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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
Use of Word 'actor
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1428  Wednesday, 14 July 2004

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Jul 2004 14:40:00 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1412 Use of Word 'actor'

[2]     From:   David Kathman <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Jul 2004 09:16:38 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1416 Use of Word 'actor'


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Jul 2004 14:40:00 +0100
Subject: 15.1412 Use of Word 'actor'
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1412 Use of Word 'actor'

 >From:           David Kathman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >

 >As several people have pointed out, the OED gives the first usage of the
 >relevant sense of "actor" as by Sidney c.1580, with "player" being
 >attested more than a century earlier, in 1463-4.

The term seems to begin with the verbal form.  The earliest
(unequivocal) relevant citation in the MED is 1390:

pleien

6.  (a) To act in a play; also, gesture; ~ toforen, gesture to (sb.);
(b) to enact (a scene or event); perform (a play or pageant); play (a
character or role); also fig.; ~ an after-cast, enact a plan made too
late; ~ apparaunces, create illusions; ~ his miracles, reenact the
miracles of Christ; ~..pagent(es, play (one's) role, do (one's) part; ~
parcel, play a role; (c) to act like a type of character or animal; ~
the brethel (fol, fals shreue, galaunt, tiraunt, etc.); ~ (the) lioun,
fight fiercely; ~ jakke the hare, pursue something aimlessly, waste
time; (d) to pretend; also, play (a trick); ~ siker, pretend to be
certain; ~ a cast, play a trick; pleiinge bisinesse, feigned solicitude,
doting care; (e) to behave; ~ faire, play fair, be nice; ~ par(l)asent,
act together or in concert.

   (b)    (c1390) Chaucer CT.Mil.(Manly-Rickert)   A.3384:  Som tyme to
shewe his lightnesse and maistrye He pleyeth Herodes vpon a scaffold hye.

[First-occurence MED cites tend to be more reliable than the OED.]

Curiously enough, there doesn't seem to be a nominative form recorded in
the MED.

... or at least I can't find one.

The DOST gives the following:

PLAYER

  2. A performer or actor. Also possess. in playaris hous.

(1)  To . the playaris of Lythgow that playt to the King; 1488 Treas
Acc. I. 91.  A playare figurit payntit and representit a prince . sad
and pensif;

But perhaps the most relevant area to look at is the EMEDD.

There are more than several references to actors (often used as a
synonym for "player" there -- see below).

However, equally, even at this period, there are (at a guess) three
times as many references in the EMEDD to "player" as there are to "actor".

But ...

"Player" is often linked to "interlude", so my best guess (and it is a
best-guess rather than an asservation) is that by the 1590s, "player"
was beginning to be a slightly archaic term, and the theatre companies
were beginning to use the term "actor" [professional] rather than
"player" [amateur] to describe themselves.

 >I suspect that
 >"player" in the relevant sense can be found earlier than that; the folks
 >at REED would probably know.

"Play" for act-in-a-play, yes, "player" (or at least I can't find it) as
early as that, no.

 >While the term "actor" was sometimes used from the late 16th century on,
 >as these citations show, it was a much more literary and highfalutin
 >term, used mainly in print.

Currently, I'm less sure that this was so much a stage/page split as a
new/old one.

And while in the 16th/17th century, "player" was still (apparently) much
the commoner term, "actor" wasn't *that* unusual (if we believe the EMEDD).

 >I always wince when I read a historical novel set in Shakespeare's time
 >and the characters start talking about "actors", because it's an
 >anachronism.

Well, in this context, Shakespeare uses "actor" eight times, and
"player" six times, so it's hardly an anachronism ...

<g>

Robin Hamilton

***

 From the EMEDD:

"actor"

(3) Florio (Florio 1598 @ 15523086)

   Atteggiatore, an actor, a teacher, a tum

 

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