Shakespeare the collaborator

Shakespeare_webpic_391547kCharles Nicholl at the Times Literary Supplement:

The chief key to this interplay between Shakespeare and his company is, of course, his leading man, the great tragedian Richard Burbage. As with all great actors there is something unknowable about Burbage. The reputed self-portrait at Dulwich (he is documented as a painter as well as an actor) has a withdrawn, austere aura which is only partly due to the current conventions of portraiture, and the numerous elegies written after his death in 1619 tell us little about the man, though much about his charismastic presence in the tragic roles Shakespeare wrote for him: “None can draw / So truly to the life this map of woe”, wrote one elegist, possibly John Fletcher. Van Es writes eloquently of Burbage’s Hamlet as an unprecedented presentation of self-doubt which was also a “moment of professional self-definition” for both author and actor. The part depends on an intricately layered performance which can persuade the audience of the Prince’s interior life – “I have that within which passes show” – and of their privileged glimpses into it. Van Es cautions wisely against foisting “an ahistorical ‘realism’” onto Burbage’s acting style, though “realism” seems to be what Webster had in mind when he said of Burbage, “What we see him personate we think truly done before us”. And it is surely the case that Hamlet’s splendid advice to the Player – “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly upon the tongue . . . nor do not saw the air too much with your hand”, and so on – must to some extent describe the style of the actor who speaks the lines.

more here.