ABSTRACT

Collecting and revising in 1875 some of his former dramatic writings and
reviews, G. H. Lewes prefaced his On Actors and the Art of Acting declaring
his intent «to call upon the reflective part of the public to make some
attempt at discriminating the sources of theatrical emotion». That statement
could be dismisses as a vague aspiration, if it were not grounded on both a
long-lasting acquaintance of theatre and a deep interest in physiology and
psychology (as well as in philosophy), which gained him a vast renown in
the late nineteenth century. Lewes’ criticism of actors and actresses of his
time is intended to explain the relation between representation and its
effect, in which emotions play an essential part, both in the actor’s
performance and in the spectator’s reception. As to his view in the debate
on emotionalism, Lewes seems to draw some of his opinions from
Diderot’s Paradoxe, but at the same time he goes beyond Diderot,
identifying in both in the performer and in the spectator the presence of a
form of emotional experience which is quite distinct from similar
experiences in ordinary life. The player must feel, but his feelings act like a
sort of nervous stimulus to the representation of sublimated, generalized
emotions, which each member of an audience perceives as his own, insofar
as they are typical of human nature. The player’s task is, as it were, to find
in reality what is universal, then to (re)present it distilled in a symbolical
form, in which everyone can recognize the essential features of human
nature.

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