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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
Use of Word 'actor
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1404  Friday, 9 July 2004

[1]     From:   Tom Rutter <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Jul 2004 17:10:54 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'

[2]     From:   Norman Hinton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Jul 2004 13:26:21 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Jul 2004 21:02:33 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Rutter <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Jul 2004 17:10:54 +0100
Subject: 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'

The first usage recorded in the OED is from Sidney's 'Defence of Poesie'
(1580): 'There is no Art delivered unto mankind that hath not the workes
of nature for his principall object, without which they could not
consist, and on which they so depend, as they become Actors & Plaiers,
as it were of what nature will have set forth'. Sidney doesn't seem to
make much distinction between the two terms; however, the character 'An
Excellent Actor' in the sixth edition of Thomas Overbury's 'The Wife'
(1615) , perhaps written by John Webster, seems to be a reply to John
Cocke's 'A common Player' in John Stephens's 'Satyrical Essayes
Characters and Others' (1615), so it looks as if by the second decade of
the seventeenth century writers wanting to praise the profession may
have called them actors, and more satirical writers players.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norman Hinton <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Jul 2004 13:26:21 -0500
Subject: 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'

Assuming you mean someone who plays a role in a dramatic presentation
(the word has an earlier history in English emending 'someone who does
something'), here are the two earliest entries from the OED:

1581 SIDNEY Def. Poesie (Arb.) 25 There is no Arte delivered to
mankinde, that hath not the workes of Nature for his principall
object..on which they so depend, as they become Actors and Players as it
were, of what nature will have set foorth.

1593 SHAKES. Rich. II, V. ii. 24 After a well grac'd actor leaues the Stage

The first entry for "player" with the same meaning is a few years earlier:

1463-4 Rolls of Parlt. V. 505/2 That..Pleyers in their Enterludes, be
not comprised in this Acte. 1466 Mann. & Househ. Exp. (Roxb.) 325 And
the sonday nexte after the xij. day, I gafe to the pleyeres of Stoke, ij.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Jul 2004 21:02:33 +0100
Subject: 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1399 Use of Word 'actor'

 >Sorry to ask something that is probably basic but can anyone tell me
 >when the word 'actor' was first used?  When did actors stop calling
 >themselves players?

The OED [3.2] seems relevant here.

The earliest relevant cite it gives is from Sidney in 1581, where the
terms "actor" and "player" are used synonymously.

4. One who personates a character, or acts a part; a stage-player, or
dramatic performer.

1581 Sidney Def. Poesie (Arb.) 25 There is no Arte delivered to
mankinde, that hath not the workes of Nature for his principall object
on which they so depend, as they become Actors and Players as it were,
of what nature will have set foorth. 1593 Shakes. Rich. II, v. ii. 24
After a well grac'd actor leaues the Stage.

When it stops, goodness knows -- the profession seems singularly adept
about preserving fossiled linguistic usages.

I once got ticked-off for using the term "lighting box" in a poem set in
the late 19thC dealing with Maskeyline (the illusionist).

Apparently the term at that point-in-time was "lighting perch".

... I used that in the published version -- didn't affect the rhythm,
and we might as well get these things right.

         Robin Hamilton

(Published in Poetry [Chicago] in the early eighties, if anyone's
remotely interested and wants to look it up.

Sorry, I couldn't resist that.

Pound, Eliot, Stevens, and me.

Being Scots, I naturally cashed the cheque, but I photocopied it first.

             <g>

R.  )

Further from the OED, the term "player" seems to well predate the term
"actor":

4. One who acts a character on the stage; a dramatic performer, an actor.
(In earlier use, one who played in an interlude.)

1463-4 Rolls of Parlt. V. 505/2 That ... Pleyers in their Enterludes, be not
comprised in this Acte.

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