Posts Tagged ‘Charles Kemble’

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

George Frederick Cooke
17 April 1756 – 26 September 1812


George Frederick Cooke

George Frederick Cooke claimed to have been born in Westminster, it seems likely that he was the illegitimate child of a British soldier in Dublin. He was raised in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where in 1764 he was apprenticed to a printer. However, early exposure to strolling players made an impact. By the end of the decade he had gotten himself released from his apprenticeship and become an expert.

He made his first appearance on the stage in Brentford at the age of twenty as Dumont in Nicholas Rowe’s Jane Shore. His first London appearance was at the Haymarket Theatre in 1778; he played in benefit performances of Thomas Otway’s The Orphan, Charles Johnson’s The Country Lasses, and David Garrick and George Colman’s The Clandestine Marriage. Almost immediately, however, he returned to the country, and he spent the next decade and more touring, from Hull to Liverpool. He first performed with Sarah Siddons in York in 1786; by that time he had earned a substantial provincial reputation. In 1794 in Dublin, as Othello, he first attained high rank in a national capital; by 1800, London critics had dubbed him the Dublin Roscius. His unusually long provincial apprenticeship in many ways served him well. After an initial concentration on romantic leads, particularly in comedy, he gradually found his metier playing rakes and villains. As a regional star, he performed with Siddons, Dorothy Jordan and other London celebrities; he had over 300 roles in his repertoire.

At the same time, he developed a drinking problem, and a reputation for unreliability inevitably followed. A binge drinker, Cooke would abandon his duties for weeks at a time, often spending whatever money he had in the process. Shortly after his first triumph in Dublin, he disappeared from the stage for over a year. At some point in 1795, he had enlisted in the British Army, in a regiment due for deployment to the Caribbean. He was extricated from the military by the efforts of theatre owners in Manchester and Portsmouth, and he returned to Dublin in 1796.

In 1801, he appeared at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden as Richard III; this role would become his most famous. That year he also played Shylock (The Merchant of Venice), Iago (Othello), Macbeth, Kitely (Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour), and Giles Overreach, and became the rival of Kemble, with whom, however, and with Mrs. Siddons, he acted from 1803. In 1802 he added roles in Edward Moore’s The Gamester and Charles Macklin’s Man of the World.

After Kemble and Siddons came to Covent Garden in 1803, the rivalry between the two actors unfolded on one stage instead of two. Fittingly, they debuted in Richard III, though Kemble played the title role and Cooke Richmond. Shortly later they acted in John Home’s Douglas: Cooke played Glenalvon to Kemble’s Old Norval, and Siddons was Lady Randolph. Washington Irving records seeing the group in Othello (Cooke was Iago, and Charles Kemble was Cassio); he called the performance delightful.

For the next decade, Cooke was an erratic star in London. Already a confirmed alcoholic when he arrived, he grew steadily less reliable as his career progressed. Already in 1801, he was unable to perform because he was drunk; such failures became more frequent in later years. In 1807, after failing to appear for his summer season in Manchester, he was jailed in Westmorland for several months. In the last years of the decade, he managed to curb his excesses to some extent; he was, for instance, frequently on stage during the Old Price riots.

However, he was unhappy with his treatment by the London press, and he was easily persuaded to travel to the United States in 1810. American audiences received him enthusiastically. He premiered as Richard III in New York on 11 November. Escorted by William Dunlap, he remained sober and performed in Boston, where he played opposite English tragedienne Mary Ann Duff, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Providence. Thomas Sully painted him as Richard; the result is generally considered Sully’s best painting of a human figure. He earned 20,000 dollars for his efforts, but the windfall reaped by the theater-owners (more than $250,000) left him feeling bitter and exploited. By 1812, he had accepted an invitation to return to Covent Garden. The outbreak of the War of 1812 stranded him in New York. He died of cirrhosis at the Mechanics’ Hall in Manhattan on 26 September.

A monument to his memory was erected in St. Paul’s chapel (on Fulton Street) by Edmund Kean during his first American tour in 1821. Barry Cornwall claimed that Kean brought Cooke’s big toe back to England, where his disgusted wife subsequently threw it away. Other biographers claim Kean stole a finger rather than a toe, and a relatively unreliable American writer claims that after Cooke’s skull was used as the skull of Yorick in a performance of Hamlet, members of a private New York club (including Daniel Webster and Henry Wheaton) subjected the skull to phrenological examination.
Cooke’s personal life was, unsurprisingly, markedly chaotic. Even apart from his binges, he was profligate and generous with his money, so that he rarely enjoyed a prolonged period of security. He married late. In September 1808 in Edinburgh he married Sarah Lamb. She accompanied him to London for the 1808 season, but in February 1809 Sarah returned to her family in Newark-on-Trent and was not associated with the actor thereafter. In New York, he married Violet Mary Behn, the daughter of a coffee-house owner. He left at his death $2000, all that remained of a lifetime as a famous actor.

Cooke may be called the first fully romantic actor in England. He drew on the style of Garrick and Macklin, both of whom he saw in his youth; he expanded on their naturalness and informality of style. That Kean idolized him is perhaps sufficient to suggest his style; there are also the contrasts that period critics saw between his style and that of the refined, dignified Kemble.

Cooke was about 5’10”, with a commanding stage presence and a long, aquiline nose. His stage presence was generally described as commanding, although many observers noted that his voice tended to become hoarse in the later acts of challenging plays. He was, like Garrick, a restless, physically dynamic performer; critics also noted his skill in using his eyes to convey complex thoughts or emotions, and his ability to project stage-whispers even in a large venue.

Little record of response to his early romantic roles exists; however, his technique in his mature tragic roles is abundantly recorded. He was at his best in roles of suave or energetic villainy or hypocrisy. In comedy, his Macsarcasm (from Macklin’s Love à la Mode) and Shylock were considered unsurpassable. In tragedy, in addition to Richard, he was a notable Iago. Though King Lear was not one of his signature roles, his interpretation of Lear’s madness influenced that of Kean and other actors.

Yet his performance in roles that required refinement or restraint was almost universally disparaged—perhaps inevitably, given the looming shadow of Kemble. His Hamlet was a failure. As Macbeth, he was said to manage nothing better than “low cunning.” Henry Crabb Robinson reports that Cooke failed in Kotzebue’s The Stranger; Robinson expressed a common opinion when he concludes that however compelling a presence, Cooke was too coarse for the greatest tragic roles. Leigh Hunt agreed, arguing that Cooke reduced all of his characters to their lowest motives. Of Cooke’s famous style of declamation (like Macklin, he delivered soliloquies as if thinking aloud), Hunt complained that it merely turned Shakespeare’s poetry into indignant prose.

As Richard III, Cooke offered an interpretation that both differed from and excelled Kemble’s rather staid performance. In such melodramatic scenes as the murder of Henry VI, Cooke excelled in conveying Richard’s horrid glee (as, indeed, had Kemble); unlike Kemble, however, Cooke was also able to convey a sense of Richard’s disgust with himself. This aspect of Richard was most notable in his discussion of his hunchback and in his response to Norfolk’s doggerel in 5.2. Where Kemble had simply brushed the bad news aside, Cooke pondered the verse carefully before rejecting it without force. The effect was to deepen Richard’s characterization, providing him with a gradually increasing awareness of his own villainy. Cooke’s Richard was, then, something more than the fairy-tale ogre described by Charles Lamb.

On the whole, though, the limits of Cooke’s talent are indicated by the probably apocryphal story related by Macready and others. Wishing to impress well-born visitors with his mimetic talent, Cooke made a number of faces meant to represent various emotions. One of his looks stumped the visitors. They guessed rage, anger, and revenge before Cooke, exasperated, told them it was meant to be love.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Maria Theresa Kemble


Maria Theresa Kemble

The daughter of George De Camp, real name possibly De Fleury, she was born in Vienna 17 January 1774 into a family of musicians and dancers. Brought to England, she appeared when six years old at the Opera House, as Cupid in a ballet by Jean-Georges Noverre. After playing at the age of eight in a theatre directed by M. Le Texier Zélie in a translation of La Colombe by Madame de Genlis, she was engaged for the Royal Circus. George Colman took her for the Haymarket Theatre. Her first performance at the Haymarket was in The Nosegay on 14 June 1786 with James Harvey D’Egville in the presence of the royal family. On 21 June she danced in The Polonaise, and on 7 July she appeared in a ballet entitled Jamie’s Return with James Harvey and his brother George D’Egville. She was then secured by Thomas King for the Drury Lane Theatre, where on 24 October 1786, she played Julie, a small part in John Burgoyne’s Richard Cœur de Lion. Her father had left her in England for Germany, where he died while she was still young; she picked up English, and played juvenile and small parts.

She first caught the public taste 15 August 1792 at the Haymarket, when, in a travestied Beggar’s Opera she performed Macheath to the Polly of John Bannister and the Lucy of John Henry Johnstone. Biddy in Miss in her Teens (David Garrick), Adelaide in The Count of Narbonne adapted from the Castle of Otranto, Gillian in the Quaker, and Lucy in The Recruiting Officer were then assigned her; and she played some original parts, including Lindamira in Richard Cumberland’s Box Lobby Challenge. In singing parts she was allowed at times to replace Nancy Storace and Anna Maria Crouch. She was the original Judith in The Iron Chest (George Colman the Younger), and Florimel in Kemble’s Celadon and Florimel (from The Maiden Queen). Miranda in the Busybody, Page (Cherubin) in Follies of a Day (Figaro), Le Mariage de Figaro, and Kitty in High Life Below Stairs (James Townley) followed. At the Haymarket, 15 July 1797, she was the original Caroline Dormer in The Heir-at-Law (George Colman the Younger), and in the same year she played Portia and Desdemona, followed at Drury Lane by Katherine in Katherine and Petruchio, and Hippolito in Kemble’s alteration of The Tempest.

For her benefit, 3 May 1799, she gave at Drury Lane her own unprinted play of First Faults. In 1799 William Earle printed a piece called Natural Faults, and accused Miss De Camp in the preface of having stolen his plot and characters. In a letter to the Morning Post of 10 June, she denied the charge, and asserted that her play was copied by Earle from recitation. John Genest considered that Earle’s statement ‘has the appearance of truth’. Lady Teazle, Miss Hoyden, Lady Plyant in The Double Dealer (William Congreve), Hypolita in She would and she would not, Little Pickle, and Dollalolla in Tom Thumb were some of the other parts she played before her marriage to Charles Kemble, which took place 2 July 1806.

Accompanying the Kembles to Covent Garden, she made her first appearance there, 1 October 1806, as Maria in the Citizen, and remained there for the rest of her acting career. Her comedy, The Day after the Wedding, or a Wife’s First Lesson, 1808, was played at Covent Garden for the benefit of her husband, who enacted Colonel Freelove, 18 May 1808; she was Lady Elizabeth Freelove. Match-making, or ‘Tis a Wise Child that knows its own Father, played for her own benefit on the 24th, is also assigned to her. It was not acted a second time, nor printed.

She also assisted her husband in the preparation of Deaf and Dumb. Among the parts now assigned her were Ophelia, Mrs. Sullen, Violante, Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Mrs. Ford, and Juliana in the Honeymoon, and the like. In 1813–14 and 1814–15 she was not engaged. On 12 December 1815 she made an appearance as Lady Emily Gerald in her own comedy Smiles and Tears, or the Widow’s Stratagem.

She then disappeared from the stage until 1818–19, when she played Mrs. Sterling, and was the original Madge Wildfire in Daniel Terry’s musical version of Heart of Midlothian. For her own and her husband’s benefit she played Lady Julia in ‘Personation,’ 9 June 1819, when she retired. A solitary reappearance was made at Covent Garden on the occasion of the début as Juliet of her daughter Fanny Kemble, 5 October 1829, when she played Lady Capulet.

She died at Chertsey, Surrey, on 3 September 1838.

Besides Fanny Kemble, her daughter Adelaide Kemble was known on the stage. A son John Mitchell Kemble was a classical scholar.

Her brother occasionally acted fops and footmen at Drury Lane and the Haymarket, and was subsequently an actor and a cowkeeper in America. Her sister Adelaide, an actress in a line similar to her own, was popular in Newcastle upon Tyne.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Morton (Playwright)
1764 – 28 March 1838


Thomas Morton

Morton was born in the city of Durham. He was the youngest son of John and Grace Morton of Whickham, County Durham.

After the death of his father he was educated at Soho Square school at the charge of his uncle Maddison, a stockbroker. Here amateur acting was in vogue, and Morton, who played with Joseph George Holman, acquired a taste for the theatre. He entered at Lincoln’s Inn, in 1784, but was not called to the bar.

His first drama, Columbus, or A World Discovered, an historical play in five acts, founded in part upon Les Incas of Marmontel, was produced with success at Covent Garden, in 1792, Holman playing the part of Alonzo.

Children in the Wood, a two-act musical entertainment, Dublin, followed at the Haymarket in 1793. It was well acted and was more than once revived. Similar fortune attended Zorinski. In the same year appeared an anonymous pamphlet, Mr, Morton’s “Zorinski” and Brooke’s “Gustavus Vasa” Compared.

The Way to get Married, a comedy in five acts, with serious situations, was produced at Covent Garden in 1796, became a stock piece. A Cure for the Heart-Ache, a five-act comedy, in 1797 furnished two excellent characters in Old and Young Rapid, and became also a stock play. Secrets worth Knowing, a five-act comedy, in 1798, though a better play than the preceding, was less popular.

Speed the Plough, later in 1798, was acted forty-one times, and often revived. The Blind Girl, or a Receipt for Beauty, a comic opera in three acts (songs only printed) in 1801, was played eight times.

Beggar my Neighbour, or a Rogue’s a Fool, a comedy in three acts, was assigned to Morton but unclaimed by him, being damned the first night. It was afterwards converted into How to tease and how to please. in 1810, experienced very little better fortune, and remained unprinted.

Part of the plot of Beggar my Neighbour is said to have been taken from August Wilhelm Iffland. The School of Reform, or How to rule a Husband, a five-act comedy, was played with remarkable success at Covent Garden, in 1805, and was revived so late as 1867 at the St. James’s.

Town and Country, or which is best in 1807, with John Kemble as Reuben Glenroy and Charles Kemble as Plastic. For this piece £1,000 was paid whether it succeeded or failed.

The Knight of Snowdoun, founded on The Lady of the Lake, saw the light in 1811. Education, in 1813, is taken in part from Iffland.

In The Slave, Macready played Gambia, the slave in 1816. A Roland for an Oliver, in 1819, was a two-act musical farce. In Henri Quatre, or Paris in the Olden Time, 1820, a musical romance in three acts, Macready was Henri. At the same theatre appeared School for Grown Children in 1827, and The Invincibles, in 1828, a musical farce in two acts, included in Cumberland’s collection.

With his second son, John Maddison Morton, he was associated in the Writing on the Wall, a three-act melodrama, produced at the Haymarket, and it is said in All that Glitters is not Gold, a two-act comic drama played at the Olympic Judith of Geneva, a three-act melodrama, is assigned him in Buncombe’s collection, and ‘Sink or Swim,’ a two-act comedy, in that of Lacy.

Morton died on 28 March 1838, leaving a widow and three children, his second son being the farce writer, John Maddison Morton. He was a man of reputable life and regular habits, who enjoyed, two years before his death, the rarely accorded honour of being elected an honorary member of the Garrick Club. For much of his life, Thomas lived in Pangbourne in Berkshire.

He wrote about 25 plays, several of which had great popularity, among them Columbus, or a World Discovered (1792); Children in the Wood (1793); Zorinski (1795); The Way to Get Married (1796); A Cure for the Heart Ache (1797); Speed the Plough (1798); Secrets Worth Knowing (1798); The Blind Girl, or A Receipt for Beauty (1801); The School of Reform, or How to Rule a Husband (1805); Town and Country, or Which Is Best? (1807); The Knight of Snowdown (1811); Education (1813); The Slave (1816); Methinks I See My Father (1818); A Roland for an Oliver (1819); Henri Quatre (1820); School for Grown Children (1826); and The Invincibles (1828). The name of one of the characters in Speed the Plough, Mrs Grundy, has entered the English language as a synonym for “prude”.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Charles Kemble
Charles Kemble (25 November 1775 – 12 November 1854) was a British actor.


Charles Kemble

The youngest son of Roger Kemble, and younger brother of John Philip Kemble, Stephen Kemble and Sarah Siddons. Born at Brecon. Like John Philip, he was educated at Douai. After returning to England in 1792, he obtained a job in the post office, but soon resigned to go on the stage, making his first recorded appearance at Sheffield as Orlando in As You Like It in that year.

During the early part of his career as an actor he slowly gained popularity. For a considerable time he played with his brother and sister, chiefly in secondary parts, and received little attention.

His first London appearance was in 1794, as Malcolm to his brother’s Macbeth. Ultimately he won independent fame, especially in such characters as Archer in George Farquhar’s Beaux’ Stratagem, Dorincourt in Hannah Cowley’s Belle’s Stratagem, Charles Surface and Ranger in Benjamin Hoadley’s Suspicious Husband. His Laërtes and Macduff were as accomplished as his brother’s Hamlet and Macbeth. His production of Cymbeline in 1827 inaugurated the trend to historical accuracy in stagings of that play that reached a peak with Henry Irving at the turn of the century.

In comedy he was ably supported by his wife, Marie Therese De Camp, whom he married on 2 July 1806. His visit, with his daughter Fanny, to America during 1832 and 1834, aroused much enthusiasm. The later part of his career was beset by money troubles in connection with his joint proprietorship of Covent Garden theatre. He formally retired from the stage in 1836, but his final appearance was in 1840. For some time he held the office of examiner of plays. In 1844-1845 he gave readings from Shakespeare at Willis’s Rooms. Macready regarded his Cassio as incomparable, and summed him up as “a first-rate actor of second-rate parts.”

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