A problem seems to undermine the research on history of acting: the scholar cannot get in touch with what he is supposed to study. The actor’s work disappears as soon as the performance ends: according to a famous dictum, the actor «is forever carving a statue of snow» (Barrett, Matthews 1914, Duerr 1962, Cole and Chinoy 1970). That happens however not only in the history of acting. In any research concerning the past (the life of Napoleon, the tea trade in England at the end of the XVIII century) the scholar does not face the «real thing», but only documents that allow him to build up a mind-image of his subject-matter (Vicentini 1988, Fazio 2006, Pietrini 2009). The point is then the amount and the quality of the information the documents can offer in any research field. As far as the actor’s art, the subject- matter of the study is obviously what the actors do on stage. But the books on the history of acting mostly dwell on something else: the social and economic condition of the actor’s  life, the job contracts, the companies organization, and above all the scholars tend to reduce the history of acting to the history of the theory of acting (see by example Duerr 1962, Allegri 2005, Benedetti 2007). The reason is simple. Usually  the documents we dispose of,  give us a scanty information on what the actors do on stage, and we cannot build up a certain and detailed image of their acting. The scholars are then tempted to study not what they should, but what they can, and they eventually offer to the reader a kind of «surrogate history» of acting. The amount of information we can get on the actual acting, however, changes according the period of time we are considering. Until the XVIII  century (when a well aware and quite sophisticated critique of acting began) the information is quite rhapsodic  and undetailed. From the XVIII century on we dispose of a very large number of articles, essays, letters, that offer detailed descriptions and analysis of the performances of the most important actors of the time. Then technology in the XX century opened the way to record the actors’ performances on tapes and more sophisticated multimedia. That sets the standards of any possible history of acting: uncertain and undetailed so far antiquity, middle ages, renaissance and baroque acting are concerned;  more and more analytic and specific through the XVIII and XIX centuries. Eventually, when we will actually master the new recording techniques and develop the methods of analysis of the actor’s art they allow, a new era of acting studies will open.


Claudio Vicentini è Professore Emerito di Storia del teatro all’Università di Napoli ‘L’Orientale’. Tra le sue principali opere sono L’estetica di Pirandello (Milano, Mursia, 1970); Studio su Dilthey (Milano, Mursia, 1974); La teoria del teatro politico (Firenze, Sansoni, 1981); Pirandello. Il disagio del teatro (Venezia, Marsilio, 1993); L’arte di guardare gli attori (Venezia, Marsilio, 2007); La teoria della recitazione dall’antichità al Settecento (Venezia, Marsilio, 2012). cvicentini@unior.it


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