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Speech and Drama
GA 282

XI. The Relation of Gesture and Mime to the forming of Speech

15 September 1924, Dornach

My dear Friends,

We must now go on to consider the question of how our dramatic performances can contribute to the artistic life of the community. We have spoken of what the actor should know and practise; how is all this to reach the public? How are we to ensure that our endeavours to give artistic form both to the whole picture of the stage and to the acting, shall awake an understanding for dramatic art?

In order to answer this question, it will be necessary to say a little more about the training that a school of dramatic art should give. Such a school will have to develop in the students a thorough and penetrating understanding of mime, and of gesturing in all its forms. We have already spoken of these in more general terms; but only when the actor becomes alive to the necessity for a fuller and more detailed understanding of mime and gesture, can we hope—I will not say to educate the public (the description of people as ‘educated’ has by now come to have very little meaning), let me rather say, only then can we hope to evoke in the public a true appreciation of art.

Let us therefore today continue our study of mime and gesture, going further into the kind of practical details that the professional actor needs to master. And here again I shall want you to take what I say not as rules but as examples, in the sense that I have explained.

We will begin with an expression in mime that is quickly recognisable and that is bound to follow at once on the emotion producing it. I mean, the mime for the emotion of anger.

We must first make sure that we understand how the emotion of anger works. When a person becomes angry, his muscles immediately grow taut, and then, after a little, slacken again. In real life, it is only the first part of the process that need claim our attention; but when we are studying how to act anger on the stage, we must see that the process is revealed in its entirety—first, tension; then, relaxation. And now, suppose we have a student who is to learn the mime and gesture that are relevant for the expression of anger, how is he to set about it?

When he has worked sufficiently at the cultivation of his feeling for the individual sounds (for that will always be the first thing to be studied in a school of dramatic art), then we can take with him some passage in a play where a character manifests anger, and let the passage be spoken for him by the reciter. I have explained to you before that this is always the best way for a student to learn gesturing; only later on should he unite gesture and word. The reciter, then, will speak the passage as it should be spoken. The student, who will of course be following carefully the content of the words, will have to accompany them the whole time with an i e feeling. As he listens, he lets the i e feeling ‘sound’ in him, inwardly—i e, i e. This will of itself give rise to an inner experience, which he will then go on to express instinctively in some movement or other—with arms or hands, or with clenched fists; first tightening the muscles (i) and then again letting them go slack (e): i e, i e, i e.

Please note that a physiological expression must always, without exception, be associated with a feeling for sound. It should be a strict rule for the student never in his practising to make any bodily movement or action without its being accompanied by a particular sound-feeling.

Suppose we want to present a person who has been passing through some deep experience of sorrow or of terror. The emotional experience is in a sense past and over, but it has left its mark upon him; how is this to be shown? The actor will have to come on to the stage with relaxed muscles; that should be his physiological condition. And invariably, as he practises, he will have to accompany the slackness of the muscles with the e mood.

Or again, consider how one would have to act someone who is anxious and troubled. Perhaps he comes on to the stage in this condition; or it may be that in the course of the scene he is distressed at something that is said to him. In either case, one should try to bring a light sound of ö (French eu in ‘feu’) into his speaking. This will mean that wherever we have to do with this feeling of trouble and concern, whether the person in question brings it with him or feels it arise in him through words he hears another speak, the actor will try to develop the mime in the ö mood—letting his hands fall slowly to his side and his eyelids droop. When I advise details of this kind, you must always remember that they are not intended to curtail the freedom of the individual artist; he is left to find his own way of carrying them out.

If the person in question is very sorely troubled or is thrown into a condition of acute concern, then his lips will want to close up and his tongue to cleave to the roof of his mouth when he has to speak. And if later on he has to speak again in reply to what another has said, he will continue to utter his words, wherever possible, with lips pressed together. That will have a wonderful effect; you will find that his words have just the right colouring. If you bring on the stage two interlocutors, the first saying something that grieves and troubles the second, and the second answering in such a way that he produces even his a sounds with compressed lips, then the impression that the audience instinctively receive of the effect that the words of the one are having upon the other, cannot fail to be of the right colouring.

Take an extreme case. One of them says: ‘Your brother has died.’ The other exclaims: ‘My brother! It can't be true!’ If the lips are at the same time pressed as near together as possible, the words will have their right colouring.

If it is found necessary, as will certainly be the case with a prolonged condition of care and anxiety, to help out the mime with a made-up pallor, then the make-up should be accompanied throughout by this kind of speaking, where the lips are all the time held more closely together than usual. A made-up pallor should, in fact, never appear on the stage without this mime.

It is, you must know, most important for the actor to realise that there are certain expressions of emotion that have to be represented with particular care upon the stage—not always as in real life. Sighing and groaning, for instance, can certainly play a part in the mime and gesture of the stage. They should never be practised by themselves; the student should be listening to a recited passage that displays pain or anxiety, a passage, however, that contains the implication that the sufferer is wanting to get over it. For when a person is completely overwhelmed with pain and sorrow, he does not groan or sigh; whereas one who would fain be rid of his suffering, one who is open to being comforted—he will sigh and groan. In real life this distinction may not always hold good; in art, however, it has to be strictly adhered to. If we mean our acting to have style, then groans and sighs can be allowed only when the person presented is going to find relief from his pain, to the extent anyway of being able to speak; he must not be struck dumb with sorrow. When therefore we have to reply on the stage to words that convey some shattering tidings, we should begin with groans and sighs—which we have also learned to produce with style. That will as it were open the way for us to speak.

Whenever some emotion has to be expressed, the student should on every single occasion practise with it some bodily movement or action which again must invariably have its connection with formed speech. Suppose, for example, you are listening to a speech that is sad and sorrowful. As you listen, you will move your head, being careful, however, to do so without changing countenance. Head movements, with the countenance in repose—that will be right for listening to a sorrowful passage. For then something else follows of itself. The diaphragm, with all that is below it, comes also into movement, begins to make movements that are a kind of reaction to the movements of the head. It comes about quite naturally; the correct head movement will ensure that the diaphragm and abdomen are set in motion in the right way. And never allow yourself to forget that every such bodily movement has always to be practised to the accompaniment of formed speech. This then will be the posture for an actor who is listening to the recital of a sorrowful passage: he will listen with full consciousness, shaking his head, but keeping his features still.

But now, let us say, you listen to a passage that leaves you cold, that has no interest for you. You will not move your head at all, you will simply stare with complete unconcern. It is not too much to say, for it is an established fact, that listening in this way with the countenance in repose and the head also quite still, as though one were on the point of falling asleep, gives rise to a slight glandular secretion, such as happens normally with a phlegmatic who is true to his temperament. This mime can indeed be a great help to you when you have to play the part of a phlegmatic, whilst the mime I gave before will help you to act a melancholic.

We have thus here definite suggestions for the acting of these two temperaments. An actor preparing himself for the presentation of melancholic characters should listen to sorrowful passages, keeping his face quiet and making movements with his head, letting these then call forth their natural reaction in his body. And one who wants to prepare himself for acting a phlegmatic part should assume the physiognomy of beginning to fall asleep—keeping his face in repose, letting his eyelids and nostrils droop, and with the upper lip unmoved by any kind of voluntary effort. As he listens in this attitude, that fine glandular secretion which always goes with a phlegmatic temperament will begin to take place in him. Things like this will help you to see the spirit that should animate all your work.

Suppose now you want to prepare a student for the part of a naive and sanguine character. You will have some sensational announcement read out to the actress or actor (for there can also be sanguine men!) and get her or him to make, while listening, powerful facial movements, movements also with the arms. Such gestures will lead instinctively into the impetuous and voluble kind of speaking that your student will need to develop.

Should you want to prepare an actor to present a choleric, you will choose for him a passage where the speaker is pouring out abuse. You will find plenty of such passages in Shakespeare. The student, as he listens, will have to knit his brows and clench his fists. He should also plant himself firmly on the ground with all his muscles tense. From knees downwards, the muscles of his calves should be held taut; and he should all the time be conscious of standing on the floor with the whole sole of his foot. Then he will be ready for the part.

For the practice of other arts, everyone knows we have to acquire a technique; and it is no different with the art of the stage. We have to acquire a technique that can start us off on the right road. And here I would like to draw your attention to two things in life that the science of today leaves unexplained. There are of course a great many things that science is unable to explain (do we not hear on every hand of the ‘boundaries of knowledge’?), but these are two that concern us in our present study. I mean laughing and weeping. Before these, there is for present-day science a ‘boundary of knowledge’ ; how laughing and weeping come about in man is admittedly an unsolved problem.

There is, however, no need for the problem to remain unsolved. Take weeping. What does weeping signify? Weeping always goes back to this: somewhere or other the ether body is taking hold too strongly of the physical body. When man finds this condition painful, he tries to call back the force that is working from the ether body into the physical body, and raise it in the direction of the astral body.

Ego Astral Body
Ether Body
Physical Body

He thus pours a counter-force into the astral body. The ether body is of course connected with the fluid element in man. So now you can see what happens. The ether body exerts its force in the direction, not of the physical but of the astral body; and the result of this, the projection of it in the physical, is that tears are released, the man weeps. And it is on this account that the shedding of tears brings relief.

Try now to let ä ring out clearly, try to enter deeply into the experience of ä. You will then gradually acquire a play of countenance that will need but a few little drops of water placed here (on the eyes) for it to be weeping. Yes, it will then be weeping; no need at all for real tears to well up from within Having made yourself completely at home in this play of countenance and become increasingly conscious of what your nose and eyes are doing when you say ä, then if you take from a cup a few drops of water and place them on your eyes, you are weeping. You are acting weeping to perfection.

We are here touching an important point. It is by no means our aim that sentimental spectators shall be able to say what I have heard said again and again of Eleanora Duse (but it was not true), that she wept on the stage. She shed real tears, so people said; and the statement was supposed to evoke one's enthusiasm for such an achievement. Similarly one has also frequently heard it asserted that Eleanora Duse, who was by nature quite pale, could raise a blush on the stage. Apparently she did blush; people only did not notice that she turned at the same time! Her face had been made up light on one side and darker on the other. It argues a little want of respect and proper appreciation to take for real some stage technique that can so successfully create an illusion. For illusions of this kind have to be consciously planned; one has to undergo a training for them—in this instance, by surrendering oneself wholly to the ä sound.

Going on now to consider laughter, we find that where laughter occurs, something is lodged in the astral body that should have been grasped by the ego. It has strayed into the astral body, because man was not fully master of the impression. Say, a person looks at a caricature: perhaps he sees tiny little legs and an enormous head. What is he to make of it? He cannot quite master the impression; it is not what he generally sees in life. The impression slips down into the astral body—leaves the ego and enters the astral body. The person then tries to evoke a reaction from ether body and physical body. We have here, you see, a process that goes in the opposite direction. Something is present in the astral body, and the ether body wants to bring it down into the physical body. That is what laughter consists in. Something is being experienced in the astral body that the person cannot quite grasp; and laughter is the endeavour to show it up as foolish or ridiculous or the like by bringing it right down into the physical body.

To produce laughter on the stage we must first of all make sure of the right mood, and then try to hold it. Let us set down once more the vowels in their sequence, beginning this time with u, the vowel that is nearest the front of the mouth: u ü ö ä o i e a. Take the o, and go past the i to e: o e. Or take the ä, and go over to a: ä a. The latter gives the mood rather less clearly; it comes out very clearly in the o e: o e, o e, o e, o e. And now take the passage that is to make you laugh, and try to bring this mood into it. First listen, that is, to the speaker saying the words that are to provoke laughter, accompanying his words all the time with o e, o e; then break out into laughter, and your laughter will be the very best stage laughter that can be had. The mime is created out of the formed speech.

a e i o ä ö ü u

Suppose you want to reveal in your countenance that you are giving your whole attention. You let a passage be read out to you that is of a kind to demand close attention. As you listen, you gaze steadily before you, holding within you all the time the mood of a a a. Then you gradually carry this mood up into your eyes, as though you wanted your eyes too to say a. You press up into that fixed gaze of yours the feeling that you have in the uttering of a. Your face will then show just the right expression for attentiveness.

And now imagine another situation. Suppose an author has introduced into a comedy he is writing, an incident that did actually take place once in Austria. A party of people were met together in Reichenau and, being in a rather giddy mood, made up their minds to settle the question once and for all as to whether or no it were true, as some averred, that the editor of the Wiener Fremdenblatt, who was by the way a relative of the poet Heine, was a silly fool. They decided to send him an absurd telegram, and then to look in the paper next day to see whether he had been so stupid as to insert it, or just clever enough to take no notice of it. A little incident that would lend itself well as material for comedy! The telegram ran: The municipality of Reichenau has come to the decision to remove the Raxalp in order to give the resident Archduke an unimpeded view of the Styrian countryside. On the following day the telegram appeared word for word in the Wiener Fremdenblatt.1The Vienna Visitors' Gazette. Some of the party had wagered it would not appear; but others had been quite sure that Heine was stupid enough to accept it, and it was they of course who won the wager.

And now suppose this little story is read out to you. You will have good reason to be surprised when you hear how it ends. You will in that case open your eyes as wide as ever you can, and intone i i i; then stop and with that whole i-intonation concentrated in one powerful impression, let the feeling that it leaves in you steal up into your eyes: i. Sure enough, your countenance will have the right look; it will bear the expression of dumbfounded amazement.

Or again, let us say you are listening to a tale that is terrifying. Close your eyes, and intone u; stop, take the intoned u up into your eyes: u. Nothing could give your face the expression of terror so well as this. Carry the intonation of u into the closed eyes, and your whole countenance will bespeak terror. In this mime that results from u being pushed up into the closed eyes, you have a singularly good opportunity to observe how it is in the forming of the speech that you can call up the right play of countenance.

Many of our inner experiences are connected with something outside us. And so if we want, for instance, to express contempt for some person or object, it will be from a consonant that we shall learn the right mime. Have an appropriate passage read out to you and, as you listen, intone n n n n n n. When you have practised this sufficiently for the right play of feature to appear in your countenance, then you will be able to bring that mime into your speaking, so that when you speak the words of contempt you will speak them as they should be spoken. But you have always, let me say again, to start from speech; it all follows from a right forming of speech.

Suppose you want to express dejection. It is perfectly easy to learn, but it has to be learned. You have a passage read out that brings this mood to expression, and you intone the consonant w (v), combining with it as light a touch as possible of the e sound: w w w w . Then you fall silent, but remain in the gesture that is left in you by the experience; your gesture will be eloquent of despondency.

If you want to express rapture, then you must try to attain a pure out-breathing, as we have it in h. You could begin by saying the word Jehova. Then, gazing upwards and with arms also raised, let the ho become sheer out-breathing. There you have the gesture for rapture: arms reaching upwards, eyes also gazing upwards. (With many people you will find that even the lobes of the ears are lifted and the nostrils opened wide; one can, however, leave that to the unconscious.) And all the time you will be intoning h, doing your best to bring it at last to mere out-breathing, as pure as ever you can make it. So long as the h is in combination with the vowel, it is not yet pure. That is why I say, you have to make strenuous effort to attain it: Jehova, ho ho ... ho ... h ... You did not hear anything then, but I was doing it, the pure out-breathing And you will have noted the change that comes over the upward gaze as soon as ever one passes from the intoning with vowel accompaniment to the out-breathing pure and simple. That, then, is rapture.

Now for another mime and gesture that can also quite well be learned, and used always to be taught in the older schools of dramatic art. For we ought not to despise what was good in the earlier days; it has only to be evoked now in a new way; it has to be evoked out of speech—that is what is new about it. Imagine you intone a o, a o. While you intone, you contract your brow into vertical wrinkles and open your eyes as wide as ever you can: a o. And now drop the intoning, and you will have the right expression in mime and gesture for careful reflection and concern. This will only reveal itself fully when you have ceased intoning and carry in you the after-effect of the well-formed speech. But you must begin with the intoning, and then let the intoning pass over into your whole bearing and countenance.

I know well what the natural rejoinder will be to detailed advice of this kind: But if we have first to learn all this, whenever shall we come to the point of being ready for the stage? You will find, however, that all the methods I am advocating will, if properly carried out, prepare you for the stage in a shorter time than is taken by the training given in present-day schools of dramatic art. As a matter of fact, hardly any of those who appear on the stage have attended these schools; since, generally speaking, students who have been trained in them do not turn out to be the best actors, any more than the best painters or sculptors are to be found among those who have been professionally trained. For as a rule the methods used in art schools are rather uninspiring. Students who have real talent soon grow impatient and take themselves off to pursue art on their own account. But with regard to the exercises and so on that I have been recommending—once you begin to know them and study them, you will find they are not, after all, so alarmingly complicated.

And now I have something to say on more general lines in reference to a school of dramatic art. It is of great importance that an actor should have a good knowledge of eurhythmy. Not in order to perform it, for eurhythmy is an art that is performed on the stage on its own account. But to the full training of an actor, all the other arts have to make their contribution, and so too eurhythmy I do not mean that an actor should let his acting run on here and there into eurhythmy The result would be most inartistic. Eurhythmy can only be artistic when it is allowed to work in its own way—that is, to the accompaniment of recitation or of music. We must, you know, have a feeling for what it is in eurhythmy that makes it an art. Eurhythmy gives what cannot come to expression in music alone or in recitation alone; it takes these further, continues them. No one could feel it to be true eurhythmy if done to the accompaniment of singing. In singing, music has flowed over into speech. The eurhythmy would merely disturb the singing, and the singing the eurhythmy. Eurhythmy can be accompanied by recitation, which itself has nothing to do with bodily movement; for in recitation gesture has become inward. Eurhythmy can also be accompanied by instrumental music. But not by singing, if one wants to let eurhythmy work in a way that corresponds with its true ideal.

Not therefore directly, but indirectly eurhythmy can be of the very greatest significance for the actor. For what have we in eurhythmy 9 In eurhythmy we have the full, the macrocosmic gesture for vowel and consonant. I (arm stretched straight out); a still more intensely pointed i (fingers also stretched). And now try to continue inwards the feeling you have in making the eurhythmy for i. I do not mean merely the feeling of having one's arm and hand in that position; the i lies in the feeling that is experienced in the muscle. Try to hold this feeling fast, within you; let it be for you as though a sword were being thrust straight down into your body. And now, still continuing this feeling, try to intone i. Then the right nuance for your i will come to you from the eurhythmy; your i, as you speak it, will have the necessary purity. And it will be the same with the other vowels and consonants. Continue their eurhythmy inwards; fill yourself with the ghost of the eurhythmic form, with its mirrored reflection, and while still feeling the form there within you, intone. In this way you will come to speak your vowels and consonants in their purity. So much for an advice of a more general kind concerning your training.

If you will continue to keep all these things in mind, you will at length acquire a true understanding for what is essential in speech. For it is not enough for an actor to know his part. He must of course do that; but what matters above all is that he shall have the right thoughts and feelings concerning his calling. Otherwise he cannot really be an actor. No one can be an artist in any sphere who has not a true and worthy conception of the art he is following.

By entering with your whole heart into such a training as I have here been indicating, you will come to have a pure—let me say, a religious—understanding of what speaking really is; and not only of speaking, but also of the mime and gesture that are connected with it. And that is what is needed. For such a conception of speech will, more than anything else, give you a strong and clear feeling of the place of man in the universe. Gradually you will come to appreciate man's true dignity and worth, beholding how he stands at the very centre of the world-all.

Look at the animals. They too make sounds. Think of the lion's roar, of the lowing of the cow, or of the bleating of sheep and goat. The sounds uttered by these animals have the character of vowels. They are expressing what is within them—all the animals that lift up their voice in this manner. And then, as you go about Nature's world, you will also hear quite different forms of utterance, such as, for example, the sounds that are made by cicadas and other insects, where the sound is produced by the movements of certain limbs or organs. There you have sounds that show a decided consonantal character. And then at last you come to that wonderful development of sound that means so much to man—the song of the birds! In the singing of the birds you have music. So that while you hear vowels from the higher and consonants from the lower animals, the birds give you the possibility to hear music in the animal world.

But now what about that sound you hear when you go out into the country and listen to the cicadas or other insects? Go close up to one of them and watch it. Out of the question for you to have the impression that the cicada is wanting to say something to you with this consonantal sound that it produces ! You have before you the simple fact of an insect in action—that is all! And then what are we to say of the animals that low or bleat or roar? Such sounds do no more than express self-defence, or resistance, or again a sense of well-being; they are far from revealing any inner experience of soul. Finally, in the singing of the birds, you can distinctly feel that the music does not live inside them. The simple and natural feeling about the singing of the birds, you have when you compare the one or the other variety of it with the corresponding flight, with the beating of the wings. For it is true, there is a harmony between the external movements the bird makes in flight and the music it produces with its voice.

And now, turn right away from the animal world and listen to the inwardness, to the artistic forming of inner experience, that reaches you through the vowels as spoken by man! Listen again to the experience in and with the external world that reaches you through the consonants as spoken by man. Listen, I say, to human speech, listen to it also in its connection with mime and with gesture; and it will not fail to beget in you a right and true feeling for the significance of man in the universe. For verily it stands there revealed before you in what speech can become in man.

Then your heart and soul will receive the right orientation, and the way will lie open for you to enter further into the more esoteric aspect of our theme. And this is what we shall be doing in the remaining lectures.2The last sentence was greeted with enthusiastic applause. The course had been previously announced as ‘from the 5th to the 15th September ’.