An Actor’s ‘Part’

While we cannot be certain that Restoration stage directions record exactly what happened on stage, there is certainly a close relationship between the published plays and theatrical texts used by practitioners. This is not to say that Restoration actors learned new roles from published texts or even authorial manuscripts. The working method at this time, as in Shakespeare’s day, was to learn a role from individual ‘parts’ (or ‘sides’ as they later became known). An actor’s part would typically be copied from a manuscript of the whole play and comprised all a particular character’s speeches together with short cues and necessary stage directions. The part would be handwritten on separate strips of paper which were then pasted together to form a continuous roll. Only one Restoration part has survived, that for the character Trico in George Ruggle’s Latin play Ignoramus (1615), which was presented by the Duke’s Company in an English translation at Whitehall in 1662. It is difficult to draw conclusions from a single example, a non-Restoration play at that, but it is interesting to note that the part does include some stage directions and hints about stage business.[1] In performance, however, actors were reliant on the prompter to cue entrances, scene changes and other theatrical interventions from the promptbook of the play (the prompter was consequently far more of a practitioner than the term suggests today). The promptbook was a full version of the play replete with necessary theatrical annotation. For new plays the base for the promptbook was likely to be an authorial manuscript or copy of such, but for stock older plays published editions were a convenient alternative.

[1] For instance, the stage direction ‘pockets ye sugar’ in a manuscript of the 1662 translation, is abbreviated to the mnemonic ‘sugar’ in the actor’s part ( see Edward A. Langhans, ‘A Restoration Actor’s Part’, Harvard Library Bulletin, 23 (1975), p. 181).


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