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William Macready

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William Charles Macready

"It is said that there is no actor living who unites as much power and original genius with correct taste and cultivated talents as Macready. He has all that nature can give, with all that taste and talent can acquire. His person is tall and commanding-his carriage noble-his face, though not technically a first rate stage face, is wonderfully expressive, and his voice is peculiarly fine, deep and mellow." The Mirror on his performance as Virginius

"Macready was a dreadful man to act with; you had the pleasant sensation of knowing that you were doing nothing that he wanted you to do, though following strictly his instructions. He would press you down with his hand, and tell you in an undertone to stand up! Mr. Macready was a terribly nervous actor; any little thing which happened unexpectedly irritated him beyond endurance." Mrs. John Drew

Macready, William Charles (1793-1873) English actor born in London on March 3rd. He was the son of the well known manager of the Bristol theatrical circuit. Educated at Rugby, it was William’s intention to go up to Oxford to study law, but in 1809 when he was 15 years old he had to leave school because of his father’s sudden bankruptcy and imprisonment for debt. Reluctantly, he left to help share in the responsibilities of theatrical management. The bitterness remained closed to the surface throughout his 40-year career often manifesting itself in arrogance and anger, for which he was often despised by his fellow actors.

On June 7, 1810, he made his successful debut as Romeo in Birmingham. Other Shakespeare parts followed, but a serious rupture between father and son resulted in his departing for Bath in 1814. He remained there for two seasons, with occasional trips to the provinces. In 1816, with John Philip Kemble newly retired and Edmund Kean reigning supreme at Drury Lane, Macready was hired as a new attraction at Covent Garden. Poorly used there in such roles as Orestes in The Distressed Mother a translation of Racine’s Andromaque, and Scott’s Rob Roy, he made little impact.

It was not until October 25, 1819 when he risked all in a part that was virtually the property of Kean, Richard III. He was the first actor in Covent Garden history to be summoned for a curtain call by an enthusiastic audience.

He followed this success with the first of many parts in which he could display his skill in the portrayal of a favorite 19th century emotion, paternal love. This was Sheridan Knowles’s Virginius (1820), and it marked a mutually advantageous relationship between actor and playwright. His acting style was more industrious and observant rather than charismatic where he aimed to make passion intelligible.

In 1825, he transferred his service to the Drury Lane Theatre, and continued to grow in the public favor with another Sheridan Knowles vehicle, the title role in William Tell. Knowles was the first of many contemporary playwrights through whom Macready hoped to raise the standards of English drama. In 1826 he made his America debut at the Park Theatre in Virginius followed by one in Paris in 1828.

It was not until 1834, that he first played Lear. It was by many accounts his finest role. After entering on the management of Covent Garden in 1837, he continued to encourage the creation of modern English drama by introducing Robert Browning’s Strafford, and in the following year Bulwer’s Lady of Lyons and Richelieu, the principal characters in which were among his most effective parts.

On June 10, 1838, he gave a memorable performance as Henry V, for which Stanfield prepared sketches, and the mounting was supervised by Bulwer, Dickens, Forster, Maclise, W.J. Fox and other friends. And in December of 1840, under the direction of Count d’Orsay, he won unmistakable success in the character of Elfred Evelyn in Bulwer’s Money.

 Both in his management of Covent Garden, which he resigned in 1839, and of Drury Lane, which he held from 1841 to 1843, he found his designs for the elevation of the English stage frustrated by the absence of adequate public support and his growing fury at other’s refusal to measure up to his high standards. These endeavors for all there high intentions left him bankrupt and he spent the last years on the stage saving towards his retirement.

In 1843-1844 he made a second prosperous tour of the United States. From the start, elements of the press had attacked him personally and his open contempt for American actors exacerbated matters. Things came to a head when on his last visit to America in 1848 a riot broke out at the Astor Opera House in New York. This incident arose as much from a personal enmity between himself and Edwin Forrest as one of national and class rivalry. The tragic results ended with the death of seventeen persons who were shot by the military called out to quell the disturbance. Immediately thereafter he set sail for England, never to return to the United States.

He took his farewell from the stage in 1851 in his favorite part of Macbeth at Drury Lane. He concluded his diaries with the exclamation "Thank God." The remainder of his life was spent in happy retirement and he died at Cheltenham on April 27, 1873.

Macready’s performances always displayed fine artistic perceptions developed to a high degree of perfection by very comprehensive culture, and even his least successful personations had the interest resulting from thorough intellectual study. He belonged to the school of Kean rather than of Kemble; but, if his taste were better disciplined and in some respects more refined than those of Kean, his natural temperament did not permit him to give proper effect to the great tragic parts of Shakespeare, King Lear perhaps excepted, which afforded scope for his pathos and tenderness, the qualities in which he specially excelled.

(click on photo to enlarge)

William Charles Macready as Hotspur in Henry IV-sketch-B&W-Resized.jpg (283280 bytes)

as Hotspur in Henry IV

William Charles Macready as Hamlet-sketch-B&W-Resized.jpg (139236 bytes)

William Charles Macready _as Shylock sketch_B&W-Resized.jpg (142794 bytes)

William Charles Macready as King Lear with Helena Faucit as Cordelia-sketch-B&W-Resized.jpg (145170 bytes)

as Hamlet as Shylock as King Lear
William Charles Macready in Byron's Werner with Helen Faucit-sketch-B&W.jpg (126565 bytes) William Charles Macready headshot-Engraving-B&W-Resized.jpg (110375 bytes) William Charles Macready full body shot-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (109231 bytes)
in Byron's Werner as Macbeth as an old man

Joseph Haworth & William Charles Macready

Joe Haworth’s connection to William Macready was both tangential and essential. Charlotte Crampton, Haworth’s first great mentor, had played Lady Macbeth opposite Macready. In fact, Macready said wittily and lovingly of Miss Crampton: "If she had been a foot taller she could have conquered the world."

William Macready had brought a new classicism to the early 19th Century British theatre. Lacking the strength and force of his great predecessor Edmund Kean, he employed subtler choices onstage that used his awkward and un-athletic physique to express vulnerability and humanity. This set him in stark contrast to his contemporary rival, the very manly and all-American Edwin Forrest. On May 10, 1849, their respective fans spilled blood in the streets when both men played Macbeth in New York City, and lives were lost during the infamous Astor Place Riots.

Charlotte Crampton taught young Haworth all of William Macready’s "stage business." In the centuries before the advent of the stage director, the staging of classical roles was handed down in an apostolic line from actor to actor. This line of succession originated with Shakespeare’s leading player Richard Burbage, and continued through the interpretations of Thomas Betterton, David Garrick, John Philip Kemble, Edmund Kean, and William Macready. Each actor absorbed the innovations of those that came before him, and added their own creative moments to the great roles.

Thus by teaching him William Macready’s stage business, Charlotte Crampton placed young Haworth squarely in this magnificent tradition. Further, Crampton taught Haworth all of rival actor Edwin Forrest’s innovations, thus equipping Joe with both the classicism of Macready and the heroic power of Forrest. It was a training that was unique, and it led to versatility in Haworth that was unmatched among his contemporaries.

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