Shakespeare, Great Actors and the English Language: "Great Shakespeare Actors" by Stanley Wells

Great Shakespeare Actors: Burbage to Branagh - Stanley Wells

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC - Uncorrected Manuscript Proof) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.

(The book is due to be published on June 23, 2015; review written 06/05/2015)


I’ve always wanted to read a book like the one I’ve just read. Why? Shakespeare, great Actors and the English Language. This is the preferred triumvirate of my liking.


Stanley Well’s aim is an attempt to define what great Shakespearean roles there are, thus inviting greatness of performance. What distinguishes a great performance from a merely competent one? 


I’ve written elsewhere, that in my book a great actor should be defined by the way she/he can stand still in the presence of an audience. (Great) Shakespeare acting needs stillness, i.e., the ability of the Actor to listen and to react in silence. This epitomizes what great acting is (e.g., Hermione’s motionless silence in “The Winter’s Tale” is a good example of this). The other characteristic an Actor needs is to be in full control of her/his acting voice/language. Why is this so? The western human behaves (I’m thinking Bloom here), thinks and speaks quite differently now from the days four hundred years ago when Shakespeare’s plays were contemporary. What’s the difference when I say the words "Take me for a sponge my lord?" now (Incidentally I use this line when someone is trying to sell me some bullshit…) and when someone, maybe Shakespeare, uttered it 400 years ago?


The rest of this review can be found elsewhere.