I. Introduction
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aI . Introduction ACTING AND ACTION—thetwo terms,obvious,vague, familiar, stand at the heart of the theatrical mystery. The novice play­ wright learns quickly that he needs two basicskills: the ability to write for actors and the ability to create action. Without these talents, no degree of genius in characterization, plot, or language will help him. Their importance beinggranted, how­ ever, it remains notoriously difficult to say how acting and action actually work in drama. I would like to suggest that we can go a long way toward understanding their operation if we think of them not asseparate processes, but asintricately allied. Indeed, once we look carefully at the relation between acting and action, the vagueness and over-familiarity that at­ tend the terms begin to drop away, and what comes into view is a strikingly detailed perspective on the playwright's art. One must start by insisting on the significance of a fact so obvious that it is generally ignored: acting is themajor source of any audience's experience of action. In the theater, our sense of action rises almost entirely from the performance of the actors. Whatever "action" may be, it is felt as something playable, an impulse thrusting out at us from what the actors do, moment by moment,an unbroken flow of energy carrying us forward in time. Moreover,as we shall soon see, an actor's performance, qua performance, may itself constitute an im­ portant part of the action of a play. But the action we feel and see in watchinga play is of many kinds, and it evokes many kinds of awareness. There is, first of all, our sense that a play itself, and each scene in it, has an action of its own, an informing drive, that basic throughimpulse which moves us forward. Distinct from this are the Introduction various particular actions we see performed by the characters on stage. We usually connect these actions to actions in the outside world—again in a variety of ways. For instance, they may strike us as imitating the actions of "real life": a door is opened, a king is killed. We are also aware that the actions we are watching not only imitate the actions of real life but comment on them. They show us the way of certain life proc­ esses: ah, we say, these are the dynamics of infatuation; this is whatit's like toplan a crime.Finally, theatricalaction seems frequently to comment on human action in general—on the nature of action and the problems of acting in the world. The playwright,then, makesaction out of acting—or rather he makes many kinds of action and many references to action out of a particular kind of action that we call acting. I am interested in the many relations amongthese modes of action, all of which clearly flow into and out of each other, each having the power to affect and change our experience of the rest. Surely their interplay is likely to prove central to the effect of any drama, and this presents a valuable opportunity for criticism—to see how the different kinds of action are called together and made meaningful by dramatic texts. The essays in this book explore the possibilitiesof such a criticism. They are attempts to understand some of the ways in which acting andaction are related in Shakespeare'smajor tragedies. So far I have givenonly a schematicaccount of the relation. It will need to be described in greater detail before it can be wholly intelligible and before my emphasis on it can appear justified. In the restof this introduction,I wouldlike toexplain more fully the basis for my approach, and then go on to indicate some critical procedures which seem to me to follow from it. **Let me begin by looking more closely at the idea of action itself. "Action" is a large foggy abstraction, and large foggy abstractions generally arise to meet urgent mental needs. There is no doubt that we are remarkably attracted by experiences Introduction to which we can attach the name of action. At one time or another, most of us have wished for a feeling of action in our lives (rather than, say, a feeling of disconnected activity). We like to be engaged in action, to see it, to think about it, to believe that it exists. People say, "Hey man, where's the ac­ tion?" or that someone is a "man of action," or that tragedy must be concerned with action...