The Worst (and possibly Funniest) Book on Acting Ever Written

Lessons in Acting was first published in 1889 by Albert Webster Edgerly, under his customary pen-name, “Edmund Shaftesbury”. It’s an attempt to teach acting by someone hopelessly unqualified for the task. And it’s hilarious.

“I highly recommend this book” – Nancy Beiman.

“Indispensable” – Don Meliton on Lulu.com.

“Recommended reading for anyone with a sense of humour” – Jack Wilton on Amazon.co.uk

Out of print for well over a century, Lessons in Acting is now available in a new edition, edited and with notes by Alfred Armstrong.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

On this site you’ll find extracts and other information about Lessons in Acting, which is available to buy now from Lulu.com. It is also available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Attitude #32 – Goodbye

There are 106 Attitudes depicted in Lessons in Acting. Number 32 is “Goodbye”.

This position may need to be adjusted when the person to whom you are saying goodbye is neither ten feet tall nor standing on a balcony.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Rule #31 – Passionate Kissing

There are 44 Rules of Stage Conduct in Lessons in Acting. Rule number 31 is “Passionate Kissing”.

RULE 31—Passionate kissing. This should never be hurried, unless many repetitions are given. The lover puts his arm (the arm nearest the lady), about her shoulders, obliquely down the back and under her arm a little higher than the waist. His other arm encircles her waist. Her hand (the one farthest from him) is about his neck. Her head falls back upon his shoulder, the face being upturned to his, and the mouth ready. If the love and passion are REAL, he does not kiss often, but long. He approaches her rosy lips with gentleness, yet firmness, and the kiss has no force of contact but pressure in its continuance. It is not necessary to practice this much.

Here for once Edgerly and I are at odds. This should be practised as often as possible, if need be with random strangers. Do not make the mistake of trying it with a pet animal, however, such as a King Charles spaniel who might become over-excited and ruin your best corduroys. Instead, inflatable counterparts are available that can readily be purchased from high street shops: these will permit you to practise all you like at no risk apart from that of unexpected deflation.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Attitude #31 – Flattery

There are 106 Attitudes depicted in Lessons in Acting. Number 31 is “Flattery”.

There is perhaps no skill so useful to the rising actor as that of flattery. The performer who can flatter winningly will go far in the profession, so today’s lesson has application beyond the stage. Using this powerful technique you will compel agents, directors, producers and other people of influence to do your bidding. Unlock the magical secrets of sycophancy and you’ll be given parts you never would get by mere talent alone!

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Rule #30 – Ordinary Kissing by One Party

There are 44 Rules of Stage Conduct in Lessons in Acting. Rule number 30 is “Ordinary Kissing by One Party”.

RULE 30—Ordinary kissing by one party. The other stands passive. The arm nearest the lady should circle the waist, the free hand should grasp the hand of the lady (preferably her nearest hand), and the act should then be performed. It is not necessary that the kissing should be actual . Closeness without actual contact is often accomplished and the audience none the wiser.

It is not necessary that the kissing should be actual. This point cannot be emphasised often enough. Hygiene and general decency demand it. Rubber prophylactic lip covers, available from suppliers of surgical accessories, may found useful. These will create the illusion of intimacy while protecting both parties from unwonted perturbation.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Attitude #30 – Farewell

There are 106 Attitudes depicted in Lessons in Acting. Number 30 is “Farewell”.

Many plays include a farewell or two, so every would-be actor should practise this regularly. An hour or two in front of the mirror in this position once a week or so will soon bring it to perfection. As a bonus, you’ll quickly develop the hip round-shouldered stance so popular these days with fashion-conscious youngsters.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Rule #29 – Ordinary Kissing by Both Parties

There are 44 Rules of Stage Conduct in Lessons in Acting. Rule number 29 is “Ordinary Kissing by both parties”.

RULE 29—Ordinary Kissing by both parties. They may meet without touching hands, or each take right hands as in shaking, or may clasp four hands, and kiss. In clasping four hands, each person takes the other’s left hand in his right.

It’s getting steamy in here, isn’t it? If only Sir Richard Burton hadn’t published an English language edition of the Kama Sutra a few years earlier, Lessons in Acting might have become the reading matter of choice for the feverish Victorian masturbator. An opportunity missed!

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Attitude #29 – Startling

There are 106 Attitudes depicted in Lessons in Acting. Number 29 is “Startling”.

Also known as “the unwilling goalkeeper” or “the groper’s happy memory”, this posture is suited to a multitude of purposes.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Rule #28 – The Lover’s Passionate Embrace

There are 44 Rules of Stage Conduct in Lessons in Acting. Rule number 28 is “The Lover’s Passionate Embrace”.

RULE 28—The Lover’s Passionate Embrace. Both parties are nearly sidewise to the audience. The lady throws both her arms about the neck of her lover. He throws both of his about her waist. The bodies are pressed closely together. It is unnecessary to practice this much.

“Unnecessary”? Some people just want to take all the joy out of life.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Attitude #28 – Horror

There are 106 Attitudes depicted in Lessons in Acting. Number 28 is “Horror”.

Just out of shot, Boris Karloff as The Monster slowly advances, preparing to bring about a fitting end to Edgerly’s career of crimes against acting.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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Rule #27 – The Lover’s Ordinary Embrace

There are 44 Rules of Stage Conduct in Lessons in Acting. Rule number 27 is “The Lover’s Ordinary Embrace”.

RULE 27—The Lover’s Ordinary Embrace. Let the lover stand in opposition, the hip projecting on the side nearest his lady. This prevents awkward leaning. He will then place the arm that is nearest the lady (and of course farthest from the audience) around her waist, or above the shoulder and down the back obliquely and around the waist. The free hand should gently encase the lady’s hand, preferably the one farthest from the lover. Both parties nearly face the audience.

This is certainly the most erotic piece of writing in all literature. The Kama Sutra? Pah! The Story of O? Phooey! In four incisive sentences Edgerly shows how one can write thrillingly about sex without once using the words “throbbing”, “tumescent” or “lard”.

Every day I post a new Attitude or Rule of Stage Conduct on this blog. Get the book for more thespian weirdness. An ideal birthday gift for the slightly dazed.

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