« PreviousContinue »
as in a looking-glass, how to regulate his gesture, and will soon catch the method of doing it by himself.
It is expected the master will be a little discouraged, at the awkward figure his pupil makes, in his first attempts to teach him. But this is no more than what happens in dancing, fencing, or any other exercise which depends on habit. By practice the pupil will soon begin to feel his position, and be easy in it. Those positions which were at Brst distressing to him, he will fall into naturally; and, if they are such as are really graceful and becoming, (and such it is presumed are those which have been just describ ed) they will be adopted, with more facility than any other that can be taught him.
On the Acting of Plays at School.
THOUGH the acting of plays, at schools, has been universally supposed a very useful practice, it has of late years been much laid aside. The advantages arising from it have not been judged equal to the inconveniences; and the speaking of single speeches, or the acting of single scenes, has been, generally, substituted in its stead. Indeed, when we consider the leading principle, and prevailing sentiments, of most plays, we shall not wonder, that they are not always thought to be the most suitable employment for youth, at school; nor, when we reflect on the long interruption to the common school exercises, which the preparation for a play must necessarily occasion, shall we think it consistent with general improvement. But to wave every objection from prudence or morality, it may be confidently affirmed, that the acting of a play is not so conducive to improvement in elocution, as the speaking of single speeches.
In the first place, the acting of plays is of all kinds of delivery the most difficult; and, therefore, cannot be the most suitable exercise for boys at school. In the next place, a dramatic performance requires so much attention to the deportment of the body, so varied an expression of the passions, and so strict an adherence to character, that education is in danger of being neglected; besides, exact propriety of action, and a nice discrimination of the passions, however essential on the stage, are but of secondary importance in a school. It is plain, open, distinct and for
cible pronunciation, which school boys should aim at not that quick transition from one passion to another, tha archness of look, and that jeu de theatre, as it is called, so essential to a tolerable dramatic exhibition, and which actors themselves can scarcely attain. In short, it is speaking rather than acting, which school boys should be taught; while the performance of plays is calculated to teach them acting rather than speaking.
But there is a contrary extreme, into which many teachers are apt to run, and chiefly those who are incapable of speaking themselves; and that is, to condemn every thing, which is vehement and forcible, as theatrical. It is an odd trick, to depreciate what we cannot attain: and calling a spirited pronunciation theatrical, is but an artful method of hiding an utter inability of speaking with force and energy. But, though school boys ought not to be taught those nice touches which form the greatest difficulties in the profession of an actor, they should not be too much restrained from the exertion of voice, so necessary to strengthening the organs of sound, because they may sometimes be too loud and vociferous. Perhaps nine out of ten, instead of too much confidence, and too violent a manner of speaking, which these teachers seem so much to dread, have, as Dr. Johnson calls it, a frigid equality, a stupid languor, and a torpid apathy. These must be roused by something strong and excessive, or they will never rise even to mediocrity; while the few who have a tendency to rant, are very easily reclaimed; and ought to be treated, in pronunciation and action, as Quintilian advises us to do, in composition; that is, we should rather allow of an exuberance, than, by too much correctness, check the vigor and luxuriancy of nature.
Though school boys, therefore, ought not to be taught the fineness of acting, they should, as much as possible, be accustomed to speak such speeches, as require a full, open, animated pronunciation; for which purpose they should be confined, chiefly, to orations, odes, and such single speeches of plays as are in the declamatory and vehement style. But, as there are many scenes of plays, which are justly reckoned amongst the finest compositions in the language; some of these may be adopted among the upper class of boys, and those, more particularly, who have the best deportments; for action, in scenes, will be found much more difficult, than in single speeches. And here it will be necessary to give some additional instructions respecting ac
tion; as a speaker, who delivers himself singly to an auditory, and one who addresses another speaker, in view of an auditory, are under very different predicaments. The former has only one object to address; the latter has two. For if a speaker on the stage were to address the person he speaks to, without any regard to the point of view in which he stands, with respect to the audience, he would be apt to turn his back on them, and to place himself in such positions as would be highly ungraceful and disgusting. When a scene, therefore, is represented, it is necessary that the two personages who speak, should form a sort of picture, and place themselves in a position agreeable to the laws of perspective. In order to do this, it will be necessary that each of them should stand obliquely, and chiefly make use of one hand. That is, supposing the stage or platform where they stand to be quadrangle, each speaker should, respectively, face the corner of it next to the audience; and use that hand, and est upon that leg, which is next to the person he speaks to, and which is farthest from the audience. This disposition is absolutely necessary, to form any thing like a picturesque grouping of objects, and without it, that is, if both speakers use the ight hand, and stand exactly fronting each other, the impropriety will be palpable, and the spectacle disgusting.
It need scarcely be noted, that if the speaker in a scene, uses that hand which is next the audience, he ought likewise to poise his body upon the same leg: This is almost an invariable rule in action; the hand should act on that side only, on which the body bears. Good actors and speakers may sometimes depart froin this rule, but such only, will know when to do it, with propriety.
Occasion may be taken in the course of the scene, to change sides. One speaker, at the end of an impassioned speech, may cross over to the place of the other, while the latter, at the same moment, crosses over to the place of the former. This, however, must be done with great care, and so as to keep the back from being turned to the audience. But if this transition be performed adroitly, it will have a very good effect, in varying the position of the speakers, and giving each an opportunity of using his right hand-the most favourable to grace and expression.-And if, from so humble a scene as the school, we may be permitted to raise our observations to the senate, it might be hinted, that gentlemen on each side of the house, while addressing the
chair, can, with grace and propriety, only make use of one hand; namely, that which is next to the speaker; and it may be observed in passing, that to all the other advantages of speaking which are supposed to belong to one side of the house, may be added-the graceful use of the right hand.
The better to conceive the position of two speakers in a scene, a Plate is given, representing their respective attitudes; and it must be carefully noted, that when they are not speaking, the arms must hang in their natural place, by the sides: unless what is spoken by one, is of such importance, as to excite agitation and surprise, in the other. But if we should be sparing of gesture at all times, we should be more particularly so, when we are not speaking.
From what has been laid down, it will evidently appear, how much more difficult and complicated is the action of a scene, than that of a single speech; and in teaching both to children, how necessary it is adopt as simple and easy a method as possible. The easiest method of conveying instruction, in this point, wil be sufficiently diffieult; and therefore, avoiding of awkwardness and impropriety, should be more the object of instruction, than the conveying of beauties.
There are, indeed, some masters, who are against teach ing boys any action at all, and are for leaving them in this point entirely to nature. It is happy, however, that they. do not leave that action to nature, which is acquired by danc ing; the deportment of their pupils would soon convince them they were imposed on by the sound of words. Improved and beautiful nature is the object of the painter's pencil, the poet's pen, and the rhetorican's action, and not that sordid and common nature, which is perfectly rude and uncultivated.. Nature directs us to art, and art selects and polishes the beauties of nature: It is not sufficient for an orator, says Quintilian, that he is a man: he must be an improved and cultivated man; he must be a man, favoured by nature and fashioned by art.
But, the necessity of adopting some method of teaching action, is too evident to need proof. Boys will infallibly contract some action; to require them to stand stock stillwhile they are speaking an impassioned speech, is not only exacting a very difficult task from them, but is, in a. great measure, checking their natural exertions. If they are left to themselves, they will, in all probability, fall into very wild and ungraceful action, which, when once formed.