“In Defence of Actors”

” Actors have been accused, as a profession of being extravagant and dissipated. While they are said to be so as a piece of common cant, they are likely to continue so.

With respect to the extravagance of actors.

As a traditional character, it is not to be wondered at. They live from hand to mouth: they plunge from want to luxury; they have no means of making money breed, and all professions that do not live by turning money into money, or have not a certainty of accumulating it in the end by parsimony, spend it. Uncertain of the future, they make sure of the present moment. This is not unwise. Chilled with poverty, steeped in contempt, they sometimes pass into the sunshine of fortune, and are lifted to the very pinnacle of public favour; yet, even there, they cannot calculate on the continuance of success.

With respect to the habit of convivial indulgence.

An actor, to be a good one, must have a great spirit of enjoyment in himself—strong impulses, strong passions, and a strong sense of pleasure; for it his business to imitate the passions, to communicate pleasure to others.

A man of genius is not a machine.

The neglected actor may be excused if he drinks oblivion of his disappointments; the successful one if he quaffs the applause of the world in  draughts of nectar. There is no path so steep as that of fame: no labour so hard as the pursuit of excellence. If there is any tendency to dissipation beyond this in the profession of the player, it is owing to the prejudices entertained against them. Players are  only not so respectable as a profession as they might be, because their profession is not respected as it ought to be.”

William Hazlitt 1778-1830

Thankfully, the actor’s life and the standing of his profession has changed for the better since Hazlitt wrote this. But prejudices still exist and the average actor’s lot is still a poor one.


3 thoughts on ““In Defence of Actors”

  1. Quite brilliant! And contrary to the afterword.. It hasn’t changed. Still hand to mouth… Still plunge from want to luxury…(the only profession that gets asked to work for free) drink is still a part of the neglected and successful circles … But as ‘a player’ I wouldn’t change it for the world; for indeed being ‘unsure of the moment’ makes for living in the present moment. The only way. (curtain)

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