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Alfred Wigan: Victorian Realist

  • David Rinear
Extract

Considerations of developing realistic acting styles on the English stage between the debut of Macready in 1817 and the triumph of Fechter in 1860 usually focus their attention on Macready, Charles Kean, and Phelps. Although these three men differed significantly in their approaches to acting, their styles shared in common a romantic goal that René Wellek attributes to Coleridge: “to domesticate the wonderful.” The means of attaining this goal varied. Macready relied on developing the audience's appreciation of his conscious artifice at playing domesticated points. He was, consequently, less realistic than Phelps and Kean, who were primarily concerned with trying to make an audience feel what they believed their characters felt. This concern with transmitting character feeling is compatible with Kean's excellence at gentlemanly melodrama and Phelps' ability at playing the pathetic elements in comic characters.

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Notes

1 Wellek, René and Warren, Austin, A Theory of Literature (New York, 1942), p. 242.

2 Allen, Shirley, Samuel Phelps and The Sadler's Wells Theatre (Middletown, Conn., 1969), p. 167.

3 Watson, Ernest Bradlee, Sheridan to Robertson: A Study of The Nineteenth Century London Stage (Cambridge, Mass., 1926), p. 322.

4 Ibid., and Duerr, Edwin, The Length and Depth of Acting (New York, 1962), p. 357.

5 Rowell, George, The Victorian Theatre (Oxford, 1956), p. 26.

6 Macready, William Charles, Reminiscences, Diaries, and Letters, ed. Pollock, F. (New York, 1875), p. 130.

7 Toynbee, William, ed., The Diaries of William Charles Macready, 2 vols. (London, 1912), I, 107.

8 Lewes, George Henry, On Actors and The Art of Acting 2 vols. in one (New York, n.d.), I, 64.

10 See Favorini, Attilio, “The Last Tragedian: Robert B. Mantell and The American Theatre” (diss., Yale, 1969), pp. 6566.

11 See obituary from the New York Spirit of The Times quoted in ibid., and Brown, Eluned, ed., The London Theatre, 1811–1866: Selections From The Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson (London, 1966), p. 150.

12 Marston, J.Westland, Our Recent Actors, 2 vols. (London, 1888), II, 160.

13 Coleman, John, Players and Playwrights I Have Known, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1890), I, 233, states: “Elegant, accomplished, finished as he was in everything he touched, he was always, or nearly always, Charles Mathews.” Marston is of the same opinion: “Generally, Mr. Mathews imparted a good deal of his own personality into his various assumptions” (II, 160). Lewes goes even further in stating: “I now see, in retrospect, that it was the charm of the man rather than any peculiar talent in the actor which carried him so successfully.…” (I, 76).

14 The only twentieth century considerations of Wigan are contained in Downer's, Alan S.Players and the Painted Stage: Nineteenth Century Acting,” PMLA, LI (1946), 557558, and Watson, p. 371.

15 DNB, XXI, 188.

16 Athenaeum, 12 February 1842, p. 150: “Mr. Wigan looks and speaks the part of a French valet to the life.”

17 Ibid., 17 September 1842, p. 822.

18 Times, 4 October 1847, p. 5.

19 Athenaeum, 15 July 1848, p. 708.

20 Times, 13 July 1848, p. 4.

21 Spectator, 6 January 1849, p. 6.

22 Athenaeum, 3 November 1849, p. 1350.

23 Times, 25 October 1854, p. 9.

24 Ibid., 16 May 1855, p. 9.

25 Saturday Review, XII (1861), 560: “It is quite possible that the artist [Wigan] in his extreme anxiety to avoid caricature, may glide into the opposite extreme of missing character altogether.… ”

26 Daily Telegraph, 24 December 1860.

27 See, e. g., Coleman, I, 269.

28 Athenaeum, 18 November 1848, p. 1155.

29 Times, 13 November 1848, p. 4.

30 Athenaeum, 6 January 1849, p. 18.

31 Ibid., 5 October 1850, p. 1051.

32 Ibid., 8 February 1851, p. 171.

33 Ibid., 29 November 1851, p. 1259.

34 Athenaeum, 14 February 1852, p. 259.

35 Coleman, II, 478.

36 Athenaeum, 15 May 1852, p. 554.

37 Morley, Henry, The Journal of a Victorian Playgoer from 1851 to 1866 (London, 1891), p. 223.

38 Coleman, I, 274.

39 Marston, II, 269.

40 Times, 18 October 1853, p. 4.

41 See advertisement in Times, 17 October 1853.

42 Theatrical Journal, XIV (14 12 1853), p. 395.

43 Times, 27 December 1853, p. 10.

44 Season derived from advertisements in the Times.

45 See as an instance Athenaeum, 21 October 1854, p. 1269.

46 Nicoll, Allardyce, A History of English Drama 1660–1900, 5 vols. 2nd edition (Cambridge, 1959), IV, 47.

47 Times, 25 October 1854, p. 9.

48 Athenaeum, 1 August 1857, p. 980.

49 Coleman, II, 21.

50 Houghton, Walter E., The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830–1870 (New Haven, 1957), p. 155; see also, p. 184 .

51 Spectator, 6 January 1849, p. 6.

52 Himmelfarb, Gertrude, Victorian Minds (New York, 1968), p. 289.—Subsequently, the aristocratic and lower classes embraced the ideals developed by the middle class and transformed them into national political policies. See Himmelfarb, p. 277 and Houghton, p. 5.

53 Times, 25 October 1854, p. 9.

54 Houghton, p. 190.

* David Rinear is Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Theatre Survey
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