In this chapter I will outline a number of themes that emerge from reflecting upon gesture in Shakespearean performance during the eighteenth century. I begin with the domineering figure of Thomas Betterton, whose presence threw a shadow over the theatre in England for several decades. The fact that it was rather difficult, as I suggested in the previous chapter, to flesh out an entire dictionary of a common language of deaf people did not stop other writers from asserting the universality of gesture – such as Charles Gildon, the author of The Life of Mr Thomas Betterton (1710). Borrowing at length from a translation of a French treatise by Le Faucheur, Gildon’s Betterton advises against uncivilized hand and facial gestures, such as using the left arm (more of that in a moment) and licking or biting one’s lips while performing, seen by Betterton (who in large part is simply a mouthpiece for Le Faucheur’s plagiarized prescriptions) as ‘ungenteel and unmannerly Actions’ (Gildon 1710: 72). Licking or biting the lips, here during speechmaking on stage, are self-adaptors that might be seen as a symptom of anxiety in the actor, hence ‘unmannerly’. To correct or prevent such lapses, Gildon’s Betterton suggests the use of a mirror, or, failing that, get a friend ‘who is a Master in all the Beauties of Gesture and Motion’ to help out (ibid.: 55).
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