A Theatrical Comet

A Theatrical Comet

Edmund Kean was the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. His performance as Shylock at the Drury Lane Theatre in January 1814 – he was then twenty-seven – is said to have roused the audience to almost uncontrollable enthusiasm. The poet Coleridge famously said, “Seeing him act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” Successive appearances as Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and Lear served to demonstrate his complete mastery of the whole range of tragic emotion. His triumph was so great that he himself said on one occasion, “I could not feel the stage under me.” Dead by the age of forty-six, he was the proverbial meteor, rocketing to fame and fortune which he squandered in loose living and drink. His last appearance on the stage was at Covent Garden, on the 25th of March 1833, when he played Othello to the lago of his son Charles. At the words “Villain, be sure,” in Act 3 scene 3, he suddenly broke down, and, crying in a faltering voice, “O God, I am dying. Speak to them, Charles,” fell insensible into his son’s arms. The story of his death appears in Mr Blackwood’s Fabulorium, where it is acted out by the actor Cyril Purselove before an admiring crowd, in the street outside Harrison’s Hostel in Pimlico. After Kean’s death the Shakespearean crown passed to William Macready, to whose Macbeth Purselove claims to have played Banquo.

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