Gesture in the Theatre

In most accounts of the actor’s work before the 20th century, 'gesture' was a crucial term, but in 20th-century training it vanished somewhere between the two polarities of 'voice' and 'movement'. In recent decades scientific research into gesture has revealed how far speech production is integrally connected to the production of manual gestures. I will argue for the recovery of this historical category as a crucial means of reconnecting speech to the body. I will focus on the research trajectory of Bertram Joseph (1915-1981), whose attempt to describe a ‘rhetorical’ style of Elizabethan acting met a hostile reception in the 1960s because it threatened cultural tenets dear to modernity, and I will follow Evelyn Tribble in seeking to rehabilitate Joseph, whilst also identifying fundamental flaws in his approach. In particular, I will question his alliance on the work of John Bulwer, who I see as a precursor of post-Cartesian attempts to separate words from gestures, and texts from performances.

Professor David Wiles will give a talk on 'Gesture in the Theatre'. David Wiles is Emeritus Professor of Drama at the University of Exeter, and a member of Wolfson College Oxford. He spent much of his career in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, before moving to Exeter in 2013. In Oxford he has had a long association with the APGRD. His major areas of historical interest have been Greek and Elizabethan theatre, and key themes in his work have been festival, mask, and space. His Theatre and Citizenship (2011) covered a broad historical span with a focus upon the French Enlightenment. With Christine Dymkowski, he edited the Cambridge Companion to Theatre History (2013). He is currently working on the rhetorical method of acting derived from antiquity as it shaped English and French actors from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.

A sandwich lunch will be provided from 12pm in the foyer of the Memorial Room. The talk starts at 12.30pm.


Humanities & Performance

Theatre and Performance

Contact name: Hannah Greenstreet

Contact email:

Audience: Open to all