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Sample Pages From The Lives of Shakespearian Actors IV

Sample Pages From The Lives of Shakespearian Actors IV

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Published by: Pickering and Chatto on Dec 15, 2010
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05/26/2011

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– 195 –
 X. SHAKESPEARIAN ROLES: IMOGEN
Helen Faucit, ‘Imogen’,
On Some o Shakespeare’s Female Characters
, 6th edn (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), pp. 157–64. British Library, shelmark 822.33 *1104*.Charles Rice, ‘
Cymbeline
, Covent-Garden Teatre, Tursday’,
 Dramatic Register 
(18 May 1837), pp.48–9. British Library, shelmark PP.5198.George Fletcher, ‘Characters in
Cymbeline
,
Studies o Shakespeare
 
in the Plays o King John, Cymbeline, Macbeth, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet 
(London: Longman, Brown,Green, and Longmans, 1847), pp. 95–105. British Library, shelmark 11762.d.4.Henry Morley,
Te Journal o a London Playgoer fom 1851–186 
6 (London: George Routledge andSons, 1866), pp. 346–8. Leeds University Library.‘Drury Lane Teatre’,
 Morning Post,
19 October 1864. British Library, Colindale Newspaper Collection.
Helen Faucit’s essay on Imogen, addressed to her riend Anna Maria Swanwick, says relativelylittle about her stage experience in the role. In act, the actress stresses that her understand-ing o Imogen as a character came rom the more intimate experience o reading the play. Shetreats Imogen as a womanly ideal in all respects: as ‘a noble, cultivated, loving woman and wieat her best’; and more hyperbolically, as ‘strong in the possession o ne and cultivated intel-ligence, and equal, through all her womaly tenderness and by very reason o that tenderness,to any strain which may be put on her ortitude and endurance – one who, while she drawson all insensibly to love her by her mere presence, at the same time inspires them with a rever-ent devotion.’ Faucit also paints Imogen as a Victorian angel in the house when caring or herbiological brothers in the Welsh cave: ‘… a true lady and princess, – not sitting apart, brooding over her own grie, that he dear lord should be “one o’ the alse ones,” but bestirring hersel tomake their cavern-home as attractive and pleasant to them as only the touch and eeling o arened woman could!’
1
In the selection rom the letter on Imogen printed here, Faucit recalls playing as a childthe cave scene rom
Cymbeline
as a birthday surprise or her governess; later in the essay shedetails her stage business and mindset on stage during the same scene. She also recalls Mac-ready’s unsolicited substitution o her ankle-length gown or a tunic that was more clearlyrecognizable as boy’s dress and, concomitantly, showed o the actress’s legs.
2
(Helen hersel insists that Imogen’s ‘womanliness’ shines through her ‘boyish disguise.’)
3
We get a glimpse
 
196
 Lives o Shakespearian Actors: Faucit 
as well o another important Faucit role, Pauline Deschapelles o Edward Bulwer’s
Te Ladyo Lyons
, and o Faucit’s early appearance on stage beore Queen Victoria; a ascination withowers and a torn handkerchie are recurrent themes in the career o young Helen Faucit.Te second excerpt, by Charles Rice, describes Faucit’s appearance in the role o Imo-gen on 18 May 1837. Rice (1817–76) worked as an attendant in the British Museum andsang comic songs in taverns at night; he was also an avid theatregoer, and the Charles RiceManuscript at the Harvard Teatre Collection oers his responses to London Teatre overa span o our years. Although the
 Dramatic Register 
’s commentary is not always eloquent,it provides a useul glimpse into the reception o important actors rom the period.
4
In hisaccount, although Faucit plays her heroine in a ‘chaste and elegant manner’, she is overshad-owed by Macready and Elton.Helen Faucit’s appearance as Imogen during Macready’s last season at Drury Lane Tea-tre (1842–3) was important to establishing her reputation as a Shakespearian actress and her persona as an embodiment o sanctied ‘womanliness’. George Fletcher saw and analysedat length Faucit in the role o Imogen there on 15 April 1843. Teodore Martin reerred toFletcher, somewhat disparagingly, as a ‘scholarly recluse’ whose riends had enticed him tothe theatre, where he became a true Faucit an and an acquaintance o the actress.
5
Fletcher’sessays on
Te Female Characters o Shakespeare, and Some o their Present Representatives onthe Stage
, later collected in
Studies o Shakespeare
(1847), were originally published in the
  Athenaeum
in 1843 and ocus their attention on Faucit as the embodiment o those Shake-spearian heroines. Remembering her early perormance with Macready in 1838 in
On Someo Shakespeare’s Female Characters
, Faucit hersel would dwell on the domestic scene betweenImogen and her brothers at the Welsh cave; Fletcher in 1843, by contrast, ocuses on the sex-ually tense scene in which Iachimo seeks to seduce her, Imogen’s conrontation with Pisanioat Milord Haven, and her aecting reunion with Posthumus in the play’s nal reconcilia-tion scene. Troughout, he praises the combined nobility and sweetness o Faucit’s Imogen.Other changes rom Faucit’s early career are also apparent. While early reviewers had dislikedthe vehemence o her acial expressions and while Faucit hersel recounts Charles Kemble’sadvice to avoid melodramatic gestures and distorted expressions,
6
by this point in her career,she is secure in her craf, and Fletcher expresses unbounded enthusiasm or Faucit’s ‘muteacting’ – the subtle changes in her countenance, the ‘nice and just discrimination o thoserapidly rising or sinking graduations o eeling’. While Fletcher was an independent critic,it is worth remembering that Faucit hersel provided him with ‘eulogistic reviews’ which hethen quoted in postscripts to his essays. Tis is a reminder not only that Faucit manipulatedher own legend, but also that the citation o reviews, whether by Faucit, Fletcher or TeodoreMartin, was never disinterested.
7
Another important commentator, Henry Morley was a reormer, educator and Proessoro Literature at University College, London, where he supported the admission o womenstudents.
8
Morley’s
 Journal 
o his experiences at the London Teatre between 1851 and 1866had a reormist goal, combining good wishes or the stage with a sense that the patient was,in many ways, not doing well. In his Prologue to the
 Journal 
, Morley writes:
 
 
Shakespearian Roles: Imogen
197A warm interest in the patient never aected the determination to set down precisely what I took ortruth. Always, also, I have watched the case rom the same point o view; desiring to see our Drama, with a clean tongue and a steady pulse, able to resume its place in society as a chie orm o Literature, with a stage tly interpreting its thoughts and in wide honour as one o the strongest o all secular aidstowards the intellectual renement o the people.
9
Assessing Faucit’s contribution, Morley asserted that she sometimes is more pleasing to the eyethan the ear, but ound her rendition o Imogen’s sentimental moments quite aecting. Te
 Morning Post 
, welcoming Faucit back to the stage afer her marriage, insisting that none o hercharacteristic qualities had been diminished by time or absence rom the stage. Imogen’s – orFaucit’s – apotheosis is complete.Notes:
1. Faucit, p. 167, 176, 205.2. Tis incident took place during the 1838–9 season at Covent Garden.3. Faucit, p. 196.4. See C. Rice, ‘Te Dramatic Register o the Patent Teatres etc., 1835–1838’, Harvard Teatre Collection,ed. A. Colby Sprague and B. Shuttleworth,
Te London Teatre in the Eighteen-Tirties
, 8 vols (London:Society or Teatre Research, 1950). See also Carlisle, pp. 47–8.5. Martin, p. 92–3; Carlisle, p. 95.6. Faucit, p, 295.7. See Carlisle, p. 165.8. See
ODNB
.9. Henry Morley, Prologue to
Te Journal o a London Playgoer fom 1851–1866 
(London: George Rout-ledge and Sons, 1891), p. 11.

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