Hamlet’s Advice for the Players

It is funny to see actors today consider Shakespeare over-the-top and melodramatic. The Globe Theatre and the elegant costumes make us believe that Shakespeare’s plays 400 years ago would be disconnected, grandiose, and likely lacking the nuance of today’s screen acting. We will never know the truth, but Shakespeare left us some advice for actors through the words of Hamlet, one of his most beloved characters. This article will explain and unravel Shakespeare’s timeless and profound advice to actors.

Shakespeare’s Acting Tips

Hamlet discusses with the actors (actors), in Act 3 Scene 2, what many believe to be Shakespeare’s thoughts about acting. Shakespeare was an actor, so we know he had great instincts and a lot of knowledge after having seen his work performed many times. Although this is all we have to go on, it provides a great insight into Shakespeare’s advice to actors.

Let’s start by looking at the advice:

Hamlet’s Advice for the Players (Original text)


I beg you to speak the speech. I said it to myself, trippingly on my tongue. But if you say it,

As many of your players do. I had to lief the

The town crier spoke my lines. I also did not see the air.

Do not use your hand too much, but be gentle;

means in the very torrent, tempest and, as I might say,

The whirlwind passion you must obtain and beget

It may have temperance that will give it smoothness. It is a wonderful thing.

makes me nauseous to hear robust

Periwig-pated co tear a passion into tatters. To

Very rags to break the ears of groundlings who

are largely capable of.

Inexplicable dumb shows, noises and

A fellow whipped for Termagant overdoing; it

Out-Herods Herod, pray you, please avoid it.

Don’t be too strict, but use your discretion

as your tutor. It suits the action to its word.

Word to the Action; with this special step, not

The modesty of Nature: is the best way to describe any striking thing.

From the purpose of playing, whose ending, both at

was and is, first and foremost, to hold, as if ’twere the

mirrors nature; to demonstrate virtue,

is ashamed of her image and hates her body.

His form and pressure were both at the same time. This is a bit too much.

Or come lately off, but it makes the unskilful

can only make the judicious laugh; the

censure the which one must in their allowance.

Overweight, a whole theater of other actors. O, there be!

I’ve seen players and heard players.

Is to be praised and not to say it profanely.

This does not have the accent of Christians.

The gait of Christian, pagans and men have so

was so proud and bellowing that I thought some

Nature’s journeymen had made men, but not.

They imitated human Nature so horribly.

Unfamiliar Words

These are the words that might not be familiar to modern readers. Sometimes it’s worth researching words you don’t know, as they have different meanings during Shakespeare’s time.

Trippingly In a lively or nimble manner

lies had to as: should just as much

moderation: self-control and moderation

tempest – A violent storm

beget: obtain, develop, nurture

passion: passionate outburst

Periwig– Pated: Wearing a wig

profane: irrelevant, flippant

dumb shows – mime, use gestures to tell a story

Town-crier A person who makes public announcements.

robust: boisterous and unruly

Groundlings: Audience standing in a theatre courtyard (typically of lower class).

capable: appreciation of, able take in

overdo: outdo, surpass

Termagant – A loud and dominant character in mystery plays

Herod is a Bible character. He is often depicted as an angry and wild figure.

warrant: assure, promise

action: movement, demeanor, gesture

modesty: moderation, restraint, discipline

nature – human Nature

purpose: matter in hand

feature – Physical appearance, looks

scorn – folly, foolishness

form: image, likeness, shape

tardy – Inadequately slow-witted

Unskilful – Undiscerning, ignorant, uneducated

censure – Judgment, Criticism

overweigh: prevail over

Allowance: Acknowledgement, Admission, Confirmation

Christian – Ordinary person, normal human being

Journeyman: Common Workman

Indifferently: To a certain extent, quite well

barren is dull or inactive

quote – note, write

table – writing tablet, notebook

need: is lacking, need, be with

Cullison badge, emblem

blabber, mumble

cinquepace is a five-step form of capering dancing

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