Henry Irving (1838-1905), the first actor to be knighted, dominated the theatre in Britain and beyond for over a quarter of a century. As an actor, he was strikingly different with his idiosyncratic pronunciation, his somewhat ungainly physique, and his brilliant psychological portrayals of virtue and villainy. As a director of spectacular, and commercially driven, entertainments, Irving anticipated Hollywood directors from D.W. Griffith to Stephen Spielberg. And as manager of the Lyceum Theatre, where audiences included the leading public figures of the day, he controlled every aspect of the performance. This collection of essays by leading theatre scholars explores each element of Irving's art: his acting, his contribution to the plays he commissioned, his flair for the stage picture, and his ear for incidental music. Like Wagner, Irving was a proponent of a holistic approach to the stage, that is, blending together acting, painting, music, and architecture to create harmonious, balanced, and artistic theatre. Irving emerges not only as the peer of such eminent contemporaries as Tennyson, Sullivan, Shaw, and Burne-Jones, but also as a powerful influence on the twentieth-century theatre.
"This is an extraordinary, provocative, and informative book which covers a wide range of aspects of the theatre of the time and touches upon a large number of individual artists and personalities. The book locates a theatrical phenomenon in the larger culture, drawing upon documents around and beyond the theatre itself. It will shake up complacent scholars, generate a new methodological freedom, and open up a whole period to sophisticated and creative cultural analysis."--Cary M. Mazer, author of Shakespeare Refashioned "W. D. King has developed an original close-reading of a particular (and only apparently marginal) episode of theatrical history and has placed that episode within a network of crucial cultural issues and values. The book is original in methodology, elegant in its argument, and persuasive in its conclusions."--Joseph R. Roach, author of The Player's Passion
Actors by Madeleine Bingham (Baroness Clanmorris.)
Sir Henry Irving was the greatest actor of the Victorian age and was thought of by Gladstone as his greatest contemporary. He transformed the theatre, in Britain and America, from a disreputable and marginal entertainment into a respected and uplifting art form. This work gives an account of Irving and his impact on the Victorian theatre and life.