The Playgoer, Vol. V. No. 27., March 1904.
STAGE HISTORY OF ROMEO AND JULIET
When Mr. Henry Irving revived Romeo and Juliet at the Lyceum Theatre on March 8th, 1882, the production up to that year had never been exceeded in any house for magnificence. Old stagers who remembered Charles Kean's work at the Princess's between 1850 and 1860 declared that all his efforts paled before the brilliant work done in Wellington Street. But in any production of this wonderful human story of the passion of love, the scenic effects should not be allowed to overwhelm the grandeur and purity of the poet's intention and design. Romeo and Juliet is not a mere love story, it is a tragedy of the deepest import, as the Prologue most plainly shows.
On October 1st 1902, in Petersborough USA, a production of "Romeo and Juliet" very nearly ended in a real life tragedy. Miss Margaret Mather, as Juliet, was accustomed to using a false dagger with a retractable 'blade' for the closing scene where her character commits suicide. On the night in question however, the fake knife could not be found and a genuine dagger was substituted in its place. Engrossed in her character and the emotion of the scene, Miss Mather forgot about the change and plunged the real blade into her side. She let out a surprised scream but played her part to the end, draping herself over the prostrate body of her lover before the curtain fell. Luckily her wound was not serious, puncturing her corset slowed the blade which then glanced off a rib making it a light flesh wound.
As we know now, the plot of this most perfect play is founded on a real tragedy that happened about the beginning of the fourteenth century. The tale is explicitly related by Bandello in one of his novels, and also by Girolamo de la Corte in his entertaining "History of Verona."
The literary history of Romeo and Juliet has yet to be written - the stage history we set forth here. It is a generally accepted fact that Shakespeare completed the play either in 1596 or 1597, in which latter year it was first printed. But there are indications that it was commenced as early as 1591. In any case there is much internal evidence that Romeo and Juliet was one of his pet ideas, and we find that he was continually adding to and revising it. It is interesting to note that Lope de Vega about the same time was utilising the same story, traced back to the Greek romance of "Anthia and Abrocomas," for the Spanish stage under the title of Casteliones and Moutisis (that is to say, Capulets and Montagus) which was made to end happily.
The tragedy was popular on the stage prior to the year 1597, though unfortunately we have no direct evidence to prove when it was first produced. It was acted by the Lord Chamberlain's servants up to 1599. In a good edition issued in 1609 it is expressly stated to have been "Sundrie times publiquely Acted by the King's Majesties Servants at the Globe." Our invaluable source of information, Pepys, speaks of it under date March. 1st 1661-1662, as an opera. On the same date, according to Genest, Romeo and Juliet was put on at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, where Betterton played Mercutio. The cast, says Frank Marshall, contained a character - "Count Paris' wife, played by Mrs. Holden" - but who she was does not appear. The play was altered by James Howard, who turned the tragedy into "a tragi-comedy, preserving both Romeo and Juliet alive; so that when the play was revived in Sir William Davenant's company it was played alternately, viz., tragical one day and tragi-comical another for several days together. This alteration hath never been printed." The next version came from the unskilful pen of the ne'er-do-well Theophilus Cibber, September 11th, 1744, at the Theatre in the Haymarket, and this was afterwards given at Drury Lane. Although it was a sheer hotchpotch, partly founded upon Otway's Cains Marius (about half of which was taken from Romeo and Juliet), it seems to have attracted favourable attention, and despite its demerits it brought back to the boards the living memory of Shakespeare's most poetical play after it had lain forgotten on the shelf for over eighty years.
Theophilus Cibber was the Romeo to his sister Jennie's Juliet, and the revival, as we have said, was successful. Before long, however, "that monument of obstructive business," the Lord Chamberlain, interfered. On November 1st Cibber was obliged to announce the play thus: "At Cibber's Academy in the Haymarket will be performed a concert, after which will be exhibited (gratis) a Rehearsal in the form of a play called Romeo and Juliet." Undoubtedly but for this interference many of Shakespeare's plays might at that time have been revived. In 1748 an important event in the history of Romeo and Juliet took place through David Garrick, who altered the work, and Barry appeared as Romeo at Drury Lane Theatre, "a part in which he has, perhaps, never been surpassed by another actor either before or after him." It was presented nineteen times. Barry's secession somewhat disturbed the dignity of the great little Davy, for we find the former at Covent Garden, the troublesome rival house, on September 28th, 1750, playing Romeo to the Juliet of Mrs. Cibber, who had also seceded from the Lane.
John Kemble, Charles Kemble, Charles Kean, all have appeared with more or less success in the character of Romeo. It may not be generally known that Miss Ellen Terry played Romeo to Miss Fanny Kemble's Juliet at Covent Garden. Other female Romeos have been Miss Cushman, Miss Ada Swanborough, Miss Margaret Leighton, Madame Vestrali, Madame St. Clair, Miss Marriott, and Miss Esme Beringer. In 1856 Miss Clara Leslie appeared to have made a fair success at the Surrey Theatre. At Sadler's Wells, in 1862, Mrs. Conway appeared as Romeo to the Juliet of Mrs. Rogers and the Mercutio of Samuel Phelps. The two ladies were voted quite successful. Stella Colas made her London debut as Juliet in June, 1863, with Walter Montgomery as Romeo. At Drury Lane Miss Helen Faucit (afterwards Lady Martin) repeated her great impersonation in 1865, when she was supported by Walter Montgomery and James Anderson. Miss Bateman in the same year took her farewell at Her Majesty's Theatre in the character, when Mr. J. C. Cowper and Mr. Henry Howe rendered good service as Romeo and Mercutio respectively. Another farewell, for many years, was that of Miss Kate Terry, on August 31st, 1876, when she chose Juliet for the occasion, and had Henry Neville as Romeo and John Billington, who has just retired, as Mercutio. A Mr. Allerton, who came from the country and took the Lyceum Theatre with not very profitable results, undertook Romeo to the Juliet of Miss Carlyle in 1869.
The beautiful Adelaide Neilson and the handsome Harry Conway appeared in the piece with gratifying results at the Haymarket in March, 1878, and again in 1879 at the same house. Mr. Clifford Harrison essayed Romeo with Miss Bateman at Sadler's Wells in 1880, but he made more reputation as a reciter afterwards than as an actor. We have already referred to Mr. Henry Irving's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Lyceum Theatre in 1882, when the Prince of Wales (now the King) was present. Miss Ellen Terry was, of course, the Juliet, William Terrlss the Mercutio, and James Fernandez Friar Laurence. Coming to the year 1884, we recollect the beautiful Juliet of Miss Mary Anderson to the passionate Romeo of Mr. William Terriss. Miss Anderson's Juliet, long as she has left the stage, lingers lovingly in the memory. In 1881 Mr. Forbes Robertson acted with Madame Modjeska in Romeo and Juliet at the Court Theatre, and again the same actor played with Mrs. Patrick Campbell at the Lyceum in 1895.
The Theatre, July 1st 1881.
BY GERTRUDE CARR DAVISON, AUTHOR OF "ROSALIND."
After the comedy of "As You Like It," with the bright and piquant character of Rosalind, the tragedy - the world-famed tragedy - of "Romeo and Juliet," with the fair, sweet daughter of the Capulets for the heroine, ranks next, perhaps, amongst the masterpieces of our great dramatist, William Shakespeare, in the favour and estimation of English playgoers. Verona, the birthplace of Pliny and Catullus, has been no less celebrated in an age not so remote for the deadly animosities of the Houses of Montagu and the Capulet, made interesting to us by the incident of Romeo and Juliet. Giralamo della Corte, in his "History of Verona," relates the story as an historical event and Bandello, who derived it from Luigi da Porto, places the occurrence in the time of Bartolommeo Scagligeri. Few tales have ever found so many different versions as that of Romeo and Juliet - a proof of the interest it was calculated to excite.
It has been traced to a Greek romance, and I find that there are two versions by old French writers, by whom the scene has been placed in France. And in Italy it was first discovered in Massuccio, from whom, as supposed by some persons, Shakespeare derived it. And I think there is no one who has forgotten, or is likely to forget, the first perusal of Romeo and Juliet, when the heart echoed the impassioned vows of the lovers, and deeply sympathised with their sorrow.
I shall now proceed to give briefly a few of the famous Juliets of the English stage; and I think I cannot do better than begin with the famous rival of Peg Wolfington and Mrs. Cibber - George Anne Bellamy, born in the year 1731, and educated in a convent in Boulogne. Making her first appearance on the stage at the age of fourteen, as Monimia in "The Orphan," at the Covent Garden Theatre, that one night made her famous, and she became the fashion, reckoning among her patrons the celebrated and eccentric Duchess of Queensberry. She afterwards played, in a round of characters, Juliet from "Romeo and Juliet," amongst the number disputing the empire of the stage not only with Wolfington, but with Mrs. Cibber herself, for in the delineation of all-absorbing, passionate love Miss Bellamy was said to have no equal, and her Juliet was perfection. Of her Belvidera, a fine judge said: "I came to admire Garrick; I go away enchanted with Bellamy." In 1785 a benefit was organised for her at Covent Garden and Reynolds, the dramatist, thus describes the sad scene: "I dwell for a moment on the last appearance of Mrs. Bellamy, who took her leave of the stage May 24th, 1785. On this occasion an address was spoken by Miss Farren, the present Countess of Derby, concluding with the following couplet:
But see! oppressed with gratitude and tears,
To pay her duteous tribute, she appears.
The curtain then ascended, and Mrs. Bellamy was diseovered seated in an arm-chair, from which she in vain attempted to rise. She, however, only suceeded in muttering a few words expressive of her gratitude, and then, sinking jnto her seat, the curtain dropped before her for ever!" She died in 1788.
The second Juliet on my list is the greatest actress England and the English stage have ever known - Sarah Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, who played Juliet at Drury Lane to the Romeo of her brother, the equally famous John Philip Kemble. There are but few left, I suppose, who can bring to mind or recall the days of those grand old players, of the jammed mass which night after night filled to suffocation the huge theatre; and we have it on record, and on recent record too, that on a certain night, in one row of the orchestra, there sat to see Mrs. Siddons play Juliet men whose names will neyer be forgotten - never while England lasts - Reynolds, Burke, Gibbon, Sheridan, Windham, and Fox. These men were not children; but the tears were seen running down their faces at the sorrows and tragic end of Juliet and her boyhusband. Many a heart was stirred, stirred to its depths, by the grand acting of those grand old players. Mrs. Siddons formally retired from the stage in 1812.
But we proceed with our impersonations of Juliet. Two years after the retirement of Mrs. Siddons from the stage, Miss O'Neill appeared as Juliet at Covent Garden, October 6th, 1814, and as Juliet her success was very great. Macready spoke rapturously of her performance, saying that throughout his whole experience hers was the only representation of Juliet he had ever seen. She died in 1872, at the advanced age of eighty-one.
We now come to the year 1829, when Juliet was once more to be impersonated by one of the fabulous Kembles, namely, Frances Ann Kemble. Mrs. Frances Kemble, elder daughter of the late Charles Kemble, and niece of Mrs. Siddons, at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, then under the management of her father, October 5th, 1829, played Juliet, her first appearance on any stage, with her mother, Mrs. C. Kemble, as Lady Capulet on this occasion, after several years absence from the stage and so great was her success that, we are told, "Romeo and Juliet" was played to crowded houses, with Miss Fanny Kemble in the leading role, three times weekly until December 29th, when Otway's "Venice Preserved" was produced.
We must pass on now to 1833, when another celebrated Juliet appeared - Miss Helen Faucit (Lady Martin) - first at the Theatre Royal, Richmond, November, 1833, and afterwards at Covent Garden Theatre during the year 1836, as Juliet to the late Mr. Charles Kemble's Mercutio; and later still, in 1845, she appeared with Macready in Paris and at the Salle Ventadour (the theatre at that time usually devoted to Italian opera), in a series of English performances, including "Romeo and Juhet;" and once again, many years later, on Wednesday, January 28th, 1852, Miss Faucit once more stood on the London boards in the character of Juliet - and it has been said by the late G. H. Lewes that since the days of Siddons and O'Neill, Miss Faucit was the most worthy exponent of the lofty poetical drama, the Rachel of the English stage.
We have now reached our sixth Juliet, in the person of Miss Swanborough, who played Juliet to the Romeo of the celebrated Miss Cushman, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, January 29th, 1855, the cast including Mr. W. Farren as Tybalt, and Mr. Compton as Peter.
This last Juliet was followed by another, Mrs. Herman Vezin, who appeared as Juliet at Sadler's Wells Theatre, February 24th, 1859.
And during that same year of 1859, on September 16, and on the boards of the same theatre (Sadler's Wells), Miss Caroline Heath (Mrs. Wilson Barrett), made her appearance as Juliet; and of this last it was said: "The Juliet of the evening was Miss Heath, well known at the Princess's, for during her connection with that theatre she several times played in the series of dramatic performances arranged by Mr. C. Kean, and given by the Queen's command at Windsor and Osborne."
The next Juliet of note is Miss Kate Bateman (Mrs. Crowe), who chose the character of Juliet for her final appearance in England, at Her Majesty's Theatre, December 22nd, 1865, and we are told that when the curtain fell on the form of Juliet, prostrate over the body of her lover, the audience would not be appeased until both were resuscitated, and the Juliet was brought smiling by Romeo before the curtain to receive the usual compliment in more than ordinary emphatic form.
We have now arrived at 1866, when Juliet was once more impersonated by a descendant of the gifted Kembles - Mary Frances ScottSiddons - who made her first appearance on the stage at Edinburgh, as Juliet, in the early part of 1866, and we repeat now what was said then. A lady who can boast of a direct descent from the most illustrious of our actresses, comes accredited with the strongest recommendation to all who hold in reverence the names which adorn our Thespian annals; but Mrs. Scott-Siddons has a fair claim to theatrical distinction apart from hereditary honours, and I think all those who have witnessed her performance of Juliet will acknowledge that during that performance they had very vividly brought before them the sweet daughter of the Capulets.
Following upon Mrs. Scott-Siddons's Juliet is Miss Kate Terry (Mrs. Arthur Lewis), who took her farewell of the stage in the character of Juliet, at the Adelphi Theatre, August 31st, 1867. Miss Terry's Juliet was one of her best impersonations.
I have now, in the month of December of the year 1870, reached the favourite and lamented Juliet of the English stage - Lilian Adelaide Neilson, who made her debut in London, first as Juliet, at the Royalty Theatre, July, 1865, and again at Drury Lane, on Monday, December 19th, 1870. Miss Neilson appeared as Juliet, and it was then remarked that the young and rising actress had determined to make Juliet her own, and the applause of a crowded house bore witness to her success. This was afterwards confirmed when, in the month of September, 1872, she gave a series of farewell performances at the Queen's Theatre, Long Acre, prior to her departure for America. In these were included "Romeo and Juliet," in which she played Juliet, and on which occasion it was said: "Juliet is Miss Neilson's masterpiece;" and again, after her death, it has been said that, unlike most of out Juliets, Miss Neilson was able to make this the rOle with which her memory will be chiefly associated. We can no more hear her promise, as she so often did in the words of Juliet: "Stay but a little, I will come again." No; this may never more be heard. Loved and lamented, peace be to her memory, for she is at rest.
I have now come to the past year of 1880, and to the last Juliet on my list - Madame Helena Modjeska - who appeared as Juliet at the Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool, September, 1880, with Mr. Wilson Barrett as Romeo, and in 1881 at the Court Theatre, with Mr. Forbes Robertson as Romeo, and Mr. Wilson Barrett, the best Mercutio the modern stage has seen; and we are told that when on Saturday Madame Modjeska acted Shakespeare's sweet heroine, Juliet, for the first time in England, the large theatre was filled to its utmost extent by a mass of people, who applauded vehemently at the end of each act of "Romeo and Juliet," and bestowed their praise in all its force at the conclusion of the tragedy; and we are now pleased to see that Madame Modjeska is to repeat her impersonation of Juliet at the Court Theatre, with Mr. Wilson Barrett as Mercutio.
So much for our group of Juliets; and I am constrained to exclaim, as the curtain drops over me and my Juliets past and present, in the parting words of the great writer of the tragedy:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.