Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Speech and Drama
GA 282

XVIII. The Speech Sounds as a Revelation of the Form of Man. Control of the Breath

22 September 1924, Dornach

My dear Friends,

The studies we have been pursuing together in these past days have led us to see that two things are necessary if we want to be artists on the stage. In the first place, we must be ready and willing to undertake an intensive study of the elements of the arts of speech and gesture—those first elements of which we have seen that they are rooted and sustained in the life of the spirit. And then secondly, we must give to dramatic art its right place in the whole compass of our life, and in so doing implant in our hearts a mood that is permeated by spirit and never deviates from the paths of spirituality. If we can fulfil these two things required of us, then we shall be able to take our part as actors in the life of mankind in the way that an artist should who is sustained and upheld by the spirit. For such an artist should have it in his power, by means of all that he is and does, to help bring the artistic into that leading role in civilisation to which it is called, and for lack of which civilisation must inevitably wither and perish.

Such was, I know, the earnest aspiration that prompted a number of you to ask for this course of lectures. And we shall need to carry the same earnestness into our further study, as we go on now to consider, for example, how the human form is a revelation of the great world. Approaching the theme from the standpoint of the art of the stage, we shall have to find how in the form and figure of man, taken in its most comprehensive sense, the universe is revealed—significantly, intensively revealed. And the perceptions that light up within us through thus beholding man as a revelation of the universe, will guide us in linking up again the natural and elemental with the divine and spiritual.

We will accordingly begin our lecture today with a consideration once again of the question : How can we see in the forming of word and of sound a revelation of the form and figure of man? If we think of ‘speaking’ man, man revealing himself in speech, then the first part of his form that calls for notice is his lips. It is, to begin with, the lips that do the revealing.

Disregarding altogether for the moment the grouping of the consonants into impact sounds, breath sounds, wave sounds and vibrant sounds, we find that the sounds which are brought to expression by means of the lips are m, b, p. These sounds are revelations that are made entirely by the formative activity of the lips; both lips are engaged.

1. Both lips engaged : m b p

If we try to utter any other sound than these with the lips, we not only interfere with the right forming of speech, we do injury to our organism. And if on the other hand we speak m, b or p without the complete instinctive consciousness that here the lips are the specific agents, then again we harm both our speaking and our organism.

A second activity reveals itself when we begin to look a little way in from the lips—a co-operation, namely, of lower lip with upper teeth. In the muscles of the lower lip we have an intense concentration of our karma, of that karma that is so mysteriously present within us all the time. The forces that work and weave throughout the limbs go streaming through the muscles of the lower lip in a wonderful variety of movement; we may even say that the whole human being, with the exception of the organisation of the head, comes to expression in the activity of the lower lip.

In comparison with those of the lower, the muscles of the upper lip are inactive. Their part is rather to provide opportunity for what is contained in the head organisation to find its way into the muscular system. And whilst the lower lip is positively no less than a complete expression of man as limb-man, all that can be said of the upper lip is that it supplies man in its movement with a means of expression for what is contained in the utterance of m, b and p.

But now, through this co-operation of lower lip and upper teeth we can bring to expression what comes more from the entire man. The upper teeth, like the upper lip, bring the head organisation to expression, and being more at rest and circumscribed, are able to do so even better. In the upper teeth we have a concentration, a consolidation of all that man is ready and willing to receive of the secrets of the universe, those secrets that crave to be taken hold of in this way, to be established and consolidated in man's being. There in the upper teeth they come to rest. And when we let lower lip and upper teeth work together in the right way in f, v (f) and w (v),1We have here only two distinct sounds, the difference between f and v consisting simply in the force with which the sound is uttered (see next paragraph). then what has been received by us from the whole sum of world secrets and is now wanting to come to expression finds that expression.

2. Lower lip and upper teeth: f v w

The South Germans are almost unable to say w; they pronounce it like u and e run together, giving it the character of a vowel. W properly spoken arises from the lower lip meeting the upper teeth in a kind of wavelike movement, whereas in v the lower lip merely closes up to them without this wavelike movement. In f the lower lip pushes with all its force on to the upper teeth.

A further stage is reached when the two rows of teeth work together. This means that the lower and upper organisations of man, the organisations of head and of limbs, are held in balance. The world has, so to speak, been captured by man, he has it there within him; and now he on his part wants to send forth his own being into the world without. This is how it is when we attain to a right interworking of upper and lower teeth in speaking the sounds s, c (ts), z (ts).2The s may be voiced or unvoiced (as in ‘easy’ or as in’ say’). The letter c is rarely met with in modern German

3. Upper and lower teeth working together : s c z

In these sounds, the teeth alone are concerned.

Entering now still farther into man, we come to his inner life, to where his life of feeling seeks to express itself, his life of soul; we have therefore also to go farther back in his bodily being. We come then to the tongue; and we have first the revelation that can come about through tongue and upper teeth working together. Whilst what man has become by virtue of all that he has received from the world, reveals itself in the interplay of lower lip and upper teeth, what man is by virtue of the fact that he has a soul, comes to revelation in the interplay between soul and head—that is, between tongue and upper teeth.

Here, therefore, the tongue begins to work—and behind the upper teeth. Please take special note of the word behind. This gives rise to the sounds: l, n, d, t.

4. Tongue works behind the upper teeth: l n d t

If we are to succeed in producing in our pupils healthy and beautiful speaking, it will be important to arrange in our dramatic school for the practice of exercises expressly designed to avoid lisping. In lisping, the tongue ventures too far forward, pushing itself between the teeth. The students must succeed in having the tongue so completely under control, that the cardinal maxim of all speaking is consciously carried out, namely, that the tongue shall never be allowed to overstep the boundary set by the two rows of teeth.3A forcible reminder that the lectures refer to the German language! During the whole time of speaking, the tongue must stay behind this boundary. When it is allowed to come out beyond the teeth, it is as though the soul were wanting to come forth and expose itself, without body, to immediate contact with Nature.

A person who lisps should accordingly be given the following exercise, and one should begin it with him as young as possible. Get him to practise saying n l d, repeating each sound three times, and each time resolutely pressing the tongue on to the back of the upper teeth: n n n, l l l, d d d. To continue uttering the sounds in this way, one after the other, is difficult, but that is how they should be practised. It is a fatiguing exercise; it may well leave the pupil feeling as though he were seized with cramp. But let me tell you how the first man to draw attention to this exercise used to encourage his patients. He would remind them of the lieutenant who was in the habit of saying to his raw recruits: ‘Of course it is difficult; if a thing isn't difficult, you don't have to learn it!’

The fifth thing we need to consider lies still farther back in the mouth. We have to learn to be fully conscious of the part played in speaking by the root of the tongue. That is then the fifth, the root of the tongue. We shall here have to practise the sounds g, k, r4The German guttural r, a sound which does not occur in English., j5Like our ‘y’ in ‘yacht’, but more consonantal., qu (kv), speaking them as far back in the mouth as possible, and consciously feeling, as we utter them, the root of the tongue.

5. Root of the tongue: g k r j qu

It is these sounds—and more especially g, k, r—sounds where we have to take pains to be conscious all the time of the root of the tongue, that must bear the blame for stuttering. Stuttering arises when the instinctive feeling of the proper way to say g, k, r is lacking. We will go into this matter a little further presently, but directly you notice signs of stuttering in a pupil, you will have to take him with g k r and try to get him to speak these sounds to perfection. For r you can administer a physical help. Instead of expecting your pupil to produce r right away by his own inner effort, prepare him beforehand by letting him gargle water sweetened with sugar. Yes, as you see, whenever there is something of this kind that can help a pupil, something quite external, I have no hesitation in calling your attention to it. And for a right speaking of the sound r, gargling with sweetened water can prove very helpful. The sweet water must, however, be properly and thoroughly gargled. Particularly with children the gargling can have excellent results.

And now I want to pass on to something else that should be familiar to everyone who wants to speak properly, and which an intending actor will certainly need to master thoroughly.

I have, as you know, repeatedly pointed out that right speaking is not to be attained by physiological exercises, but that we have to learn it from the speech organism itself. We have in these lectures taken cognisance of many things that can be learned from the speech organism, and we have added to them today. We have seen that from m, b, p we learn the right co-operation of the lips, that from v, w we learn how to use rightly together lower lip and upper teeth, and from s, c, z the two rows of teeth. We have seen also how the tongue must always remain behind the teeth in l, n, d, t and lastly how we are to manipulate the root of the tongue in g, k, r, j, qu.

The sounds themselves are our teachers. It is only a matter of our knowing how to engage their help. If we have once understood this, then that will mean that all the several parts of our organism of throat and mouth have been received as pupils in the school of the sounds. The sounds are verily the Gods from whom we are to learn how to form our speaking.

But now, as I was saying, there is yet another matter to which we must give our attention. It concerns the breathing, and is the one item of guidance to be salvaged from all the tangled mass of instructions given in schools of speech training today. In speaking, we should use up, steadily and quietly, all our available breath. If, while we are speaking, we take a fresh breath before the inbreathed air we have in the lungs is exhausted, then our speaking will invariably be poor and feeble.

We are, as it were, in possession of the secret of well- formed speech when we know that good speaking depends upon the use to the full of the air that we have within us. We must accordingly accustom ourselves to the practice of exercises, once more derived from speech itself, where we have, to begin with, to take a deep full breath.

What does it imply, to take a deep full breath? It means that the diaphragm is pressed down as far as it can be without injury to health. You must be able to feel in the region of the diaphragm that the inbreathing is complete. You will, as teacher, need to lay your hand on your pupil in the region of the diaphragm in order to demonstrate to him the expansion that has to take place there, the change that must necessarily accompany a thorough inbreathing.

Then you will get your pupil to hold this inbreathed air and continue speaking with it until all the air he took in has been breathed out again. It must never happen that he stops to take breath so long as there is still any inbreathed air left in his lungs. It should indeed become for the pupil entirely a matter of instinct: never to pause for breath until the inbreathed air is exhausted.

Having first taken a deep breath and become conscious of what happens in the region of the diaphragm as he in-breathes, conscious too of the whole gradual change that takes place there until the inbreathed air is completely exhausted (for this preparatory stage the sound a can serve), the student may then proceed to the following exercise.

First a sequence of vowels, spoken slowly so that they occupy the time of a complete out-breathing. Let him say a e u, and continue with these sounds until he needs to take a fresh breath. Then the same with consonants. Let him keep on with k l s f m for the whole period of an out-breathing. This exercise, which has for its ultimate aim the full use of the in-taken breath before any more air is inbreathed, provides us also with a remedy, in fact the only right and healthy remedy, for stuttering. The reason why rhythmic exercises can prove so remarkably helpful for stuttering is that a good rhythm necessarily demands right breathing. One is obliged to breathe properly if one has to say:

‘Und es wallet and woget and brauset and zischt (take breath)
Wie wenn Wasser mit Feuer sich mengt.6For similar rhythm in English, the opening lines of The Burial of Sir John Moore by Wolfe may be suggested:
‘Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corse to the rampart we hurried.’

It is quite possible to hold one's breath throughout each line; in fact, one can hardly help doing so. And that is what you will have to achieve with your stutterer. He must not take breath until the inbreathed air is used up. For his stuttering is due to the fact that an anxiety which makes him gasp for air has become in him organic. What he needs is something that can lure him away from this anxious fear that makes him strain to catch his breath; and we shall exactly meet that need if, when he has begun to stutter, we get him to sing, or to say some poetry. Fear and anxiety are connected also with anger, and you know how an angry

person will often gasp for breath. Where there is stuttering, however, the anger and anxiety have become organic and we cannot expect improvement without long and steady practice of exercises.

You probably know the story of the apothecary's assistant who was inclined to stutter whenever he was worried or anxious. The apothecary was having tea in a room upstairs with some friends. The assistant burst into the room and all he could say was: Die Apo-, die Apothe-, Apothe-, Apothe- ... The k was there in his way, he couldn't get past it. The apothecary, seeing the poor fellow pale with fear, realised that it was imperative to find out what was the matter. So he said to the assistant: ‘Sing it, man!’ And the man sang quite perfectly: ‘Die Apotheke brennt!’ (The shop is on fire!) Yes, he sang the information without any difficulty. And there was not a moment to be lost; the fire was raging in the cellar quite furiously. It was the singing that did it!

Constant steady practice of exercises can have permanent results; only, the exercises have to be done with the necessary inner energy. When unconsciousness intervenes, the stuttering, since it has become organic, is liable to recur. Let me tell you of a case that I found particularly interesting. A friend of mine who was a poet suffered from a stutter.7p. 386. This was Ludwig Jacobowski. A beautiful account of the poet and of his work in raany fields of cultural activity will be found in Rudolf Steiner's The Course of My Life, pp. 290-2. He overcame his disability to the point of being able to read aloud his own poems that were in long lines of verse. He would read rhythmically and without the least sign of difficulty; no one listening would have any suspicion that he was a stutterer. My friend was, however, a man who was easily excited and upset, and it would frequently happen that in ordinary conversation his stuttering would show itself again. (He was one who never had the patience to undertake exercises.) One day he was asked by a man, who was, to say the least, not very tactful: ‘Do you always stutter like this?' His reply was: ‘N-n-n-not unless I'm speaking to someone I just can't bear!’

A defect in speaking can thus locate itself in the organs, can become organic. In the case of lisping, we saw that there is a disability, when speaking l, n, d, t, to get tongue and upper teeth to co-operate as they should; the trouble in stuttering and stammering is that the root of the tongue is not under proper control. For it is the root of the tongue that reacts at once to disorder in the breathing A stutterer will therefore do well, as we said, to take g, k and r for his teachers—the r a little sweetened with sweet water.

In the sounds of speech live Divine Beings; and we must approach these Beings with devotion, with prayerful devotion. They will then be the very best teachers we could possibly have. All the many rules that are propounded for the management of the breath—apart from the one I have spoken of: Not until I have no air left in my lungs must I draw breath—all the others lead us astray into the sphere of the intellectual. That one rule, however, must become instinctive knowledge for the speaker. Instinctively he should go on using up the inbreathed air as long as he has any left. No other rules are needed for the gymnastics of the breath, but this one is absolutely indispensable. It has to be learned in the way I have described, and should be taught in every properly constituted school for the stage.

What I would have you understand, my dear friends, is that there are dangers attending all artistic activity, and only if we are able to bring to our own art a mood of religious devotion can we escape these dangers. The artist of the stage is especially exposed to them; they can actually assume for him the form of artistic faculties, but faculties that work with demoralising effect. Veneration, religious veneration for the sounds of speech! The words ring strange to us; but we must have courage to receive them and make them our own. For in these divine teachers of ours, in these sounds of speech, a whole world is contained. If we would become true ‘formers of the word’, we must never forget that the word was ‘in the beginning’. Despite all conflicting interpretations, that is what the opening words of the Gospel of St. John mean. ‘In the beginning was the Word’, the Wisdom-filled Word. A mood of devotion should imbue everything that has to do with the word.

But now, wherein lies the danger that threatens the actor, and no less the producer?

Actor and producer are on the stage, or behind it. This means, they are in a completely different world from the world of the auditorium. But the two worlds have to go together, they have to go absolutely hand in hand. It should never for a moment occur to us as possible that this harmonious co-operation should be lacking in any smallest detail. And yet how unlike, how essentially unlike the two worlds are! When you are on and behind the stage, you have there a reality. This reality, when it is shown to the audience, has to be converted into an illusion. But not on the stage—nor behind it; it can't be illusion there. For the audience who are sitting down below in front, it is an illusion—mysterious, terrible, charming, delightful, perhaps even mystical. But for those who are working on or behind the stage, the illusion changes into trivial reality.

I remember how forcibly this was brought home to me once when I was working with a company and we had to stage Maeterlinck's L'Intruse.8Reference to this performance and to the Introductory Address given by Rudolf Steiner will be found in Chapter XXV of The Course of My Life, where he teils of the part he took for some years in the production of plays, in a theatre in Berlin which would seem to correspond to our Repertory Theatres. An essential feature in this little drama is the gradual approach of sounds that are at first heard only in the distance. These sounds have to make the impression of something that is full of mystery; they are in reality the harbinger of death, they are bringing death to the one who lies ill in the adjoining room. Thus they will, you see, have to be of such a nature as to awaken in the audience a thoroughly mystical and mysterious mood.

But now in order to achieve this end, you will have to make use of quite trivial devices. Somewhere in the wings you will create a noise like the sharpening of a scythe heard at a distance—a noise that is to give the first indication of something rather mystically terrifying that sounds from far away. Then a little later, you will want a noise that sounds nearer. You will perhaps arrange for a key to be turned slowly in its lock by someone who is coming into the house. Just think what trivialities you resort to ! When you are thinking out contrivances of this nature, you are converting the impression you want to make on the audience into the utmost triviality.

I wanted now to provide for a still further enhancement of the mood. Behind the stage, my dear friends, we treat these things as matters of pure technique, and are delightfully indifferent to all the feelings we are hoping to arouse in the spectator who experiences the illusion. And it occurred to me that at the moment when the key had been turned in the lock and someone had entered the house, someone else might start up quickly like this (chair thrown back on to the floor). The action did, in fact, greatly intensify the illusion in the audience. Following on the mysterious sounds already described, it fairly made their hearts stand still with terror.

On the stage, a chair falling down—that was all it was in dry prose; but among the audience it produced an illusion of dithering fear.

It would, you know, be quite wrong for us to put ourselves forward as reformers and express disapproval of devices of this nature. On the contrary, we must certainly use such methods—the more of them the better! Their use requires, however, that our devotion to the spiritual be all the greater. Our hearts must be so full of devotion to the spiritual that we can endure unscathed all the trivial subterfuges that have to be undertaken behind the stage and in the wings.

The actor's inner life of feeling has to undergo change and development, until he is able to approach the whole of his art in a religious mood. Suppose a poet is writing an ode. If he is genuinely absorbed in the mood of the ode, he won't be thinking that his pen doesn't seem to be writing very smoothly. Similarly, on the stage, you should have developed such instinctive devotion to your work that even, let me say, such a simple action as knocking over a chair, you carry out with no other feeling than that you are doing a spiritual deed.

Not until this mood is attained will it be possible for the art of the stage to be filled and pervaded with the spirit that rightly belongs to it. Indeed its whole future depends upon that. And do not imagine the desired mood can be attained by any sentimental exhortations; no, only by dealing with realities. And we are dealing with realities when the sounds of speech in their mysterious runing become for us Gods—Gods who form within us our speaking. This should be the feeling that inspires all we do; it is also the determining sign of true art. It must even go so far, my dear friends, that never for a moment do we cease to be conscious of the fact that the illusion in the audience has to be created by a truth that is spiritually experienced in the souls of both actor and producer. We need to recognise this and take our guidance from it, even though we must admit that the audiences of today do not give us quite the picture that we on the stage would like to have before us.

You will, however, find that if the mood of which I have been speaking prevails on and behind the stage, it will work in imponderable ways upon the audience. The attitude of mind that one would be so glad to find there will develop more quickly under this influence than by any other method. We shall not help its development by drawing up elaborate plans or by making all kinds of promises at the inauguration of some new dramatic school or theatre. The one and only way to evoke a right attitude in the audience is to make sure that the whole of the work undertaken in connection with the stage is brought under the sway of soul and spirit.

To create the conditions for a harmonious co-operation between stage and critics is quite another matter, and infinitely harder of attainment. Many of the difficulties under which dramatic art labours today are, in fact, directly due to the utterly unnatural condition into which criticism has drifted. What goes by the name is not genuine criticism at all. Men like Kerr or Harden9Alfred Kerr was dramatic critic for the Berliner Tageblatt. His destructive and impertinent style won him many followers. Maximilian Harden was a celebrated political journalist. Reference may be mode here to Rudolf Steiner's own dramatic criticisms and reviews that appeared in various magazines during the years from 1889 to 1900. Many of these have been reprinted in the Frühwerk (collections of his earlier literary work); see especially Vol. XI entitled Theater, Schauspiel und Schauspielkunst. may be very clever, they may even found schools of criticism, but what they write and teach is built up on a purely negative principle. We must not allow ourselves to be misled and imagine that their criticisms have any sort of connection with art. They have none. These men are utterly indifferent to art, and it is important for the actor to realise that what they say has nothing whatever to do with what he, as an artist, intends and undertakes. It is, in fact, his bounden duty to change Kerr into kehr, and ‘aus-kehr-en’ the critics—‘clear the decks’ of them, once and for all. For at the root of all this spurious criticism lies, as I said, a purely negative attitude.

I once had an interesting experience which let me into the secret of the rise of this kind of criticism. For this kind of criticism is no more than a perfectly natural outcome of a style of journalism which this experience of mine enabled me to catch as it were in the moment of its birth. Many years ago I was present at a rather large gathering of people in Berlin, among whom was Levysohn, chief editor at the time of the Berliner Tageblatt. I had some talk with him and in course of conversation we came to speak of Harden. For it cannot be denied that Harden was among the interesting figures of the early nineties of last century, he showed remarkable pluck and confidence in the way he put himself forward. True, if one looked behind the scenes, one was forced to relinquish many illusions about him. But for all that, he was a person of some note, was Harden; and in my talk with Levysohn I drew attention to some of his good points. By way of reply, Levysohn told me the following. ‘When you have a man like Harden,' he said, ‘you've got to understand him. Harden came originally from the provinces, where he had been an actor in a small way. He threw up his job and came to Berlin, hoping to make a living there. I was at that time arranging to start a Monday morning paper, to which the Berliner Tageblatt partly owes its origin. I wanted to make a really good thing of it. It was the first of its kind in Berlin, and I was determined that people should buy it up eagerly like hot cakes. A plan occurred to me which I myself thought very wily, and it is on account of this plan of mine that I claim credit for starting Harden off in the good style of writing that he has. Yes, Harden has me to thank for it. I engaged some young fellows who were hanging about, waiting for jobs, fellows who, I reckoned, had a bit of talent, though not much. You can get people to do anything if you only set about it in the right way!’ ... There you have the cynicism of a chief editor in the eighties and nineties of last century! Harden was of course one of the young men who were chosen. Levysohn told them: ‘Now look, you will get so and so many marks per month. And all you have to do is to sit all day long in a coffee house and read the papers. One of you will undertake to read all the political articles; another will study the articles dealing with art—or rather, one the articles on painting and another those on drama. Then you have only to sit down on Sunday afternoon and each one of you write an article that is different from those he has been reading all through the week.' ... This suited Harden admirably. ‘Every week,' said Levysohn, ‘he would bring me his article, and each time it was entirely different from my of the articles he had read during the week. And that is ;till Harden's art. There you have the secret of his Zukunft. So I, you see, am responsible,' said Levysohn in conclusion, ‘for Harden's becoming such a good journalist.'

Yes, when you look behind the scenes of this stage—for journalism is also a stage !—you are in for a bit of disillusionment there too. And it will be a harder matter to cure the reading public than to cure the public you have before you in the theatre. The cure cannot indeed ever come about until people wake up to see how slight a connection there is between a criticism that has a merely negative foundation and the ideals we are called upon to cherish for art.

To-morrow I would like to say more on this in a wider connection and consider with you what follows for the actor and his art from his relations with the public and with the critics; and there we shall have to bring this course of lectures to a close.

1. Both lips: m b p
2. Lower lip and upper teeth: f v w
3. Upper and lower teeth: s c z
4. Tongue works behind the upper teeth: l n d t
5. Root of the tongue: g k r j qu

or, using English letters:

1. Both lips: m b p
2. Lower lip and upper teeth: f v
3. Upper and lower teeth: s (‘easy’ or ‘say’) is
4. Tongue works behind upper teeth: l n d t
5. Root of the tongue: g k r (guttural) y (consonantal) kv.