The Actor King

In mentalidad de los pueblos, mentalidad de una época histórica, Mentalidad individual, Tiempo Cronológico, Tiempo En El Texto on diciembre 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm

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This painting of an actor, who plays the role of a king, was found with others propped against a wall in a house at Herculaneum, indicating that it was about to be set into the wall when disaster struck. The painting is executed in a classic style and has been dated to ca. 25 B.C. Depicted here are the actors’quarters, behind the stage, and it is very probable that a performance has just taken place. The principal actor sits exhausted but suffused in an estatic glow of achevement. He is still costumed in regal attire; long while chton, high gold belt, purple mantle (which lies across his lap), and he still holds the royal gold-tipped scepter in one hand and the scabbard of a sword in the other.

There is a deep spiritual aura about him, as if he were still in the trance of his creative effort. Absently, he gazes at the kneeling woman, who writes a dedicatory inscription beneath his tragic mask. Mask, the chief part of the actor’s costume, were sometimes dedicated publicly in sanctuaries of Dionysus, but this is a private votive offering, almost certainly expressing the actor’s tanksgiving for his triumph and his petition for further divine aid. A second actor, seen removing his costume, looks on at left. The open door admits rays of light, which fall on the “actor-king,” and bathe him in an almost divine radiance.

Theater masks had their advantages as well as their shortcomings. They enabled a small company to play a wide repertoty of characters, and the same actor could easily appear in several roles in the same play. The parts of women could more easily be played by men, and the character’s appearance was determined by the needs of the play rather than the actor’s facial type. Pollux, in his Onomasticon (IVm 119ff.) gives a detailed description of 44 masks used in comedy alone. The eventually fatal limitation is that the mask did not allow for a change of expression, though Quintilian, the Roman rhetorician (ca. 35-100 A.D.) speaks of a mask which attempted this through on cheerful and one serious eye. (Museo Nazionale, Naples)


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