Hamlet's Acting Advice in Modern English


We wrapped up the year with a session on our Shakespeare and drama course, diving into the intricacies of acting and interpretation.

Hamlet’s Advice on Acting

Discussing Hamlet's speech dedicated to the actors in Act 3, scene 2, we examined his (or Shakespeare’s?) perspectives on acting, especially his approach to realism. In this scene, Hamlet provides guidance to a group of players (actors) who are about to perform a play within the play. We discussed not only Hamlet's perspective on acting but also certain language elements of the speech. I'd like to share some interesting expressions taken from the scene here, along with their modern "translation.". Although these phrases might seem "sophisticated" at first glance, once understood, I think they are rather whimsical and amusing.

1. **"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue."**
- Meaning: Hamlet advises the actors to speak their lines naturally and fluidly.
- Modern Equivalent: "Please say your lines as I've given them to you, smoothly and easily."

2. **"O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings."**
- Meaning: Hamlet is expressing his displeasure at seeing an overacting actor with a big wig who ruins the emotional intensity of the play, annoying the less sophisticated audience members.
- Modern Equivalent: "It really bothers me to see an over-the-top, wig-wearing actor ruin a scene with excessive emotion, annoying the common audience."

3. **"Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor."**
- Meaning: Hamlet advises the actors not to be too subdued in their performance but to use their judgment to guide them.
- Modern Equivalent: "Don't be too subdued, but let your own judgment guide you."

4. **"Suit the action to the word, the word to the action."**
- Meaning: This is Hamlet's instruction to ensure that the physical portrayal (action) matches the words of the script, and vice versa, for a harmonious performance.
- Modern Equivalent: "Make sure your actions match the words, and your words match the actions."
This one is not particularly difficult to "translate," but I included it because it is one of the key pieces of advice that Hamlet provides.

5. **"For any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature."**
- Meaning: Hamlet is saying that overacting defeats the purpose of a play, which is to reflect reality, just as it was intended from the beginning of theater.
- Modern Equivalent: "Overacting goes against the goal of theater, which has always been to mirror reality."

These expressions demonstrate Shakespeare's masterful use of metaphorical phrasing that, while sometimes complex to modern ears, beautifully conveys his ideas.