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The Player As Director: An Approach to Character Leonard R. Mendelsohn Actaeon the hunter was a visionary. Not content with the limitless pursuit of game at his pleasure, Actaeon envisioned the ideal hunt, a spectacle in which he would assemble the most adept of hunters, the finest breed of dogs and the most noble stag to undertake a chase upon a meadow of pastoral splendor.1 Months of intense training focused upon the moment when his vision would be fulfilled. Each aspect of the performance had been rehearsed. He had selected the setting, trained his men to follow their cues, and even his large supporting cast of hounds he could call by name and birth. They had all conned the script. What now remained was simply to await the morrow when the actual performance would be realized. In the interim Actaeon wandered into the valley to view the sets and to delight in anticipation of the reality of his vision. The vision after all was father to fulfillment, and the hunt to him was now as much alive as it would be when the scene would be per­ formed. Actaeon meandered among his dreams. So well had he chosen his setting among the pineapple and cypress groves that his visions intersected with those of the gods. As Ovid informs us, these luscious props were the favorite haunt of Diana. Actaeon the visionary was a trespasser. Dreams are rarely con­ cerned with private property. The offended Diana nonetheless did not interfere, but took active part in Actaeon’s spectacle. She transformed him into a stag, precisely at the moment when dawn drew the curtain on the grand event. The hunt went on as planned. As one of the huntsmen re­ joined, this was the grandest chase of all. Was it not a pity that Actaeon was not there? Absurdly ridiculous! No one is ever ab­ sent from his own dream. The presence of hunters, the locale— the pathless woods dotted by bubbling streams—the hounds of Crete and Sparta, the furious pursuit, the thirsty desire—were 115 116 Comparative Drama they not all evidence of Actaeon’s presence? Who else had as­ sembled this moment? Who set the scene, established the roles, and then infused the characters with the will to undertake thenparts ? But then Actaeon was more than spiritually present. The stately hart, most perfect of all prey, whose role he had con­ ceived, he now portrayed as well. Actaeon the director had dis­ covered that he was also a player. Vision is a peculiar creation. It never fully separates from its creator. Vision determines the situation, the setting and the roles. But vision, at least dramatic vision, never achieves its physical form until there are characters to fill the roles. I use the term character as distinct from the designation role. Character is the vision-producing agent which fills the role. One character plays the parts of Viola and Cesario, another Feste and Sir Topas, while another assumes the roles of Vicentio the duke, and also that of the friar. The same character is equally effective in creating visions in each of his roles. But while character and role are separate categories, the boundary separating actor and char­ acter is not so well defined. This blurring of distinction, how­ ever, is both necessary and fortunate. The character, and most certainly the character in Renaissance drama, is very much an actor in his own right. Character and player both assume various roles. Both in the same figure disseminate visions and create roles and situations. In this function not only is the character a player, but both are directors as well. While roles might be more or less static, characters never are. Since characters are themselves vision-producing agents, like Diana they have notions of their own which of the other char­ acters will perform which part. As one character exercises his ability to effect the situation and to cast roles, he intrudes upon the vision of another character, i.e. of another director. Using the roles and the circumstances that the first director envisaged, he can turn the vision back upon its creator. But the same fate awaits him in...


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pp. 115-124
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