Having outlined an etymology of the word ‘gesture’ along with some labelling constraints, I now wish to relate gesture theory to a history of acting. Since this book deals principally with Shakespeare within a European tradition – and draws in large part upon English cultural contexts – my focus is of necessity limited to, firstly, possible influences upon his own practice and, secondly, what might be called posthumous threads of influence that can be traced from him. It is hardly original to claim that early modern culture was dominated by two seemingly competitive discourses: the classical and the Christian. Shakespeare’s own work constantly reveals tensions, collisions and negotiations between the worlds revealed in the texts and imagery of classical and Biblical traditions. It is inevitable, then, that his understanding of gesture in performance would have been contaminated by these discourses and traditions; it is necessary to tease out in some detail what they may have meant to him.
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