Although a skilled actor, it is only when Hamlet inadvertently examines a player’s performance that he gains much insight to the intricate functions of “performance” and discovers its powerful and rather overwhelming effects. Consider how Hamlet’s analysis furthers our understanding of (meta) theatricality.

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In Act 3, scene 2, Hamlet begins the scene by explaining to the players how they should act. This speech has become a standard among classical actor training programs, as it is often read as an encoded message to actors on how they should perform Shakespeare's words. Hamlet describes how...

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In Act 3, scene 2, Hamlet begins the scene by explaining to the players how they should act. This speech has become a standard among classical actor training programs, as it is often read as an encoded message to actors on how they should perform Shakespeare's words. Hamlet describes how actors should pronounce the words "trippingly" and the emotions with a "temperance." However, the scene slowly grows more subversive as it continues. As Hamlet sees the players perform, he notes how Gertrude grows more uncomfortable. Hamlet takes this uncomfortable reaction to mean she is guilty, as he believes that this play, "The Mousetrap," would only bother someone with an unclean conscience. 

These insights are important, as Hamlet is discussing meta-theatrical elements and the way performances can reveal truths in audience members. While Hamlet is stating this about his mother, it can be read as Shakespeare stating this regarding the audience of Hamlet. In this scene, Hamlet, the character, teaches an audience how they should view a piece of work. He does this by discussing actor training, as in the beginning of the scene, but also by discussing the nature of audience reaction, as in the latter portion of the scene. 

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