Words are Not Enough

In theatre, there are said to be two essential tools that any actor has: the voice and the body. The actor utilizes their voice to give life to the text, while blocking and movement creates dynamism and characterization on stage. Because scripts are generally published without images (though, sometimes first production photos are included), the actor has no context to create the visual, mobile version of their character. They must draw contextual clues from the text and become intelligent close readers in order to understand their character. In this way, the actor is akin to a manuscript’s illustrator: they must paint a picture of who this person is to the audience. Movement is sometimes even moreso important than the meaning of the words themselves, because people do not always mean what they say/ do what they mean. Body language and non-verbal communication is just as important to telling the story.

The difficulty, and perhaps what makes it most interesting, is that no actor will move or say the words exactly the same. The audience who sees Hamlet with the understudy in the lead will get a different experience than the audience who saw the original casting. However, its still important to carry the most essential plot points through the end and tell the story of the show; despite different actors’ perspective on the character, the basic storyline should still be clear to the audience.

Contextualizing this through reviewing Middle English Manuscripts, I find it relatable to the image vs. text debate. I think it would’ve been ineffective to only have a textually based manuscript; any person able to read it during the time may have drawn different conclusions about the meaning of the words. Because of this, the message of the poet may have been skewed (and by default, skewing the moral meaning). The images, like the actor’s movement based characterizations, provide a grounded and concrete message that speaks to the meaning of the words. Universally recognized symbols help guide the meaning of the poet’s words to create a more copacetic storyline that becomes (for the most part) the same to everyone in the audience. Words are so easily taken out of context; I think by using image based communication also, creators of these manuscripts expressed their meaning in a clearer and more widely understood way.

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