He is tragicall on the stage

This fragment is a description of an actor from the 1620s.  Not only does it reveal much about the way actors were perceived in the 17th century, it also sheds light on how Shakespeare himself, who spent his time both on the stage, as well as writing for it, might have been regarded by his contemporaries in the theatre.

A Player

He knows the right use of the World, where in he comes to play a part and so away.  His life is not idle for it is all Action, and no man need be more wary in his doings, for the eyes of all men are upon him. His Profession has in it a kind of contradiction, for none is more dislik’d, and yet none more applauded; and he has this misfortune of some Scholler, too much wit makes him a foole.  He is like our painting Gentle-women, seldome in his owne face, seldomer in his cloathes, and he pleases, the better hee counterfeits, except onely when he is disguis’d with straw for gold lace.  Hee does not only personate on the Stage, but sometime in the Street, for he is mask’d still in the habit of a Gentleman.  His Parts find him oathes and good words, which he keeps for his use and Discourse, and makes shew with them of a fashionable Companion.

He is tragicall on the Stage, but rampant in the Tyring-house, and sweares oathes there which he never con’d. The waiting women Spectators are over-eares in love with him, and Ladies send for him to act in their Chambers. Your Innes of Court men were uvndone but for him, hee is their chiefe guest and employment, and the sole business that makes them Afternoones men.  The Poet only is his Tyrant, and he is bound to make his friends friend drunk at his charges. Shrove-tuesday hee feares as much as the Baudes, and Lent is more damage to him then the Butcher [the theatres were closed during Lent].  He was never so much discredited as in one Act, & that was of Parliament, which gives Hostlers Priviledge before him, for which hee abhors it more then a corrupt Judge.  But to give him his due, one well-furnished Actor has enough in him for five common Gentlemen, and if he have a good body for sixe, and for resolution, hee shall Challenge any Cato, for it has beene his practise to die bravely.

Source: John Earle, Microcosmography (1628)

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