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.

The Mock Doctor

Molière as Julius Caesar, painted by Nicholas Mignard in 1658.
This afterpiece, again by Fielding, is a translation-adaptation of Molière’s Le médecin malgré lui. I don’t know the Molière version well enough to give a good comparison, so will just make observations on this text while the memory of it is fresh. The plot is easy to relate: Gregory, a woodman, is forever getting into fights with his wife Dorcas; after being beaten by her husband, Dorcas takes her revenge by persuading two servants out looking for a doctor that Gregory is the best physician in the world, but will only admit it after being beaten. A beating ensues and Gregory finds himself ministering to Charlotte, the daughter of Sir Jasper, who has stopped speaking. Gregory prescribes punch, receives a fee, goes on a roll and gives prescriptions (including one for cheese) to several other patients eager for his attention. Just as he is heading home, he runs into Leander, Charlotte’s secret love, and he reveals that Charlotte has stopped speaking to prevent her forced marriage to Mr Dapper (wealthy, old and ugly – again). Gregory decides to smuggle Leander in to see Charlotte by disguising him as an apothecary. Whilst Leander is changing clothes, Dorcas appears: she receives some of the fees paid to Gregory for his medicines and tells Gregory that she was behind this ruse. Gregory soon spots a chance to pay her back, and has another doctor, one Dr Hellebore, take Dorcas into care as a madwoman. Leander returns, Gregory and he visit Sir Jasper, and Charlotte starts speaking to tell her father she’ll never marry Mr Dapper. Not knowing what to do, Sir Jasper obeys Gregory’s advice to leave Charlotte alone with the apothecary for a while. Dorcas then breaks in (having got free of Hellebore) and explains all. Sir Jasper is furious, but before he can do anything Leander (no longer disguised) and Charlotte return: Leander tells Sir Jasper he has just inherited a lot of money, and Sir Jasper blesses his union with his daughter. Everyone bursts into song and the play ends.

Writing this summary, I’m struck by the amount of retribution dealt out in the course of its two acts. The beating of Dorcas is avenged by the doctor-trick, and the doctor-trick by confinement in a mad house; meanwhile Charlotte pays her father back for his tyranny first by silence then by marriage to another. Yet for all this eye for an eye business – crucial to the play as a source of its slapstick antics – everything turns out right in the end, save for rather a lot of beating. The best violence comes when Sir Jasper’s servants do it to Gregory, all the time apologising and explaining that it’s for the higher good of getting him to come and cure Charlotte: “I ask pardon ten thousand times for what you have forc’d us to” says one, enlivening the farce with politeness.

One larger observation to finish. When Leander first meets Gregory, he explains that Charlotte’s illness isn’t real, and that if he has “any distemper, it is the love of that young lady your patient”. This is, of course, the real theme of the play: Gregory’s antics are the result of problems in his relationship with Dorcas, and everything else turns on love. We never learn the effect of the cheese Gregory prescribes because such results are not important, only the love-plot is. With this in mind, my favourite speech of the play is one spoken by Charlotte, in which she makes explicit the overriding power of love. The speech is all the more powerful for being one of the first times we hear her voice, and just what she has been bottling up.

SIR JASPER You shall have Mr Dapper –
CHARLOTTE No; not in any manner; not in the least, not at all: you throw away your breath; you lose your time: you may confine me, beat me, bruise me, destroy me, kill me; do what you will, use me as you will, but I never will consent; nor all your threats, nor all your blows, nor all your ill-usage, never shall force me to consent. So far from giving him my heart, I never will give him my hand: for he is my aversion; I hate the very sight of him; I had rather see the devil, I had rather touch a toad: you may make me miserable any other way; but with him you shan’t, that I’m resolved.

As You Like It

I could write a great deal about this play, but will try and limit myself to a single section of non-eighteenth-century matters. After all, this play is rather special: there weren’t many of Shakespeare’s comedies performed during Garrick’s tenure at Drury Lane, as tragedies, as they are now, were the hot ticekts. Nevertheless both As You Like It and Much Ado were performed fairly often, so much that Garrick was famous for his Benedick and Sheridan seems to be quoting As You Like It in many of his plays.

Of course, the As You Like It of Drury Lane or Covent Garden in the 1750s was fairly different from the play we now watch. The editor of the third Arden edition (Juliet Dusinberre) points out, for example, two passages that would not have made it to the stage back then. The first occurs near the start of the play when Celia asks Rosalind if all her apparent concern is for her father and Rosalind (already thinking of Orlando) replies, “No, some of it is for my child’s father.” As Dusinberre puts it, such a blunt revelation of infatuation was “Often cut as improper after the advent of women actors”. In the third act, another passage is cut for less salacious reasons; Touchstone’s attempt to marry Audrey was left out since the jokes at the expense of Oliver Mar-text (depending to some extent on knowledge of the Elizabethan Marprelate controversy) were considered incomprehensible. Unfortunately, this means cutting a great many other fine lines, including Touchstone’s definition of the role of truth in poetry: “the truest poetry is the most feigning”.

Enough with the cuts. Another thing that would have been different about this play in the eighteenth century is what the French would call the ‘points forts’ of the production. Having now read a fair bit of theatre criticism from the period, it is striking how little the Dukes, the Rosalind-Celia relationship, and even Orlando are mentioned. Much attention was given (as it still is) to the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech, but two other areas, one at least now somewhat neglected, are also picked out for praise. The first passage I have in mind is Rosalind’s epilogue, which, while well known nowadays, was appreciated most in the eighteenth century as the moment when the actress Hannah Pritchard overcame her timidity and proved her worth. John Hill tells the story in The Actor (1755), and I won’t repeat it here. The second scene I want to talk about is Adam’s speech to Orlando in the second act. I was chatting to an actor about this speech, who remarked on how he always felt a little surge of emotion when he spoke Adam’s offer of “five hundred crowns / The thrifty hire I saved under your father”. That actor’s observation was not a new one, and praise of the ‘sensibility’ shown in the character of Adam is all over eighteenth-century writing about the theatre. John Hill (in 1750 this time) even goes so far as to say that an actor guided only by feeling with no help from understanding could perform the scene, since Shakespeare has loaded it with so much emotion.

The wrestling scene, as painted by Francis Hayman in 1750.

So those are my eighteenth-century observations. I’ll conclude with a little point that, despite my having read this play many many times, had never occurred to me before. Early on, just before the wrestling match, the fool Touchstone is amusing Rosalind and Celia with the story of a knight who, although he “swore by his honour” that some excellence mustard and pancakes were “naught”, was not forsworn since he had no honour to swear by. It’s a short bit of wit, but the logic of it is interesting: the knight was able to do something he would not otherwise have been able to do (i.e. lie) because he was deprived of one of the qualities of a knight, namely honour. This way of rephrasing Touchstone’s joke suggests a connection between it and Orlando’s later speech to Rosalind, begging her not to call off his bout with Charles: “if I be foiled there is but one shamed that was never gracious, if killed one, but one dead that is willing to be so.” Of course, Orlando goes on to win: he, like the knight, had nothing to lose. Now, I don’t know if this logic of using what one has (or is) not as a lever can serve as a platform for reading the rest of the play, but even as I write this it occurs to me that such a way of thinking is part of the power of Arden: “sweet are the uses of adversity” says the Duke who is wise for having lost so much, and (perhaps a better fit) Rosalind woos Orlando as Ganymede, working from a position where everything she says depends on her being not what she seems. I suppose, though, that while Orlando and Touchstone’s knight benefit from their position by having nothing to lose, Rosalind, by the time she sees the handkerchief stained with Orlando’s blood, has lost this protective aspect of her subterfuge. It is no bad thing, though, that she does.

Method in my Madness

Fragonard’s portrait of Diderot, circa 1769. Denis may well have been in the throes of planning something here too.

I’ve just handed in a draft of my paper on Diderot, and, as I wait for my supervisor’s verdict, I thought I’d compose a post about how I wrote this latest piece. For the first time in a while, I was returning to familiar ground by writing about Diderot and the English stage, having worked out a very rough version of my ideas for my first year review in July of this year. This meant that I already had a rough idea of what I wanted to argue in the thirty minutes allotted to me: namely that Diderot’s Paradoxe sur le comédien was a break with acting theory along lines of tension already inherent in texts of this kind written before him, lines which were made all the clearer by the transmission of these ideas between England and France. I’ll post a full version (or maybe an audio version) of the paper once it’s ready for anyone interested in this argument; my main aim here, though is to consider how I prepared and drafter this piece, not least to see if there is any room for improvement in my methods.

The first thing I did was, unsurprisingly, to go and reread the five texts that would be my primary sources: Sainte-Albine’s Le Comédien, John Hill’s The Actor (1750 and 1755 edition, as they are very different), Sticotti’s Garrick ou les acteurs anglois, and Diderot’s Paradoxe sur le comédien. As the first four texts are very similar, each being an elaboration on the ideas of their predecessors, I decided to take very detailed notes about the content of their arguments. Since some texts recycled passages from others, I could often copy and paste from one document to another, eventually arriving at such palimpsests as these:

EXAMPLE: Garrick is still Garrick in Richard and Osmyn this is repeated from 1750 (perhaps with slighty different roles) but now Hill has a basis for the argument, Barry still Barry in Othello, Mrs Cibber in Alicia or Indiana – but Mrs Pritchard disappears when she is Merope since she does not have distinguishing marks of the others. Better then for the others to shake off such marks, “beautiful as it is”
Sticotti’s phrasing again is distinctive at 71: On sent que le caractère propre du grand acteur est de n’en avoir aucun ; et qu’une passion qui dominerait en lui, ramenerait toutes les autres à ce caractère ; elles en porteraient l’empreint monotone. (← Hill’s much more specific and less gnomic: 61: it would be better if the other three [Garrick, Cibber, Barry] would shake off what is so peculiar in each of themm beautiful as it is: for tho by means of it, they severally shine in different characters, yet it renders them less fit for universal playing
9. Ductility of mind is the only true sensibility, would mean that the [“actor would be the body, the author for the time the soul” – this is new for 1755, reworking of 1750s collaboration / affinity (with a dash of the stuff below about limited pallette of tragedy), still has not made D’s step into actor and author both as soulless] – *Sticotti hasn’t got this line about body/soul, instead says that the absence of a particular passion would allow an actor to reach the heights of Garrick (i.e. contradicts what he just translated about G having a particular passion, and translates again on 73) BUT FIXES G AS A POINT WHERE Q OF ACTOR’S FEELING AT ITS SHARPEST (= his utility as model for D, who simply moves from ductility to absence)
71-2: Si l’acteur n’avait aucune passion particulière au comédien son cœur les saisirait toutes dans leur integrité ; il les sentirait telles que le poète les a senties, & sans doute il atteindrait ce degré de perfection où ? Garrick est parvenu dans tant de rôles différens*
10. 62: Tragedy has a limited pallette of passions – love, revenge, ambition are its only resources
Cut for ‘belivdera touche moins qu’andromache {EXAMPLE: Mrs Cibber as Andromache, the melancholy of character fits melancholy in her sensibility, but then she has trouble transitioning to fire afterwards, has less ductility}

This process meant that reading took a very long time, and it occasionally felt as if I wasn’t so much analysing these works as paraphrasing them. The benefit was having, after two weeks’ work, four 15 000 word documents mapping the contours of and overlaps between Sticotti’s, Hill’s and Sainte-Albine’s arguments, but the downside was a great difficulty in making any larger analytical observation, as I could always find the counter-example.

Ultimately, as I reread Diderot’s Paradoxe for the nth time (without paraphrasing the argument into bullet points – not least because this would have been far harder than for the relatively ordered texts of the others), a few ideas did come and I started writing them down. This done, I then returned to each argument-map I’d created, and started organising and summarising them according to themes of my own devising. Here’s a brief chunk of my summary for Hill’s 1750 acting manual:

Author/Actor
OVERALL: Hill posits a collaborative relationship between author and actor, going beyond SA in suggesting specific affinities (Milton/Quin, G/S, Cibber/S, etc.) as part of argument for more sensible casting in English theatres. Note that Hill is also aware of different ranks: weak actors still show how good Milton is because we only see Milton when they act (not as good as full experience), or the manger ges lucky and casts someone whose deficiency actually helps the role (excess sentimentality in Adam, for example). Altering text is possible but resistance already beginnning.
7: Hill departs from SA to suggest that author may write so powerfully as to compel powerful on-stage action: note that this is an attack on managers: Milton so good that even a miscast actor cannot ruin it – cf. 36 addition: poor actress without fire disappears when performing Milton: only admire poet and not the play, a weaker experience (“lost the tragedy”) – cf. 43-5: On Adam: S’s Adam needs only sensibility and not vehemence (this is part of a criticism of managers’ accidental success)
16: Actor as soft wax in both SA and H => actor’s matrix-like capacity, also passivity: note other vocabulary: “give” / “donner”

With these summaries complete, I had an idea of those areas where I had the most to say, and where I could weave an argument incorporating all five texts. At this point, before writing a plan, I turned to the secondary literature, conducting searches on the MLA bibliography, JSTOR, Google Scholar and more, each time using not just the names of my authors but key terms suggested by my summaries. At the end of the process, I had twenty or so articles and books, which I read, noting down what contribution they could make to my paper, whether it be something I may have neglected or something I could now refute. Here’s one particularly abrupt note, written as a quick guide to the article in question:

Weak article: best points are on the continuing interest of D in spectator’s position, and how that position is often the starting point for his reflections.

With primary and secondary material in place, I now began to plan. I knew I would have to spend a long time introducing these little-known texts (apart from the Diderot) so tried to weave many of my opening premises into a presentation of my corpus. The remaining 50% of the paper was split two ways: first, into a discussion of sensibility, a term that my reading of the critics had shown to be an important aspect of research in this field; and second, into a discussion of authorship, something of particular importance for me, and under which I had already organised a great many of my observations.
The plan took me a day. It was time well spent, and I wrote the 5 000 words or so of my draft in the library in eight and a half hours. My only concern here is that such writing exhausted me, leaving the conclusion of the article weak. It will be rewritten once I know my supervisor’s opinion. For now, though, I’d reached the end of my labours and the end of this post.

Well, not quite. Here are the things I could probably do better.

  1. Incorporate more analysis into the exploration stage of my reading, if only to keep worry at bay
  2. Widen my reading of critics: I now know a lot about current research on a small part of Diderot (i.e. his sources and reading), but am ignorant of larger trends in Diderot criticism. This will make entering into discussion about by paper harder than it need be.
  3. Write more slowly, and try and pace myself so as to have the energy left for a conclusion.

The Anatomist

Ravenscroft’s play is another short afterpiece, being a mere two acts long. The plot, based on Crispin Médecin is easily summarised as well: Old Gerald and his son, Young Gerald, both love Angelina, the daughter of Monsieur le Médecin, a French doctor and anatomist. Young Gerald is aided by his servant Crispin, Old Gerald by the servant Martin, and Angelina by her maid Beatrice. In the first act, Old Gerald’s attempts at a quick marriage to Angelina are frustrated by Monsieur le Médecin’s wife, who will not have her daughter married to someone so elderly. Meanwhile, Crispin sneaks into the doctor’s home with a message for Angelina. Before he can deliver it, the doctor returns and Crispin has to pretend first to be a corpse to avoid detection (but is nearly dissected instead) and then to be a doctor himself (and is very nearly exposed when his response to every ailment is to give the patient “pills”).

Crispin and Scapin, drawn by Honoré Daumier c.1858-1860.
The second act is almost a mirror to the first, with the concluding scene consisting of Old Gerald sneaking in to the doctor’s laboratory in an attempt to meet Angelina. Yet their tête-à-tête is interrupted by the arrival of Young Gerald (dressed as a servant) and Crispin (dressed as a doctor). Looking for somewhere to hide, Old Gerald pretends to be a corpse awaiting dissection. However, when Crispin threatens to begin cutting him open, Old Gerald panics, and rushes from the room…straight into the arms of the doctor and his wife. Thoroughly shamed, Old Gerald then learns that whilst he has been lying very still, his son has married Angelina nearby. On that bombshell, and with the doctor’s advice that “ve vill ave bon soupé et be ver merry tous ensemble”, the play ends.

Like the other afterpieces I’ve read, this one is raucous, unsophisticated and farcical. There are jokes about adultery: the doctor tells Beatrice that he wants “a little touch at your tettons”, fails, leaves, and then Beatrice points out that what’s “sauce for the goose shall be sauce for the gander” – i.e. that women will enjoy adulterous practices as much as men. There are jokes about the French, all incarnated in the person and the speech of the doctor. And there are the best jokes, which are really comic situations, such as the moment Crispin is almost dissected, an experience that marks him so deeply that when he comes to pick a fight at the end of the play, he threatens, “I would dissect you rascal; run my fist through your systole and diastole.” It’s lines like this that make this play stand out for me, and make Crispin its most interesting character. Curiously, I’ve already come across the name in acting manuals, where he is categorised as a character with no foundation in nature. To be honest, this is probably with reference to the many other Crispin plays, as the servant’s concern for avoiding dissection seems very natural to me here.

The Miser

Am 1810 plate showing a scene from the German version of The Miser, ‘Der Geizige’.

This is Fielding’s translation of Molière’s L’Avare. The American edition from 1823 I found online, opens its preface with observations that “This piece is a plagiarism from Molière, but it might well pass for a tree of English growth, for the characters are copies from nature, and nature is everywhere the same.” Intriguing as the beliefs behind this phrase are, here I’ll simply be offering my usual miscellany of thoughts and responses.

The miser of the play’s title is called an old man Lovegold, and we learn at the play’s opening that he is in love with the young Mariana. Lovegold’s son, Frederick, is also in love with Mariana. Now this is not an uncommon position for a play, as something identical is to be found in The Anatomist, and, I’m sure, other works of this time. Ultimately, the ending is as you would expect: Lovegold is tricked out of his money, and ends up financing Frederick’s married life with Angelina.

The miser is such a stock figure that some of the more curious things to say about this play concern the way in which the tropes of miserliness are propagated and interrogated. Consider Lovegold’s relations with servants. When Lovegold is organising a dinner, his cook, James, immediately starts to assess the cost, causing Lovegold to exlaim that “my children, my servants, my relations, can pronounce nothing but money!” In part, this is just another example of Lovegold’s one-dimensional view of the world; yet, at the same time, it also rings true: this is a play obsessed with money, and even if we are clearly shown that miserliness is wrong, we are still obliged to accept it at some level as one of the conditions of the comedy. If we abjured all need for money to be happy, why then is it so important for the miser’s gold to end up in the hands of the young lovers? I suppose what I’m getting here is the way the whole play is warped around financial issues, to the point that other aspects vanished. The best example of this is another servant-master conversation, this time between Lovegold and Mariana’s maid Lappet, whose earthy innuendo becomes something else when it enters Lovegold’s head. Lovegold is telling her about his concerns over the lack of material gain in a marriage with Mariana.

LOVEGOLD In short Lappet, I must touch, touch, touch, something real.
LAPPET Never fear, you shall touch something real. I have heard talk of a certain country where she has a very pretty freehold; which shall be put into your hands.
LOVEGOLD Nay, if it were a copyhold I should be glad to touch it: but there is another thing that disturbs me.

And the conversation moves on so swiftly that Lappet’s bawdy reference to her mistress’s private parts hardly leaves a mark. Indeed, I’m still slightly unsure about whether there is meant to be something of ‘country matters’ here or not, so strong is the influence of pecuniary power over all.

For all the prevalence of talk of money and its potency in this play, power relations are not what they might first appear. After all, Lovegold may be rich, but his miserly anxiety makes him the weakest and most vulnerable figure in this world. He stands only to lose in any exchange, both in his own eyes and in the eyes of others. When Lovegold meets Mariana, the young woman’s taste for gifts (encouraged by her acquisitive mother) soon prompts the anguished aside of “I shall be undone! I wish I was buried while I have one farthing left!” from Lovegold. Much later in the play, at the beginning of the third act, Frederick’s servant Ramilie gives the essence of such vulnerability when he rushes up to his master, with a box:

FREDERICK What’s done?
RAMILIE I have it under my arm, sir; – here it is!
FREDERICK What? What?
RAMILIE Your father’s soul, sir, his money.

It’s enough to make you almost feel sorry for poor Lovegold.