Dramatic Speech

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Speech, Dramatic


an important means of realizing a dramatic work. An actor possessing a mastery of speech reveals the inner world, the milieu, and the national origin of the character he is portraying. The technique of speech is an essential element of the actor’s art; it embraces the voice’s sonority, flexibility, and volume, as well as the actor’s control of breathing, his diction, or accuracy and clarity of pronounciation, and his expressiveness of intonation.

The nature and style of dramatic speech have changed with the development of the theater. The structure of ancient Greek and Roman drama and the large-scale theaters of the ancient era influenced the laws of classical Hellenistic declamation. The aesthetic norms of the classical theater of the 17th and 18th centuries demanded a measured, precise declamation that adhered to the obligatory stresses and caesuras of verse tragedy. The range of dramatic speech in the romantic theater was determined by the alternating intensification and diminution of the emotions being expressed; it was marked by acceleration and deceleration, by transitions from piano to forte, and by unexpected intonations.

The development of realistic dramatic speech is linked mainly with the Russian theater and in particular with the Malyi Theater. The transition to realism that was achieved by M. S. Shchepkin was largely related to speech. Shchepkin appealed for naturalness and simplicity in dramatic speech and asserted that speech should approximate the spoken language. A. N. Ostrovskii, who believed that it was necessary to listen to a play as well as to look at it, attributed great importance to the speech of actors. A galaxy of outstanding Russian actors, for example the Sadovskiis, received their training in Ostrovskii’s dramas. These actors were masters of speech who considered the word as the chief means of defining a role.

At the turn of the 20th century, K. S. Stanislavsky inaugurated a new era in the development of stage speech. In the method he developed for an actor’s mastery of a role, Stanislavsky sought ways that would help the actor to reveal not only the literal meaning of the text but its subtextual meaning, as well as ways that would help the actor to captivate and convince the other actors and the spectators by verbal action, or speech. Today, the technique of dramatic speech is one of the most important disciplines taught in theatrical institutes, schools, and studios.


Stanislavsky, K. S. Sobr. soch, vol. 3. Moscow, 1955.
Knebel’, M. O. Slovo v tvorchestve aktera. Moscow, 1954.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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