Rhetoric and the art of the French tragic actor (1620-1750) : the place of 'pronuntiatio' in the stage tradition
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In seventeenth-century France a new type of theatre was established to correspond to the ideals and taste of the dominant social group. As part of the process a particular ideal was forged for the new-style actor. Moulded by classical writings on acting and actors which suggested that the; style of serious, cultured acting operated within the same aesthetic as that of oratorical delivery, this ideal similarly identified refined acting with principles of pronuntiatio and the bienséance acceptable in contemporary formal discourse As a result of this identification no separate art of acting was considered necessary in seventeenth-century France, the rules and principles of expression of emotion in oratorical delivery being accepted as valid for serious acting. It is to these rules and. principles therefore that recourse must be made if the style of seventeenth-century acting and the approach of the actor at this period are to be appreciated. Study of seventeenth-century French treatises on oratorical delivery indicates the extent to which expression of emotion was considered to require study and practise of basic principal which would enable the speaker to evoke a particular passion by appropriately moving tones and accompanying gesture, and yet at the same time remain within a socially-acceptable range. Interpretation of seventeenth-century writings Oil actors and acting in light of these principles highlights the declamatory nature of serious acting of this period. The actor was understood to approach his role with a view to representing and thus exciting passions through effective vocal variation and suitably decorous accompanying gesture (body-language). Attention was focused upon the actor's voice, upon his moving tones and cadences, and upon the grace with which he used his body to reinforce such emotional portrayal. During the eighteenth century this conception-of acting and the style it had produced were called into question. Acting began to evolve its own aesthetic, an aesthetic based upon impersonation of character through personal identification and experience of the effects of emotion in real life. Study of rules to regulate emotional expression and imitation of the best models were abandoned in favour of cultivation of artistic sensibility: recourse to the imagination and personal sensitivity. In the process emphasis shifted from the voice to non-linguistic ways of showing feeling on the stage, and gestural expression released itself from subjection to social bienséance and enriched its range and potential. Evidence of these trends as well as fidelity to or reaction against principles of bienséance may be traced in writings on acting and delivery of the first half of the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the century acting theory was still rooted in and patterned on the model of pronuntiatio. By 1750 it had established its worth as an independent art with principles more directly based upon the dramatic experience.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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