Henry Irving

Henry Irving

Infobox actor
name = Sir Henry Irving

imagesize =
caption = Sir Henry Irving
birthname = John Henry Brodribb
birthdate = 6 February 1838
birthplace = Keinton Mandeville, Somerset, England
deathdate = 13 October 1905 (aged 67)
deathplace = Bradford
restingplace = Westminster Abbey
restingplacecoordinates =
occupation = Actor
yearsactive = 1856–1905 (his death)
spouse = Florence O’Callaghan
children = Harry Brodribb Irving
Laurence Irving
influences =
influenced =

Sir Henry Irving (February 6 1838 – October 13 1905), born John Henry Brodribb, was an English stage actor in the Victorian era. He was the first actor to be awarded a knighthood.

Life and career

Irving was born at Keinton Mandeville in the county of Somerset, England. His elder son, Harry Brodribb Irving (1870-1919), usually known as "H B Irving", became a famous actor and later a theatre manager. Father and son are occasionally confused. His other son, Laurence Irving (1871-1914), became a dramatist and later was a victim in the Empress of Ireland disaster. Dorothea Baird married his son H B and the couple had a son, Laurence Irving(1897-1988), who became a well know Hollywood art director.

Early career

After a few years schooling, he became a clerk to a firm of East India merchants in London, but he soon gave up a commercial career and started as an actor. On 29 September 1856 he made his first appearance at Sunderland as Gaston, Duke of Orleans, in Bulwer Lytton's play, "Richelieu", billed as Henry Irving. This name he eventually assumed by royal licence.

For ten years, he went through an arduous training in various stock companies in Scotland and the north of England, acting in more than five hundred parts. By degrees his talent gained recognition, and in 1866 he obtained an engagement at the St. James's Theatre, London, to play Doricourt in "The Belle's Stratagem". A year later he joined the company of the newly-opened Queen's Theatre, where he acted with Charles Wyndham, J. L. Toole, Lionel Brough, John Clayton, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wigan, Ellen Terry and Nellie Farren. This was followed by short engagements at the Haymarket Theatre, Drury Lane, and the Gaiety Theatre. At last he made his first conspicuous success as Digby Grant in James Albery's "Two Roses", which was produced at the Vaudeville Theatre on the 4 June 1870 and ran for a very successful 300 nights.

In 1871, Irving began his association with the Lyceum Theatre by an engagement under Bateman's management. The fortunes of the house were at a low ebb when the tide was turned by Irving's sudden success as Mathias in "The Bells," a version of Erckmann-Chatrian's "Le Juif Polonais" by Leopold Lewis. The play ran for 150 nights. With Miss Bateman, Irving was seen in W. G. Wills' "Charles I" and "Eugene Aram", in "Richelieu", and in 1874 in "Hamlet". The unconventionality of this last performance, during a run of 200 nights, aroused keen discussion and singled him out as the most interesting English actor of his day. In 1875, again with Miss Bateman, he was seen as the title character in "Macbeth"; in 1876 as Othello, and as Philip in Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Queen Mary"; in 1877 in "Richard III"; and in The Lyons "Mail".

Peak years

In 1878, Irving entered into a partnership with the actress Ellen Terry and re-opened the Lyceum under his own management. With Ellen Terry as Ophelia and Portia, he revived "Hamlet" and produced "The Merchant of Venice" (1879). His Shylock was as much discussed as his Hamlet had been, the dignity with which he invested the Jew marking a departure from the traditional interpretation of the role, and pleasing some as much as it offended others. It is this portrayal which is the origin of the practice of naming Jewish boys "Irving".Fact|date=July 2008

After the production of Tennyson's "The Cup" and revivals of "Othello" (in which Irving played Iago to Edwin Booth's title character) and "Romeo and Juliet", there began a period at the Lyceum which had a potent effect on the English stage. The Lyceum stage management, and the brilliance of its productions in scenery, dressing and accessories, were revelations in the art of mise-en-scene.

"Much Ado about Nothing" (1882) was followed by "Twelfth Night" (1884); an adaptation of "Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield" by W. G. Wills (1885); "Faust" (1886); "Macbeth" (1888, with incidental music by Arthur Sullivan [ [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/macbeth/index.html Information about Sullivan's incidental music to "Macbeth" in 1888,] The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive] ); "The Dead Heart", by Watts Phillips (1889); "Ravenswood" by Herman, and Merivales' dramatic version of "Scotts Bride of Lammermoor" (1890). Fine portrayals in 1892 of the characters of Wolsey in "Henry VIII" and of the title character in "King Lear" were followed in 1893 by a striking and dignified performance of Becket in Tennyson's play of the same name. During these years, too, Irving, with the whole Lyceum company, paid several successful visits to America, which were repeated in succeeding years.

Later years

The chief remaining novelties at the Lyceum, during Irving's term as sole manager (the theatre passed, at the beginning of 1899, into the hands of a limited liability company) were J. Comyns Carr's "King Arthur" in 1895; "Cymbeline", in which Irving played Iachimo, in 1896; Sardou's "Madame Sans-Gene" in 1897; "Peter the Great", a play by Laurence Irving, the actor's second son, in 1898; and Arthur Conan Doyle's "Waterloo" (1894) (see King, Henry Irving's 'Waterloo'). The new regime at the Lyceum was signalized by the production of Sardou's "Robespierre" in 1899, in which Irving reappeared after a serious illness, and in 1901 by an elaborate revival of "Coriolanus". Irving's only subsequent production in London was as Sardou's "Dante" (1903), a spectacularly staged drama, at the Drury Lane.

Irving died shortly after suffering a stroke during a performance whilst on tour in Bradford on 13 October 1905, aged 67. F Anstey describes the scene in his 'Long Retrospect':

"Within three months, on October 13, 1905, Henry Irving, when appearing as Becket at the Bradford Theatre, was seized with syncope just after uttering Becket's dying words 'Into thy hands, O Lord, into thy hands', and though he lived for an hour or so longer he never spoke again."

He was brought to the lobby of the Midland Hotel, where he died. He was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. There is a statue of him near the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Irving as an innovator

Both on and off the stage, Irving always maintained a high ideal of his profession, and in 1895 he received the honour of knighthood, the first ever accorded an actor. He was also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Dublin, Cambridge, and Glasgow. His acting, apart from his genius as a presenter of plays, divided criticism, opinions differing as to the extent to which his mannerisms of voice and deportment interfered with or assisted the expression of his ideas. So strongly marked a personality as his could not help giving its own colouring to whatever part he might assume, but the richness and originality of this colouring at its best, and the spirit and intellect which characterised his renderings, was conceded by even his critics, as was his versatility in roles so widely different as Digby Grant and Louis XI, Richard III and Becket, Benedick and Shylock, Mathias and Dr. Primrose.



*Stoker, Bram. [http://www.archive.org/details/personalreminisc01stokiala "Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving: Volume 1"] and [http://www.archive.org/details/personalreminisc02stokiala "Volume 2"] . London : W. Heinemann, 1906. Scanned books via Internet Archive.
*Irving, Laurence, "Henry Irving: The Actor and His World", published in 1989.
* [http://www.peopleplayuk.org.uk/guided_tours/drama_tour/19th_century/managers_irving.php Information about Irving at the PeoplePlay UK website]

External links

*Find A Grave|id=6380560&
* [http://www.theirvingsociety.org.uk/ The Irving Society]
* [http://www.henryirving.co.uk/ The Henry Irving Foundation]
* [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9400E4DD153BEE33A25757C2A9639C94679ED7CF&oref=slogin NY Times article that includes information about Irving's American tour and the lease of the Lyceum to the American company at the same time]

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