Discourse of the English Stage

Source: Richard Flecknoe, ‘Discourse of the English Stage’, reproduced in James Agate (ed.), The English Dramatic Critics: An Anthology, 1660-1932 (London: Arthur Barker, 1932), pp. 1-2, originally published in Miscellania or poems of all sorts with divers other pieces (1653)

Text: It was the happiness of the Actors of those times to have such Poets as these to instruct them, and to write for them; and no less of those Poets to have such docile and excellent Actors to Act their Playes, as a Field and Burbidge; of whom we may say, that he was a delightful Proteus, so wholly transforming himself into his Part, and putting off himself with his Cloathes, as he never (not so much as in the Tyring-house) assum’d himself again until the Play was done: there being as much difference between him and one of our common Actors, as between a Ballad-singer who onely mouths it, and an excellent singer, who knows all his Graces, and can artfully vary and modulate his Voice, even to know how much breath he is to give to every syllable. He had all the parts of an excellent Orator, (animating his words with speaking, and Speech with Action) his Auditors being never more delighted then [sic] when he spoke nor more sorry then [sic] when he held his peace; yet even then, he was an excellent Actor still, never failing in his Part when he had done speaking; but with his looks and gesture, maintaining it still unto the heighth, he imagining Age quod agis, onely spoke to him; so as those who call him a Player do him wrong, no man being less idle then [sic] he, whose whole life is nothing else but action, with only this difference from other mens, that as what is but a Play to them, is his Business: so their business is but a play to him.

Comments: Richard Flecknoe (? – c.1678) was an English poet and dramatist, best known for being the subject of the satires of others (Dryden, Marvell). Richard Burbage (1567-1619), the great actor, theatre owner and friend of William Shakespeare, is warmly described by Flecknoe, but it is not certain that the latter ever saw him. Flecknoe’s birth date is not known, but he is known to have been at school between 1619 (the year of Burbage’s death) and 1624. Field was the English actor and dramatist Nathan Field (1587-1620).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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