actor defined in 1939 yearactor - Actor;
actor - One who, on the stage, impersonates and delivers the speeches of a character in a play. Unlike poet or author, the word actor is still applied only to men. In ancient Greece, where women took part only in the chorus or as flute-players, and the production of plays was organized by the state, actors, as distinct from mimics, called themselves artists of Dionysus, were held in honour, and enjoyed special privileges. They were disguised in mask and buskin. Poets acted in their own plays. In Rome, where the drama had no national importance, women's parts, except in mimes, were first played by men and boys; actors amassed money and influenceâ€”as Ciodius Aesopus, in tragedy, and Roscius Gallus, in comedy, both friends of Ciceroâ€” but were debarred from citizenship and otherwise penalised by law. They were banished by Tiberius.
In Elizabethan and Jacobean England, actors not licensed after 1571 (14 Eliz. c. 2) were classed as rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars. The more prominent actors were usually partners in the business of a theatre. To two, Heminge and Condell, we owe the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays; to another, Alleyn, the foundation of Dulwich College. The status of the actor remained more or less under a social cloud until the 19th century; to-day actors form a recognized profession in Britain and have societies, benevolent and other, for their common interests. Towards the end of 1918 an Actors' Association was formed as a trade union, to obtain for all members of the profession a standard contract, to include a minimum wage and payment during rehearsals. See Acting; Drama; Equity.
Bibliography. The School of Abuse, S. Gosson, 1579; Apology for Actors, T. Heywood, 1612; Histrio-Mastix, W. Prynne, 1633; Their Majesties' Servants, J. Doran, 1865.
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