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Title: Hamlet on the Victorian stage: and Henry Irving's place in the tradition.
Author: Billaux, Jane Louise
ISNI:       0000 0001 3464 120X
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 1977
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Henry Irvings Hamlet was one of the most controversial Shakespearean performances of the nineteenth century arousing eulogy and execration in almost equal measure. It is hard to penetrate the mass of biassed writing on this. theatrical phenomenon, and the contradictions in the actor's own approach to Shakespeare (Irving the master showman and mesmerist masquerading, convincingly, as an intellectual, and gaining the reputation of a Shakespearean scholar) confuse the issue still further. However Irving's Hamlet can be approached, and even assessed, in the context of the theatrical tradition of which it forms a part; the stags history of this tragedy showing more distinct "traditions" than that of any other play. A study of Hamlet acting texts' throughout the nineteenth century reveals such similarities, that it is not surprising the slightest deviation aroused heated reaction. The prompt copies of Irving, his predecessors and immediate successors show that the staging too fell into a recognisable pattern. Basic trends in settings-and costumes can be traced throughout the period, and continued well into this century. There can therefore be no arbitrary line drawn at the beginning or end of the Victorian era as many nineteenth century Hamlet traditions had their roots in the Georgian theatre, and some linger on today. But a study of nineteenth century performances makes it clear that there was such a thing as a "Victorian Hamlet", its traits being especially noticeable in traditions of character interpretation. The Prince of Denmark's image underwent marked changes during the period, some of which accorded with contemporary critical trends, others being the contribution of individual actors. In studying the stage tradition of Hamlet other points emerge. Notably the popular conception of Victorian Shakespeare "productions" as lavishly overdecorated extravaganzas requires substantial qualification where this play is concerned. Even the, admittedly ferocious, slashing of Shakespeare's text is more profitably approached through an understanding of the history behind the Victorian version of Hamlet. Irvingts performance was inimitable, and in categorising his acting style as 'Romantic', we are perhaps only describing its wayward individuality. Yet he was a figure of such pre-eminence in the Victorian theatre that his influence was inescapable. It can equally be traced in the reaction against his methods, and it is interesting to note that the 'breakaway'- movement to establish fuller texts and simpler staging of Hamlet was developing simultaneously with Irving's greatest triumphs. The Victorian Hamlet tradition was recognised as such by contemporary audiences, and never ceased to arouse animated discussion being attacked and defended with afervour which has departed from present day criticism. Moulded by a series of memorable actors, this stage tradition is worth recording if onlyAthat it provided thousands of playgoers with an immediate and exciting approach to Shakespeare's masterpiece. Henry Irving's performance was its highlight, and, in some respects, its culmination.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available