In Shakespeare’s Dramatic Persons, Travis Curtright examines the influence of the classical rhetorical tradition on early modern theories of acting in a careful study of and selection from Shakespeare’s most famous characters and successful plays.
Curtright demonstrates that “personation”—the early modern term for playing a role—is a rhetorical acting style that could provide audiences with lifelike characters and action, including the theatrical illusion that dramatic persons possess interiority or inwardness.
The book focuses upon major characters such as Richard III, Katherina, Benedick, and Iago and ranges from Shakespeare’s early to late work, exploring particular rhetorical forms and how they function in five different plays. At the end of this study, Curtright envisions how Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s best actor, might have employed the Globe theatre convention of direct address to audience members.
Though personation clearly differs from the realism aspired to in modern approaches to the stage, Curtright reveals how Shakespeare’s sophisticated use and development of persuasion’s arts would have provided early modern actors with their own means and sense of performing lifelike dramatic persons.
"Travis Curtright's book is one of those rare books on Shakespeare that combines the scholar's understanding of the architecture and language of Shakespeare's plays with the practitioner's understanding of how that information is useful to the actor and the director. Here's a book that teaches you about rhetoric and character at the same time that it teaches you why it matters on the stage. In front of me on my desk I keep a row of books I know I'll need to dip back into as I work: Shakespeare's Dramatic Persons will make that row." — Ralph Alan Cohen, Gonder Professor of Shakespeare and Performance, Mary Baldwin University and Co-Founder of the American Shakespeare Center
"In 1615, John Webster famously observed of 'the excellent actor' that 'whatsoever is commendable to the grave orator is most exquisitely perfect in him.' In this thoroughly persuasive book, Travis Curtright demonstrates that playwrights, like excellent actors, were accomplished rhetoricians; that Shakespeare, in different ways over the course of his career, created dramatic characters from the building blocks of formal rhetorical devices; and that how characters speak and argue and persuade create the illusion of psychology, emotion, inwardness, and subjectivity. There is no other book like it." — Cary M. Mazer, Professor of Theatre Arts and English, University of Pennsylvania