AC'ROTE'RION (Gk. liKporiiptov, akrote nion, the summit or extremity). A term in arehi tecture for a statue or other ornament, often a palmette, placed on the apex or at one of the lower angles of a pediment.
ACT (Lat. actns, the doing or performing of a thing; actum, a public transaction, record). A term of law applied to the written expression of the will of the legislature formally declared. As commonly employed, it is synonymous with statute (q.v.). The term is derived from the acne of Roman public life, which comprehended all public official procedure as well as the offi cial record thereof. An act of one legislature cannot tie the hands of its successors, unless it amounts to a contract, so that its repeal would conic within the constitutional inhibition upon legislative acts which impair the obligation of contracts. In England even this exception does not exist, each Parliament being an absolutely sovereign legislature. Still, certain acts of Par liament have been passed in the hope, if not with the intention, of arresting "the possible course of future legislation;" and some of them have commanded a respect almost equal to that accorded in this country to written eonstitutions. To this class belong the Bill of Rights (q.v.) : the Act of Settlement (12 and 13 Will.
c. 2) fixing the descent of the crown; the Acts of habeas corpus (q.v.) ; the Acts of Union with Scotland (1 James I., e. 1), and with Ire land (39 and 4(1 Geo. III., c. 67) and the Sep tennial Act of 1716 limiting the life of a Parlia ment to seven years. "Act" is used in connection with other words in a number of familiar phrases. For example, act of honor, the accept ance by a stranger of protested paper for the honor of some party thereto; art of God, an inevitable accident resulting from superhuman causes, such as lightning, tempest, or floods; act of state, act done or commanded by the govern ment of a foreign state, for which the person in jured has no redress in the courts of his own country, but must seek redress through the dip lomatic agencies of his government.
ACT. In the drama, the name for one of the principal parts of a play. In performance the acts are commonly separated by intervals, during which the dropped curtain conceals the stage. An act which may in turn be subdivided into scenes should be in a certain sense complete in itself, and at the same time should form an es sential part of the whole drama. As every dra
matic plot naturally divides itself into three parts—the exposition, the development, and the conclusion or catastrophe—a division into three acts seems most natural; hut practically this would often require undue condensation, and the well-known classic custom defined by nor ace in his .-Irs Poetic(' is that a play should be in five acts. Normally, the first act indicates the general nature of the drama, introduces the characters, and begins the action. The second act leads up to the third, which develops the crisis of the plot. In the fourth the conclusion or catastrophe is prepared, but should by no means be anticipated so as to weaken the effect of the th'nouemevt, which is reserved for the fifth act. The Greeks did not make the formal dis tinction of acts in their drama, though Greek tragedies are subjectively capable of division into parts or episodes, which are indeed prac tically separated by the lyrical parts of the per formance. (See Cnonus.) In modern drama the requirement for five acts began early to he neglected, especially in comedy. (See MomERE.) On the present stage plays are common in any number of acts below five. The four-act play is most common.
ACT, or CEREMONY OF "INCEPTION." The commencement or degree-taking formerly in in English universities, but now discon tinued (save as a form in Cambridge). The student or "respondent" who "keeps the act" reads a thesis in Latin which lie defends against three "opponents" named by the proctors. Some such practice survives in most German universi ties. In a quaint pamphlet on New England's First Fruits, published in 1643, there is an ac count of the late commencement at Harvard in which the word. "acts" is familiarly employed, a-s one may see from this extract: "The Students of the first Chassis that have beetle these foure yeeres trained up in University-Learning, for their ripening in the knowledge of the Tongues and Arts, and are approved for their manners, as they have kept their public]: Aets in former yeares, our selves being present at them, so have they lately kept two solemne Acts for their Commencement, when the Governonr, Magis trates, and the :Ministers from all parts, with all sorts of Scimitars, and others in great numbers were present, and (lid beau their Exercises.•