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Towards a grammar of gesture: A comparison between the types of hand movements of the orator and the actor in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria 11. 3. 85–18

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In his Institutio (11.3.85–88), Quintilian divides all human gestures into “imitative” and “natural,” with natural gestures forming a symbolic code comparable to spoken language. This language of gesture would have included hand movements equivalent to adverbs, pronouns, nouns, and verbs. Such symbolic gestures, spontaneously accompanying words, were the only ones that Quintilian recommended for the orator.

The actor’s gestures, dependent as they were on the lines spoken — and not on the actor’s thoughts and feelings — could not be spontaneous. The gestures made on stage were imitative of the various categories of the natural (i.e., symbolic) gestures or of actions of everyday life.
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Keywords: Roman theatre; ancient rhetoric

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California at Santa Barbara

Publication date: 01 January 2002

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