Thou art a scholar; speak to it…

Time for something slightly different. In order to prepare for my upcoming presentation on Diderot and theories of acting, I recorded myself reading a draft version of my paper. As well as informing me that I need to cut about 800 words (a matter of some concern), this experiment with Audacity also left me with a recording that I’m going to publish online here in three parts:

Part One: Introduction and ‘The Lovers’


Part Two: ‘Sensibility’


Part Three: ‘Authorship’ and Conclusion

In order to help you follow what is ultimately a detailed analysis of some very knotty textual transmission, the following chart (which I’ll be giving out in the seminar) may well come in handy. You can click on it for a larger version.

Transmission Diagram
A diagram showing transmission of ideas about acting. Click to enlarge.

For my non-francophone readers, here too is a version of a handout filled with my English translations of some of the more important quotations from Sticotti, Diderot and Sainte-Albine:

Translations of passages quoted in French

1) Denis Diderot, Paradoxe sur le comédien, in Œuvres complètes, ed. Herbert Dieckmann et al., vol. 20, 24 vols. (Paris: Hermann, 1975), 75.
Extreme sensibility makes for mediocre actors, mediocre sensibility for the multitude of bad actors, and the absolute lack of any sensibility prepares sublime actors.

2) Diderot, Paradoxe, 68.
The one who is cold, who is self-possessed, who is master of his face, voice, actions and movements.

3) Diderot, Paradoxe, 69-70.
THE ACTOR No, no, do not believe, Madame,
That I return once more to speak of my burning passion…
THE ACTRESS – I recommend you don’t –
THE ACTOR That’s over;
THE ACTRESS – I hope so –
THE ACTOR I want to heal myself, and well know
What from your heart mine possessed.
THE ACTRESS – More than you deserved. […]
THE ACTOR But in the end it’s no matter, and since your hatred
So often drives away a heart that love brings back to you,
This here is the last of the annoyances
That you will ever have from my rejected wishes.
THE ACTRESS You can completely oblige my own wishes, Sir,
And spare me once more this last plea…
THE ACTOR My love, you are so rude and you will regret it.

4) Diderot, Paradoxe, 82.
An actor is infatuated with an actress; by chance, a play brings them together for a scene of jealousy. The performance will be the better for it, if the actor is mediocre, but the worse if he is a great actor.

5) Antoine-Fabio Sticotti, Garrick, ou, les acteurs anglois. (Paris: Rothe et Proft, 1771), 146.
The English author seems to forget the character of his nation here: we know that Frenchwomen are prodigies when it comes to little love affairs, while his Englishwomen are miracles in conjugal love.

6) Sticotti, Garrick, 152.
To express such happy dalliances, it’s not enough / To be a poet, you must also be in love.

7) Pierre Rémond de Sainte-Albine, Le comédien : ouvrage divisé en deux parties, 2nd ed. (Paris : Vincent, 1749), 32.
In actors, [sensibility is] the facility of making all the diverse passions to which man is susceptible succeed one another in their souls.

8) Sticotti, Garrick, 68.
The perfection of the art demands that the actor speak clearly and at the same time persuade us that he is deeply penetrated by what he says; we want above all that, in the development of his well ordered sensibility, ours loses nothing. Weak articulation is, however, permitted in the actor when extreme pain disturbs his speech: in such cases, this is a great beauty.

9) Sticotti, Garrick, 71.
We feel that the proper character of a great actor is to have none.

10) Diderot, Paradoxe, 93.
The soul of a great actor … affects no single determined form, and … equally susceptible to all, keeps none.

11) Sticotti, Garrick, 62.
It is proper to speak first of general qualities, since they lead to the others. Performance is a sublime tableau, the work (ouvrage) of two great artists: the poet and the actor. Their principal goal is to excite the passions.

12) Diderot, Paradoxe, 52.
When suspended between nature and their rough outline, these genii turn an attentive eye alternatively to one and to the other; the inspired beauties – the fortuitous strokes that they scatter in their works (ouvrages) and whose sudden appearance surprises even themselves – have an effect and a success quite differently guaranteed than those they throw in in the heat of the moment. It’s up to sang-froid to temper the frenzy of enthusiasm.


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