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Alas, poor Yank; thy inarticulateness doth grow hither and yon

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''It sounds so boring to keep saying 'classical theater,' but with the advent of the movie industry, all the great (theatrical) rewards went to California. When I first appeared in New York in 1936, it was fashionable to play Broadway, but after the war, this evaporated. There was a dwindling of that narrow path that we in England still consider the most prestigious - that of the classical actor. It's pretty narrow and flinty and not a lot of money in it, but it's still our goal and target.

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''Over here, if you're a young actor, there ain't no path, or hardly any. So you hope you get into 'Dallas' or 'Dynasty' and say to yourself, 'When I get famous, maybe then I'll have some influence.' But it doesn't work out that way, because usually by then you've woven such a barbed-wire dollar cocoon that you can't get out.''

In actors and directors such as Meryl Streep, Joseph Papp, and Al Pacino, Quayle finds indications of a small renaissance for serious American theater.

''Americans want to be entertained,'' he says. ''It's the same thing in England, but we wish to be entertained a little more thoughtfully.'' Nevertheless, Quayle says that ''an old puritanical streak exists in both countries that says that the theater is heretical or frivolous or should look after itself. But it can't now, and a nation needs a national theater as much as it needs a national art museum. My golly, it should.''

There is an emphatic burst of applause from the student and faculty audience gathered in the auditorium to hear this impassioned, impromptu speech. Immediately, there are more questions for this versatile actor who, though occasionally groping for an elusive play title, nevertheless speaks as ''a man of acumen, panache, and vision,'' as Royal Shakespeare historian Sally Beauman described him.

For Quayle, his continuing urgency about theater's cultural imperativeness comes down to an encroaching inarticulateness that he contrasts sharply to Shakespeare's linguistic facility.

''Better language has never been written,'' says Quayle bluntly. ''His scale, size, and poignancy are extraordinary, immensely rewarding to an audience, and pleasing to an actor. It's easily digestible language, but the words are important; they are the carrier of ideas. Emotions and sympathies are easily evoked by visual images, but words evoke ideas.

''Yet look at the way we talk now, in our novels and in our plays and our letters to each other. Even my own children speak in a sort of shorthand of noises. I can't understand them. We're reducing language almost to 'uh-huh' that doesn't convey any subtlety of meaning.''

After years of work in the theater, Quayle maintains that a verbal literary tradition is best preserved by ensuring that there are those actors able to perform the ancient texts and perform them well.

While lauding American acting traditions as producing a ''truth that is violent, strong, and often inarticulate,'' Quayle says it is likely to fall short when ''they have to step on stage and say, 'It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. . . .' ''

That ability to act the classics in the way the texts require, Quayle says, is not only a difficult skill, but one that often requires the benefit of years.

''In many of his tragedies and political plays Shakespeare is writing about mature, powerful people,'' he says. ''And it requires a certain weight of character that you simply don't have when you're young. The acquisition of hope, despair, wisdom, all these come slowly. But they are all qualities inherent in Shakespeare's characters, which is why he is such a great dramatist.

''It's not until you reach a maturity of mind and have the technical equipment that you don't have to push on stage. Youth has its own enchanting qualities: good looks, energy, enthusiasm. But when television and film is all the time creaming off the best young actors and turning them into millionaires, that they are lost to the greater side of their art.''