Philobiblon: How to play Othello: a theatre-goer's theories

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How to play Othello: a theatre-goer's theories

My 19th-century "blogger", Frances Williams Wynn, is today setting out her views on the great Shakespearean actors of her age. She's definitely a partisan of Kean, but thinks little of Kemble. I think our modern tastes might have agreed, if this article is anything to go by:

By the standards of the time, he was unsuited to the great tragic roles. The style then in vogue was artificial, declamatory, and statuesque, and its leading exponent, John Philip Kemble, was an actor of classic good looks, imposing figure, and vocal eloquence. Though Kean had handsome features, notably unusually expressive eyes, he was small, with a voice that was harsh, forceful, and commanding rather than melodious. He could never have hoped to compete with Kemble on Kemble's terms, so he had to become an innovator as well as a virtuoso. On Jan. 26, 1814, when he made his Drury Lane debut as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the measure of his triumph was not to outshine Kemble but to outmode him.


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