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Acting Through the Ages Essay

The art of acting has evolved in many ways over its lifetime and continues to evolve to this day. Acting first originated in Greece in the 6th century BC with the Greek tragic actor Thespis being widely regarded as the founder of the profession. This is why, to this day, actors are often referred to as thespians. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, defined acting as ‘the right management of the voice to express various emotions ‘ and declared it to be a natural talent that was innate and could not be taught.

There are a few ancient Greek plays by Aeschylus , Euripides and Sophocles that survived all acting history and are still performed in the theatres. During the Christian rule of Rome, acting began to decline as an art and liturgical drama began to be performed throughout the Middle Ages. The tradition was kept alive by jugglers, acrobats and mimes who entertained crowds at town fairs and the gesture and intonation of actors began to be mastered through religious drama performed in church. Acting history then takes an enormous jump to the 16th century, where modern professional acting began to emerge through Italian comedy.

William Shakespeare is perhaps the most proficient of this particular style of playwright – and certainly the best known. Many professional actors during the Restoration period were famed for their natural talent and style but it was not until the 18th century that acting was considered a serious profession rather than an amateurish pursuit. In the mid-18th century, Charles Macklin and his pupil David Garrick began to introduce a new, naturalistic, style of acting and new movements began to take place across Europe.

As acting history evolves, the old, declamatory, style of acting did not die out completely until the beginning of the 20th century with many popular actors of this time seeming overly histrionic to many modern audiences. With the changing times, tastes and cultures came a move away from the bombastic and intense acting styles of past (with standards set by the Meiningen Players in 1874) and the emergence of a new, naturalistic style of acting whereby the actor strives for absolute psychological identification with the character he is playing – the Stanislavski method introduced by Russian director Konstantin Stanislavski.

This method was adopted by the Group Theatre and later by Lee Strasberg producing a generation of talented naturalistic actors such as Marlon Brando. The introduction of motion picture and television entertainment began to offer a wealth of opportunities and associated stardom to aspiring actors and actresses and began to change the art of acting forever. In the early 20th century, the Academy Awards were launched and the profession of acting finally began to be properly recognised as an admirable and authentic professional pursuit.


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