Hamlet: Collision of Realism with Symbolism

Topics: Constantin Stanislavski, Symbolism, Actor Pages: 9 (3072 words) Published: December 16, 2010
The Collision of Realism with Symbolism on the Example of Moscow Art Theatre’s Production of Hamlet. In this discourse I am going to analyse the collective work of two 20th century most influential theatre practitioners: Constantine Stanislavsky and Edward Gordon Craig. A subject becomes more interesting after mentioning that, there could, in any case, be no question of their coming to an agreement of basic questions of principle. Both were far too committed to their ideas for that. However each could supply something of what the other needed. Craig was happy to have found theatre and took theatre seriously; Stanislavsky needed stimulus, a fresh mind, controversy, anything rather than the back-biting and derision to which he was so often subjected to. As we know from their correspondence, various ideas for plays had been floated but both men harboured a desire to do Hamlet. Now, the question to answer: to what extent could the cooperation of two producers taking totally different view on the theatre issue be successful? Craig believed in the need to create a production as a whole, and held therefore that all its parts, including the contribution of the actor, should be subordinated to one man’s conception, that of the director. He asserted- the director was “the true artist of the theatre” and suggested viewing actors as no more important than marionettes. The human actor must leave to be replaced by a non-human “instrument”.1 Performer should not impersonate, but present and interpret a character… Not reproduce nature like photographer, but create as an artist. He therefore advocated the abolition of the actor in the traditional sense as being ‘the means by which a debased stage realism is produced and flourishes’.2 Stanislavsky had his own, totally different technique of working with actors… His ‘system’ focused on the development of artistic truth on stage by teaching actors to "live the part" during performance. He proposed that actors study and experience subjective emotions and feelings to manifest them to audiences by physical and vocal means – ‘To achieve the perfection'- ‘state of becoming a character, not pretending to be one’, an actor had to go through Stanislavski’s original- psychological process. Working in a small rehearsal studio, rather than on the main stage, was to emphasize the intimacy of the play and create right atmosphere. Environment played an important role in helping actors gain the state of meditation, helpful in the rehearsal process which consisted in finding the feelings, the psychological states, contained in those sections and relating them, through emotion memory, to personal experience. He kept the actors under tight control, using what he was later to call the ‘sitting-onhands method’. They were not allowed to speak their text either in full or full voice. Cuts were made in the longer speeches and used as sub-text, to be thought only…Great emphasis was laid on non-verbal communication. The actors were expected to ‘radiate’ their mental states.3


Charles, R.L., 1964. Gordon Craig’s Concept of the Actor. Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 258-269. 2 Styan, J.L., 1981. Modern drama in theory and practice 2. 1st ed. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press 3 Benedetti, Jean, 1999. Stanislavski his life and art. 3rd ed. UK: Methuen Drama.

If we look carefully at these approaches, we realise that the different does not rely only on the way of reading and representing reality, but also who is going to read and make a decision how to present this reality to the audience. Craig is saying that a director should not be a photographer, but in the same time he makes an actor to take a picture of director’s vision of the world… He has his ‘Ubermarionette’ theory, but in the same time he does not help to put these marionettes (actors) to the move, as sometimes he gives them almost no directions at all. “This champion of the Ubermarionette was prepared to allow the actors total...
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