Gestures Explained Further...
Evolution of theatre, in a nutshell
The auditorium was initially the place for hearing, i.e. listening - the visual aspect was supportive of the spoken word. Time moved on, dancing was added, plays were presented in theatres - which were places for looking (and hearing) - and spectacle with machines was introduced (the fore-runner of today's musicals).
Basics on the baroque stage
"You must never let either of your Hands hang down, as if lame or dead; for that is very disagreeable to the Eye, and argues no Passion in the Imagination." - Betterton 1710 [p.77]
"I am of Opinion, that the Hands in Acting ought very seldom to be wholly quiescent" - Betterton 1710 [p.78]
An approach to late 20th century opera-staging has been the admonishment to singers: do not move your arms about, just drop them by your side - the text gives the drama, the music gives the mood; we do not need the hands to give yet another mode of story-telling! But 18th century opera seria and stage tragedy did not deal with surrealism, nor kitchen sink nor Stanislavski's method-acting.
The face should not to be in profile to the audience: "I would not be misunderstood, when I say you must wholly place your Eyes on the Person or Persons you are engag'd with on the Stage; I mean, that at the same time both Parties keep such a Position in Regard of the Audience, that even these Beauties [the eyes] escape not their Observation, tho never so justly directed. As in a Piece of History-Painting, tho the Figures direct their Eyes never so directly to each other, yet the Beholder, by the Advantage of their Position, has a full View of the Expression of the Soul in the Eyes of the Figures." Betterton 1710 [p.67]
"how the actor appears, in the eyes of the audience, depends on the position of his feet." - Lang 1727 [¤ VII ? way thro']
To stand with the weight equally on both legs is the attitude of a soldier, not of a hero or god.
"A man may indeed stand very firmly on both legs, and it is in his power in moving to leap or spring with both feet together; but though they may both be practised on occasion, yet the continuance of the one [standing] is ungraceful, and of the other [moving] would be ridiculous." - Austin 1806 [p.297]
Focus, on the baroque stage
The tragic actor and singer in opera seria did not roam around the stage but declaimed the lines of his character from the forestage or near it.
It has been found that baroque staging focuses the audience's attention on to the interlocutors. Furthermore, it concentrates that attention, through the actors' whole delivery of articulation, intonation and gestural eloquence, upon the text (in opera: the libretto, as well as the accomplishment of the singer) so that the audience understands and enjoys the author and composer to a much greater degree than is the case when following the distractions of perambulatory acting.
"Nor was Manlius Sura, whom when Domitius Afer had seen whilst he was Acting or Speaking, running up and down, dancing, tossing his Hands about, throwing down his Gown now, and then gathering it up again, he said, this Man does not act or use Gestures, but miserably aims at something he does not understand." - Betterton 1710 [p.86]
Elegance in baroque staging
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus wrote 'Training the Orator' (c.85 a.d.) in which he refers to actors as employing declamation and gesture in a similar fashion to orators. By orator he meant advocate.
"But today a rather more violent form of delivery has come into fashion and is demanded of our orators: it ... requires to be kept under control. Otherwise, in our attempt to ape the elegance [sic] of the stage, we shall lose the authority which should characterise the man of dignity and virtue." - Quintilian c.85 a.d. [XI iii 184]
Betterton/Gildon quotes Shakespeare, and comments:
"Hamlet: Nor do not saw the Air too much with your Hand thus, but use all Gently. This is the only Precept of Action, which is extremely just; and agreeable to the Notions of all, that I have met with on my full Enquiry among my learned Friends, who have read all that has been wrote upon Action, and who reckon rude [common] and boistrous Gestures among the faulty; Art always directing a moderate and gentle Motion; which Shakespear expresses by use all gently. Besides, this sawing of the air, expresses one, who is very much at a Loss how to dispose of his Hands, but knowing that they should have some Motion, gives them an aukward Violence."
"The next Observation is extremely masterly - For in the very Torrent, Tempest, and I may say the Whirlwind of Passion, you must acquire and beget a Temperance, that may give it Smoothness." - Betterton 1710 [p.83f]
"It was remarked by the most discerning judges that [Garrick in 1765] had, by visiting foreign theatres, greatly profited in his mode of representation: they observed, that his action, though always spirited and proper, was become easier and less restrained, that his deportment was more graceful, and his manner more elegant;" - (Garrick) 1781 [vol I p.101]
Graceful and elegant were seen as an improvement.
Gesturing not to be with left hand alone
"It is never correct to employ the left hand alone in gesture, though it will often conform its motion to that of the right." - Quintilian c.85 a.d. [XI iii 114]
'The Life of Betterton' (1710) by Gildon has a section which is clearly a rewriting, with occasional paraphrase and elaboration, of Quintilian's instructions on all aspects of gesture. Obviously, the rules of Quintilian were employed on the baroque stage.
"If an Action comes to be used by only one Hand, that must be by the Right, it being indecent to make a Gesture with the Left alone;" - Betterton 1710 [p.74]
If a gesture with the left hand alone was indecent, what else, seen upon the modern stage, would have been indecent in 1700?
Not to offend
"In fine, our Player, Pleader, or Preacher, must have that nice Address in the Management of his Gestures, that there may be nothing in all the various Motions and Dispositions of his Body, which may be offensive to the Eye of the Spectator; as well as nothing grating and disobliging to the Ears of his Auditors, in his Pronunciation; else will his Person be less agreeable, and his Speech less efficacious to both, by wanting all that Grace, Virtue, and Power, it would otherwise obtain." - Betterton 1710 [p.54]
Hands and eyes speak - as much as the words
"other portions of the body merely help the speaker, whereas the hands may almost be said to speak." - Quintilian c.85 a.d. [XI iii 85]
"The eyes ... can really be called the seat of the affects, and they achieve the same as does the rod of the sundial, without which the hours cannot be discerned, albeit everything else may be arranged perfectly and painted with colours." ... "In one word, the eyes also speak without words." - Lang 1727 [¤ VII ? way thro']
Quotations concerning style
"the Actor ... will find that his Hands need never be idle, or employed in an insignificant or unbeautiful Gesture." - Betterton 1710 [p.74]
"the Player is to consider ... that the Eyes, his Looks or Countenance, Motions of Body, Hands and Feet, be all of a Piece, and that he never falls into the indifferent State of Calmness and Unconcern." - Betterton 1710 [p.(33)+35]
"In like manner, to use no Actions or Gestures in Discourse, is a Sign of a heavy and slow Disposition, as too much Gesticulation proceeds from Lightness" - Betterton 1710 [p.42]
"But on the Stage, where the Passions are chiefly in View, the best Speaking, destitute of Action and Gesture (the Life of all Speaking) proves but a heavy, dull, and dead Discourse." - Betterton 1710 [p.51]
"by reading, ... the Eyes and Hands, could not perform their Office ... insomuch that it was no manner of wonder, that the Attention of the Audience grew languid, on so unactive an Entertainment. On the contrary, when and Discourse receives Force and Life, not only from the Propriety and Graces of Speaking agreeable to the Subject, but from a Proper Action and Gesture for it, it is truly touching, penetrating, transporting; it has Soul, it has Life, it has Vigour and Energy not to be resisted." For then the Player, the Preacher, or Pleader, holds his Audience by the Eyes as well as Ears, and engrosses their Attention by a double Force." - Betterton 1710 [p.52]
"The soliloquies of Hamlet are distinguished by peculiar and pathetic feelings of the mind; all the varieties of sentiment, impressed with passion, were delivered by Garrick with singular exertion. The strong intelligence of his eye, the animated expression of his whole countenance, the flexibility of his voice, and his spirited action, rivetted the attention of an admiring audience." - (Garrick) 1781 [vol I p. 63f]
While in Paris, Garrick had a contest of acting-ability with La Clairon. Each was enthusiastic of the other.
Externalise the Passions
Actors should, "like Le Brun, observe Nature where-ever they found it offer any thing that could contribute to their Perfection. For he was often seen to mind a Quarrel in the Street betwixt various People, and there not only observe the several Degrees of the Passion of Anger rising in the Quarrel, and their different Recess, but the distinct Expressions of it in every Face that was concern'd." - Betterton 1710 [p.37]
"Gesture has therefore this Advantage above mere Speaking, that by this we're only understood by those of our own Language, but by Action and Gesture (I mean just and regular Action) we make our Thoughts and Passions intelligible to all Nations and Tongues." Betterton 1710 [p.50]
from Colley Cibber: 'An apology for the Life of Mr.Colley Cibber, Comedian' (1740)
"Betterton was an Actor, as Shakespear was an Author, both without Competitors!" Cibber
from 'The life of Thomas Betterton' (1710) by Gildon
Franciscus Lang (1727)
[Illustrations Barnett book p.110] = Fig I = wrong ; Fig III = right
Garrick's Hamlet (c. 1750)
from 'Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick, Esq' by Thomas Davies (1781) [3rd edition with corrections]
Quintilian [ Bk XI iii ]
Gilbert Austin (1806) [see his grid for movements of the feet]
______________________________________________________________________ Used above in part: "In like manner, to use no Actions or Gestures in Discourse, is a Sign of a heavy and slow Disposition, as too much Gesticulation proceeds from Lightness; and a Mean betwixt both is the Effect of Wisdom and Gravity; and if it be too quick it denotes Magnanimity." Betterton [p.42]