, multi-purpose word. I also think that the appearance of ‘actor’ in the marginalia of Holinshed’s Chronicles rather than in the main text tells us quite a bit about its multi-functionality as an all-purpose sort of word. ‘This particular person is an important agent of historical change’, it seems to say, ‘and you can navigate key actions in these chronicles by looking for key actors in its margins’. Richard Huloet’s Dictionary (1572, a second edition of his earlier Abecedarium Anglico-Latinum) helps us to see the vagaries of this word’s meanings. Huloet translates the English word ‘Attourney’ into Latin as ‘Actor’, and the Latin ‘Actor scenaticus‘, which we would now presumably translate as ‘actor’, as ‘Comedy player’ (as I’ve tried to show in an earlier post, the word ‘Comedy’ means ‘play’ in this period far more often than it means any particular kind of play).

The word ‘actor’ is used most often in the sixteenth century in religious and legal texts, where it has no reference to performance in the theatrical sense. By the early 1580s, such texts often pair the word ‘actor’ with the equally ambiguous word ‘author’ to refer to Jesuit intrigue: both words effectively mean ‘conspirators’. In the various editions and parts of John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, meanwhile, the word ‘actor’ is repeatedly paired with ‘proctor’: when someone is described as actor and proctor, Foxe seems to be calling them managers, key agents in a scenario. And for me, the most intriguing and striking aspect of the use of the word ‘actor’ in the sixteenth century is in effect its non-use: the word barely appears in early commercial plays. It simply isn’t a theatrical term in the scripts written for the playhouses. And this isn’t the only domain where the word barely functions: despite its appearance in religious, legal and literary prose, I have found very few examples of it appearing in the period’s poetry. This seems especially surprising given its metrical convenience for many of the period’s verse forms; here, I suspect, its relative lack of intrinsic semantic meaning works against its appearance.

Theatrical actors?

The Oxford English Dictionary gives William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure (vol. 1, 1566) as the first instance of the word ‘actor’ meaning theatrical performer:

To whom may be given a Theatre of the world, and stage of human misery, more worthily, than to him that hath with comely gesture, wise demeanour, and orderly behaviour, been an actor in the same?

Painter is talking to his patron the Earl of Warwick here, in a dedicatory letter that prefaces his story compendium, and I can understand why this passage looks straightforwardly theatrical: the reference to ‘Theatre’, ‘stage’, ‘gesture’ and ‘demeanour’, in particular, seem to seal the deal. But hmmmmmm. As we’ll see in a later post, the word ‘Theatre’ need not itself have much to do with the theatrical in this period. More importantly, Painter is eulogising his patron and his book here: Warwick is an actor in the sense that he is a full participant in worldly affairs, whilst The Palace of Pleasure is a theatre and stage in the same way that it is a Palace: these are metaphorical references to physical spaces that enable display and examination in a general sense, rather than playhouses in any specific sense. Twenty years before a London playhouse is called The Theatre, ‘Theatre’ means ‘observatory’, a place for looking, much more readily than it means a dedicated space for theatrical performance. Painter may be thinking theatrically here, but I’m not sure that he has to be, and at the very least the passage turns on the ambiguity, the various kinds of actors and acting available in this period. It is perhaps significant that across the long iterations of Painter’s volumes, this is the only appearance of the word. Whether used theatrically or not, it doesn’t seem to be a significant part of Painter’s narrative lexicon. That said, The Palace of Pleasure has a claim to being the London playhouses’ most influential text, and given its incessant use as source material by several generations of playwrights, and the proximity of the word ‘actor’ with the unusual use of the word ‘Theatre’, I wonder if we are looking here at a passage that had especial influence over Painter’s many readers -including not only future playwrights but also future playhouse-builders and namers.

The untheatrical history of ‘actor’ has not been obvious, I think, because most of us first encounter early modern uses of the word in the work of Shakespeare. In no less than three famous moments in his work, Shakespeare is at the forefront of a new, developing meaning or association for this word: ‘Like a dull actor now,/ I have forgot my part’ (Coriolanus); ‘As in a theatre, the eyes of men,/ After a well-graced actor leaves the stage’ (Richard II); ‘As an unperfect actor on the stage’ (the only appearance of this word in The Sonnets). In a less famous passage, Warwick in 3 Henry VI refuses to simply be an observer on the battlefield, ‘As if the Tragedy/ Were played in jest, by counterfeiting Actors’. But I’m struck that these four examples all use the word in the form of simile or example introduced by ‘like’ or ‘as’, and all bolster the word’s theatrical possibility by accompanying it with such terms as ‘part’, ‘theatre’ or ‘stage’. The 3 Henry VI usage is especially interesting in this regard: at a time when few people used this word theatrically, the writer may have needed the qualifier ‘counterfeiting’ to make sense of ‘Actors’.

These four instances are, I think, the only times Shakespeare used the word unambiguously to mean a stage performer (though we’ll see three more possible examples later); even here, we might note the accompanying terms of clarification. Such clarification isn’t unusual; indeed, we’ve seen it in every example used in this blog post thus far. Whether referring to theatre or to anything else, the word ‘actor’ is simply too general, even too meaningless, to function semantically on its own. This feels to me very different to modern English, where non-theatrical meanings for the word are fairly unusual and specialised and its performative meaning has become predominant. As a result, the word’s modern meaning has been read back onto its earlier comparative meaninglessness.

Casting our actors: actor as fictional character

But once the word slips across the boundary between things actually done to things done in mimicry, mimesis, imitation or representation, things stay uncertain. It is in many ways a surprising development for the word: since the actualness of acting is built into the word, its association with theatre and its depiction of things that are not really done is disquieting. Above all, once the word ‘actor’ does begin to be used in relation to people in a theatre, it often does not refer to the kinds of people in a theatre we might otherwise expect. In the fabulous induction to John Marston’s Antonio and Mellida, the people we would now call actors come onstage and discuss the roles they are about to play: ‘Faith, we can say our parts, but we are ignorant in what mould we must cast our Actors’. The performers already have their roles assigned, and the word ‘cast’ here means ‘perform’ rather than ‘allot roles’. So who are these ‘Actors’ that the actors need to cast? How does an actor – in the modern sense – cast an actor in the early modern sense? The answer, as we shall see, is that when used in a theatrical sense, the early modern ‘actor’ still retains its primary sense of anyone taking action, and therefore refers to a character – a person taking action in the story – more often than it refers to the performer representing them.

Play inductions are especially rich in this kind of evidence. In the induction to Mucedorus, Envy tells Comedy to ‘send thy actors forth,/ And I will cross the first steps of their tread’. Envy isn’t threatening harm to the performers, but to the characters. Something similar happens in Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humours. In this play, an onstage audience watches and comments on the action, who frequently refer back to the play’s title to note that the ‘actors so strongly pursue and continue their humours’. As Cordatus later says, ‘Marry, because we’ll imitate your actors, and be out of our Humours’. Since it is the play’s characters, rather than their performers, whose humoral disorders are in focus, it seems fairly clear that ‘actors’ here means ‘characters’ in the modern sense. When induction or metatheatrical characters ask, as Cordatus asks, to ‘give way to the actors’, that phrase appears to be identical in import to his other later commentary on entrances, such as ‘Here comes Macilente’ or ‘Here come the gallants’. Modern readers may automatically suppose that this is a reference to the performers rather than the characters, where an early modern reader or audience member may make the opposition assumption. Since the latter are portrayed by the former, this may seem a finicky distinction, but it strikes to the heart of theatre as thing, function, event and idea. The title page to Dido, Queen of Carthage and the verso (inside) of the title page to The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London show that early modern ‘actors’ were the equivalent of modern ‘characters’. Though Policy, Honest Industry and Shame, Jupiter, Ganymede and Dido are all listed as the names of the actors in these plays, disappointingly these people are unlikely to have been actors in the modern sense. 

And this, in turn, points us to the crucial and usually overlooked difference between the modern and early modern word. In the sixteenth century, an actor is someone who takes action in any given scenario, and are therefore, in the books above, the movers and shakers in their fictional worlds. Actors, in these cases, are characters.

In a magisterial article on the history of character lists (often now called ‘dramatis personae’) in printed plays, Tamara Atkin and Emma Smith make a number of important observations with implications both for this blog post and our project on the first thirty years of the London playhouses. Plays written before the building of the playhouses, or for performance in a non-playhouse environment, were much more likely to have character lists in their print editions, whilst playhouse plays tended at first not to include them.[1] This means that, ‘In sum, in the period before the opening of the commercial theatres, character lists were gradually adopted as a standard paratext; by the 1590s, character lists were included far less regularly’ (650). 90% of plays printed 1550 to 1576, none of them written for playhouse performance, contained character lists (and Atkin and Smith show the remaining 10% to be anomalies, since they represent reprints of a play first printed in 1530); by the period between 1590 to 1619, most printed plays had been written for playhouse performance, and only a third of them contain character lists.[2]

Atkin and Smith find that the commonest heading or title for a character list up to 1577 is ‘The names of the players’ or ‘The players’ names’: ‘this occurs in around a third of play-texts with character lists published before 1577’ but, astonishingly, ‘The term “players” is never used after this date’ (659).

Instead, presumably alongside the development of the professional theatre, it is superseded by the word “actors” […]. “Actors” becomes a preferred term for dramatic characters for the rest of the period; around 15% of character lists have a heading that is a variant of “The Actors names”, or “The persons that act”. There is often some ambiguity – perhaps deliberate – around the ontology of “acting”, as in, for example, “The names of all the men and women that act in this play’ […], where “men and women” are the categories acted rather than their all-male players[.] (659)

There is quite a bit to unpack here, but the key point is one that Atkin and Smith make almost in passing: ‘”Actors” becomes a preferred term for dramatic characters’ (not, that is, for dramatic performers). For this reason, I wonder if the ambiguity Atkin and Smith point to here is not so much deliberate as 1) the product of unavoidable ideological differences over the way to describe theatre practitioners and their roles, or 2) the result of subsequent changes to the meaning of the word (and therefore only ambiguous in hindsight). Atkin and Smith trace a brief period in the 1620s and early 1630s where lists of ‘actors’ are lists of performers. After 1632, ‘the term “actor” is reallocated to refer to play characters, and there is no further attempt to record those who performed the roles’ (660). This later return of the word ‘actor’ to the world of fictional characters shows how experimental its more familiar modern meaning still was to early modern writers, publishers and readers.

Atkin and Smith’s study of printed character lists leads them to suggest that the word ‘actor’ is in use by the mid-1570s and the word ‘player’ is ‘never used’ after 1577 (659). Because they define ‘the opening of the commercial theatres’ by the opening of the Theatre in 1576, these linguistic changes seem more to anticipate than follow developments in playhouse culture. But as our upcoming blog post on ‘playhouse’ will show, the Theatre is not the first such playing space, and is somewhere between the fourth to the ninth playhouse in London, and so these linguistic shifts are very likely to be driven by a shifting theatrical scene that was in place a few years before 1576. But the evidence of these character lists is also interestingly at odds with the evidence of the main text of performance scripts (that part of a text we most often call a play), and at odds with the manuscript evidence for the culture of the playhouses.

Actor absences: where the word isn’t used

To start with the evidence in extant play texts, astonishingly, it isn’t until The Spanish Tragedy that a play performed in the London playhouses employs the word ‘actor’ in its dialogue.[3] The Spanish Tragedy is one of a number of plays that can only be imprecisely dated to 1585-92, but is usually taken to date from the earlier years in that range. At the end of the play Hieronimo has used a play-within-a-play to dispatch a modest number of his enemies, and stepping outside of the performance-within-a-performance, he calls himself ‘Author and actor in this Tragedy’. In doing so, he joins together two words, ‘Author’ and ‘Tragedy’, often paired with ‘actor’ alone, but which I have not seen brought together in earlier texts as a triad. Although scholars have assumed that ‘actor’ here means ‘theatrical performer’, we’re back to the conundrum of this blog post: it may simply mean ‘someone that has created and driven this play, or indeed (depending on our sense of the word ‘Tragedy’) these real-life murders’. ‘Actor’ may gloss ‘Author’, rather than add to it; the two words may mean the same thing here. (It may be worth comparing Harvey’s description of Nashe as ‘ the valiantest and bravest Actor, that ever managed pen’ here). For those who think Soliman and Perseda is written by the author of The Spanish Tragedy, it may be interesting to note that these are the earliest playhouse plays to employ the word ‘actor’ in the pre-1592 extant corpus. The allegorical character Death calls their ‘sable dart’ the ‘chiefest actor’ in ‘this Tragedy’, and Death later announces itself as ‘chief actor in this tragedy’. These locutions are striking similar not only to each other, but to The Spanish Tragedy as Hieronimo steps outside the action of his play-within-a-play and announces himself the agent of death. Of the 44 surviving plays that were probably onstage by 1592, only these two plays and Mucedorus use this word. (Anyone interested in what these plays were can consult our rough chronological list of plays of the period). So in a period when ‘actor’ seems to have superseded ‘player’ in the language of cast lists, the word ‘actor’ only appears very infrequently in early extant plays. It is perhaps indicative of the infrequency of this word in earlier plays that in The Jew of Malta, onstage in the early 1590s but only printed in the 1630s, ‘actor’ appears twice in the play’s new audience addresses but nowhere in its main text.

Meanwhile the word ‘actor’ does not appear at all in manuscript discussions of the playhouses up to 1595 (the end point of our project’s research). The word ‘player’ is the default term in those years. The word ‘actor’ appears only once in such material, on 30 May 1592, when the Lord Mayor tells Lord Burghley of a mob, and describes ‘the principal actors’ (that is, participants) in this ‘great disorder and tumult’. He later calls them ‘the doers and authors of the disorder’. As we end this blog, this is a useful starting-point should we want to rethink the word ‘actor’. An actor is a doer, the initiator or participator of actions and deeds.

Actor as ideological term

I promised to return to Shakespeare. In Hamlet, the two words actor and player are in tension: put simply, Hamlet and the rest of the play prefer ‘player’, but Polonius prefers ‘actor’. Perhaps most strikingly, the play’s stage directions only ever call its performance practitioners players, so that a ‘Flourish for the players‘, for example, is followed by Guildenstern’s observation: ‘There are the players’. As Hamlet will later say, ‘there be players that I have seen play’ (and it’s worth asking why such formulations are not tautologies in this period). The travelling performers are called players at least 20 times in Hamlet (the precise number depends on the version you use, and whether you count the stage directions). Crucially, such characters are called players in every scene in which they appear or are discussed; in contrast, they are called actors only five times, four in one scene and within a few lines, and once more later in the play in a moment which seems to revisit the earlier scene’s semantic concerns.

Indeed Hamlet first uses the word ‘actor’ as he anticipates what Polonius is about to say to him. ‘I will prophesy he comes to tell me of the players’, Hamlet says to Rosencrantz, using his preferred term, but when he tries to convey this information to Polonius, he calls Roscius the ‘actor in Rome’. Hamlet is right, it soon turns out, to anticipate that this is Polonius’ preferred term, as Polonius himself can’t stop saying the word actor: ‘The actors are come hither, my lord’; they are ‘The best actors in the world’. Writing on our blog, Stephen Purcell has observed that in a later scene Hamlet asks Polonius about his theatrical past: ‘My lord, you play’d once i’th’university, you say?’ ‘That did I, my lord, and was accounted a good actor’. Just as Hamlet anticipated Polonius’ preference for the word ‘actor’ in their earlier scene together, here he responds to Polonius’ revision of the word ‘player’ by asking, ‘What did you enact?’ Tom Bishop, describing this moment, notes that Polonius substitutes ‘the word “player” with a Latinate term’. This is certainly true, but it may be even more important to note that Polonius’ term of substitution is a perfectly acceptable early modern English word with an as yet uncertain connection to the world of theatre. Bishop observes that ‘Polonius’s preference for avoiding the vocabulary of players and playing here suggests something about the contest between two sets of terms for the theater around 1600, a contest that has since been settled in his favor’ (see Purcell’s blog for more). It is because of the outcome of that contest that we no longer see the provocations of the word ‘actor’, not only in Polonius’ usages but in Shakespeare’s. But Polonius’ preferred term distances him not only from his fellow characters but also from the terminological preferences of the play’s early print editions.

There are two further instances, though, in which Shakespeare uses the term ‘actor’ in a way which has been taken to be self-evidently theatrical, but where it may instead be a deliberately ambiguous word that only belatedly gets situated in its newly theatrical sense. When Rosalind in As You Like It wants to intervene in Silvius’ courtship of Phoebe, and promises ‘I’ll prove a busy actor in their play’, she plays on the different meanings of the term. Rather than thinking of actor as a word which self-evidently triggers thoughts of a play, we might ask if it only takes on that meaning here once we get to the final word of the line. Until that moment, audience members may well hear Rosalind’s ‘actor’ in the same context that they heard Lafeu’s or Angelo’s, for example. Even Puck, seeing ‘hempen home-spuns’ rehearsing ‘a play toward’ and promising to ‘be an auditor;/ An actor too, perhaps, if I see cause’, acts on the word’s sense of someone who makes an intervention at least as much as of someone representing a fictional world. But these are difficult cases to pin down: what is most important here is that 1) Shakespeare’s use of ‘actor’ in the theatrical sense may have helped us miss the word’s more common meanings; and 2) Shakespeare uses the word ‘actor’ in the theatrical sense less frequently, and less unambiguously, than may often be assumed. This is in contrast to his use of the word ‘player’, which seems straightforwardly theatrical, whether used in metaphor or, less commonly, in simile;[4] in comparison;[5] or to describe onstage performers.[6] Just the once in Shakespeare’s work, ‘player’ means a very different kind of performer, when Oswald in accused in King Lear of being a ‘base football player’. I’ll be returning to the wider ambiguities of player in a later post.

This is a long, rather unwieldy post, and I want to end by making some tentative observations, suggestions and queries. Above all, I want to suggest that we don’t treat the word ‘actor’ as self-evidently, automatically and linguistically rooted in the world of theatrical performance. Where it is rooted in that world, it also looks as though we should consider whether it refers to characters as much as their performers.

I’d also like to emphasise the discrepancies between usages of ‘player’ as against ‘actor’ in manuscript references to the theatrical community. If the entirety of extant manuscript references to performance practitioners avoids the word ‘actor’, it seems strange to use that word as our own default term for professionals in this period. I’d link the absence of that word in the archive to its relative absence from early plays and poetry, together with the semantic and ideological interplay between Hamlet and Polonius. These verbal usages suggest to me that ‘player’ may have been the preferred or most common term within the theatrical community and the communities living and working around them. Hamlet’s toying with Polonius’ semantic preferences may well suggest that the word ‘actor’ is an unwelcome term of legitimisation, a way to make theatrical performance acceptable or respectable to those who don’t really like it.

Hence, perhaps, the gradual employment of that word in printed character lists. Is it a rather more serious word than ‘player’, for example? Does it sound more professional, more deserving of financial income or aristocratic patronage, more intelligent, humanist and learned to act than to play? Do those who act claim a greater sense of legitimacy, of social heft, political weight, than those who play? In what way does ‘actor’ invite in the linguistic associations of its etymological cousins, such as action, activism, agents, agency, agencies, agility, agitation and antagonism? And should we worry that we have lost the word ‘player’ from the world of modern performance?

Traditional forms of scholarship often decry perceived anachronism on the part of scholarship focused on gender, sexuality, race, politics or economics. The point of this series of blog posts is to take note of the semantic anachronism that often confounds traditional forms of scholarship, particularly when they rest on words which are commonplace today, and therefore look self-evident in their meaning in historical documents. When I start to talk about a theatre company’s demographics, for example, or invoke the concept of entrepreneurship or even of class in discussing early modern performance, many readers will find such terms and concepts overtly anachronistic. But when we see many of the words I outlined in my introduction to this series – such as actor, playwright, playhouse, theatre – we often proceed as though these words are ahistorical and self-evident. This blog series aims to expose what we might call the invisible anachronism built into our conversations about early modern performance.

[1] Tamara Atkin and Emma Smith, ‘The form and function of character lists in plays printed before the closing of the theatres’, Review of English Studies 65 (September 2014), 647-672, 648.

[2] Atkin and Smith, 649.

[3] For what seems to be an unusual early use of ‘actor’ as performer in a non-playhouse play, see Common Conditions, whose prologue opens and closes with the use of the word in this sense:

You skillful heads, that sit in place to see, likewise to hear,

What openly by Actors’ deeds in place shall straight appear […]

Let this for preface you suffice, the actors ready stand,

Your patience earnestly we crave to proceed out of hand.


[4] ‘All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players’; ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player’; ‘Like a strutting player’.

[5] Watching Falstaff play Henry IV, Mistress Quickly exclaims, ‘O Jesu, he doth it as like one of these harlotry players as ever I see’, whilst Casca thinks the Roman people will treat Caesar ‘as they use to do the players in the theatre’.

[6] See, for example, Taming of the Shrew or Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘An’t please your honour, [here are] players/ That offer service to your lordship’; ‘Now name the rest of the players’; ‘There is not one word apt, one player fitted’.

3 thoughts on “Performing words #1: what is an actor?

  1. Pingback: Performing words: introduction to a new thread on theatre and language | Before Shakespeare

  2. Pingback: A slice of Christmas (b)log | Before Shakespeare

  3. Pingback: Christmas, Newyeares tyde: A summary of works done and attendance given, 2018 | Before Shakespeare

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