Advice to the Players: Peter Hall, Shakespeare and Antipathy to the Method

Naylor, Ben (2018) Advice to the Players: Peter Hall, Shakespeare and Antipathy to the Method. In: John Barton and Peter Hall Memorial Conference, 8/9/2018, Rose Theatre, Kingston. (Unpublished)


In modern naturalistic drama, the feeling is often more important than the form. – Peter Hall, Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players

The style of the play requires a different kind of expression, but the reality of feeling remains the same. – Lee Strasberg, A Dream of Passion

Truth is that in which we can sincerely believe. – Stanislavsky

In Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players, Peter Hall repeatedly critiques Stanislavskyan acting approaches as both useless and indeed harmful when applied to Shakespearean performance. His criticisms coalesce around the idea of ‘Stanislavski’ rather than particular Stanislavskyan practices; he conflates differing interpretations of Stanislavsky – particularly the American Method as taught by Lee Strasberg – with the work of the Russian master. Where he is specific about the elements of Stanislavsky’s work he particularly abhors, it is either the supposed Stanislavskyan predominance of feeling over form, or else the rather numinous practice of ‘improvisation’.

While neither Hall’s magisterial grasp of Shakespeare, nor his importance in setting a style of Shakespearean acting for several decades, can be denied, his understanding of Stanislavskyan principles seems both muddled and attenuated.

Hall’s insistent anti-Stanislavsky rhetoric created something of an orthodoxy, outside of specialist circles, that Stanislavskyan principles are inapplicable to Shakespearean performance; he also weaponised traditional British antipathy to Method acting to support his argument. In this, I believe he fundamentally misunderstood or misrepresented not only Stanislavsky and the Method, but also the performance concerns of Early Modern actors.


Submitted Version - Other (Paper for the John Barton & Peter Hall memorial conference, British Shakespeare association/Kingston Shakespeare Seminar.)

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