[Drury Lane] January
KEAN (of whom report had spoken highly) last night made his appearance
at Drury-Lane Theatre in the character of Shylock. For voice,
eye, action, and expression, no actor has come out for many years
at all equal to him. The applause from the first scene to the
last, was general, loud, and uninterrupted. Indeed, the very
first scene in which he comes on with Bassanio and Antonio, showed
the master of his art, and at once decided the opinion of the
audience. Perhaps it was the most perfect of any. Notwithstanding
the complete success of Mr. Kean in the part of Shylock, we question
whether he will not become a greater favourite in other parts.
There was a lightness and vigour in his tread, a buoyancy and
elasticity of spirit, a fire and animation, which would accord
better with almost any other character than with the morose,
sullen, inward, inveterate, inflexible malignity of Shylock.
The character of Shylock is that of a man brooding over one idea,
that of its wrongs, and bent on one unalterable purpose, that
of revenge. In conveying a profound impression of this feeling,
or in embodying the general conception of rigid and uncontrollable
self-will, equally proof against every sentiment of humanity
or prejudice of opinion, we have seen actors more successful
than Mr. Kean; but in giving effect to the conflict of passions
arising out of the contrasts of situation, in varied vehemence
of declamation, in keenness of sarcasm, in the rapidity of his
transitions from one tone and feeling to another, in propriety
and novelty of action, presenting a succession of striking pictures,
and giving perpetually fresh shocks of delight and surprise,
it would be difficult to single out a competitor. The fault of
his acting was (if we may hazard the objection), an over-display
of the resources of the art, which gave too much relief to the
hard, impenetrable, dark groundwork of the character of Shylock.
It would be endless to point out individual beauties, where almost
every passage was received with equal and deserved applause.
We thought in one or two instances, the pauses in the voice were
too long, and too great a reliance placed on the expression of
the countenance, which is a language intelligible only to part
of the house.
The rest of the play was, upon the whole,
very respectably cast. It would be an equivocal compliment to
say of Miss [Sarah] Smith, that her acting often reminds us of
Mrs. Siddons. Rae played Bassanio; but the abrupt and harsh tones
of his voice are not well adapted to the mellifluous cadences
of Shakespeare's verse.
MR. KEAN appeared again in Shylock, and
by his admirable and expressive manner of giving the part, fully
sustained the reputation he had acquired by his former representation
of it, though he laboured under the disadvantage of considerable
hoarseness. He assumed a greater appearance of age and feebleness
than on the first night, but the general merit of his playing
was the same. His style of acting is, if we may use the expression,
more significant, more pregnant with meaning, more varied and
alive in every part, than any we have almost ever witnessed.
The character never stands still; there is no vacant pause in
the action; the eye is never silent. For depth and force of conception,
we have seen actors whom we should prefer to Mr. Kean in Shylock;
for brilliant and masterly execution, none. It is not saying
too much of him, though it is saying a great deal, that he has
all that Mr. Kemble wants of perfection. He reminds us
of the descriptions of the "far-darting eye" of Garrick.
We are anxious to see him in Norval and Richard, and anticipate
more complete satisfaction from his performance of the latter
part, than from the one in which he has already stamped his reputation
with the public.
Miss Smith played Portia with much more
animation than the last time we saw her, and in delivering the
fine apostrophe on Mercy, in the trial-scene, was highly impressive.
This article is reprinted
from A View of the English Stage. William Hazlitt. London:
George Bell and Sons, 1906. pp. 1-3.
- Players Who Died Acting
- Famous actors who received their last call before the footlights;
includes an account of Kean's death.
- Queer Superstitions of Theatre-Land - An analysis of some of the more peculiar superstitions
associated with the theatre; describes how Mr. Kean had
the remains of another great actor, George Frederick Cooke, re-interred
in order to appropriate one of the toe-bones of the actor, which
he preserved for many years as a talisman.
- Purchase books about Edmund Kean