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Ruskin, the Theatre and Victorian Visual Culture
Also by Jeffrey Richards HOLLYWOOD’S ANCIENT WORLDS SIR HENRY IRVING: A VICTORIAN ACTOR AND HIS WORLD A NIGHT TO REMEMBER: The Definitive Titanic Film IMPERIALISM AND MUSIC DIANA: The Making of a Media Saint (edited with S. Wilson & L. Woodhead) THE UNKNOWN 1930S: An Alternative History of British Cinema (editor) UNEASY CHAIRS: Life as a Professor (editor) FILMING T.E. LAWRENCE: Korda’s Lost Epic (edited with A. Kelly & J. Pepper) Also by Katherine Newey WOMEN’S THEATRE WRITING IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN Also by Anselm Heinrich ENTERTAINMENT, EDUCATION, PROPAGANDA: Regional Theatre in Germany and Britain between 1918 and 1945
Ruskin, the Theatre and Victorian Visual Culture Edited by
Anselm Heinrich, Katherine Newey and
Editorial matter and selection © Anselm Heinrich, Katherine Newey & Jeffrey Richards 2009 Chapters © individual contributors 2009 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. The authors has asserted their rights to be identified as the authors of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. First published 2009 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN Palgrave Macmillan in the UK is an imprint of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS. Palgrave Macmillan in the US is a division of St Martin's Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries. ISBN-13: 978–0–230–20059–3 hardback ISBN-10: 0–230–20059–1 hardback This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources. Logging, pulping and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 09 Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne
Contents List of Tables and Figures
Notes on Contributors
Speaking Pictures: The Victorian Stage and Visual Culture Katherine Newey Part I
Ruskin and the Theatre
1. John Ruskin, The Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage Jeffrey Richards 2.
Ruskin at the Savoy: The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas as Indications of the Victorian Popular Reception of Ruskin J. A. Hilton
3. Ruskinian Moral Authority and Theatre’s Ideal Woman Rachel Dickinson
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’ Andrew Leng
5. Ruskin and the National Theatre Anselm Heinrich 6. The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière Andrew Tate Part II 7.
The Theatre and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and the Repertoire of a Popular Theatre Janice Norwood
8. Supernumeraries: Decorating the Late-Victorian Stage with Lots (& Lots & Lots) of Live Bodies David Mayer
9. ‘A truer peep at Old Venice’: The Merchant of Venice on the Victorian Stage Richard Foulkes 10. The Photographic Portraiture of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry Shearer West 11.
‘Auntie, can you do that?’ or ‘Ibsen in Brixton’: Representing the Victorian Stage through Cartoon and Caricature Jim Davis
Tables and Figures
Tables 7.1 7.2
Hazlewood melodramas of the 1860s with links to popular culture 1897 programme at the Britannia Theatre
Figures 2.1 Patience. Contemporary drawing of the first production 4.1 Photograph of Filippo Lippi’s ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ (‘The Maringhi Coronation’). Presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875. Reproduced by permission of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford 7.1 Characters of Marcus Superbus and Mercia from Wilson Barrett’s The Sign of the Cross Left Algernon Syms as Marcus in the Britannia’s production of September 1897. Middle and right Wilson Barrett as Marcus Superbus and Maud Jeffries as Mercia in the play’s original production at the Lyric, Theatre January 1896 9.1 The Ducal Palace from The Stones of Venice 9.2 The Ducal Palace reproduced by kind permission from Venice The Rough Guide 9.3 E. W. Godwin’s design for the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice from The Masque 10.1 Portraits of Henry Irving from Mortimer Menpes, Henry Irving, 1906 10.2 John Singer Sargent, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889, copyright Tate, London 2008 10.3 Bernard Partridge, Irving and Terry in Macbeth from Souvenir of Macbeth produced at the Lyceum Theatre, December 29, 1888, and Souvenir of Becket by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, first presented at the Lyceum Theatre, 6 February 1893, Special Collections, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham vii
145 174 175 181 192 194
Tables and Figures
11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6
Photographs of Ellen Terry from Souvenir Programme Given by the Theatrical and Musical Professions as a Tribute to Mrs. Ellen Terry on the Occasion of her Jubilee Tuesday Afternoon June 12th, 1906, Special Collections, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham Henry Irving in 1866, from Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: The Actor and his World, 1951, with kind permission of John Irving Henry Irving as Mathias in The Bells, photograph from London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, 1872, National Portrait Gallery, London Julia Margaret Cameron, photograph of Ellen Terry at age 17, National Trust, Smallhythe, 1863, copyright NTPL/John Hammond Henry Irving and Bram Stoker at the stage door of the Lyceum, from Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: The Actor and his World, 1951, with kind permission of John Irving Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, photograph by William Henry Grove, published by Window and Grove, platinum print, 1888, published 1906, National Portrait Gallery, London Henry Irving, photographed by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, 1870, National Portrait Gallery, London Photograph of George Bernard Shaw, by Frederick Henry Evans, platinum print, 1896, National Portrait Gallery, London ‘Mr and Mrs Charles Kean in Macbeth & Othello’, Supplement to The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 18 September 1875 George Cruikshank, ‘Alas, poor Ghost!’, illustration from George Raymond, The Life and Enterprises of Robert William Elliston, Comedian (London: G. Routledge & Co, 1857) ‘The Stalls and the Stage’, Judy, 10 February, 1869 ‘The Ballet Corps’, Judy, 17 March, 1869 ‘The Pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Manchester’, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 2 February, 1884 ‘Her New Hat’, Judy, 19 January, 1887
222 226 227 228 229
Tables and Figures ix 11.7 ‘Ibsen in Brixton’ from Mr Punch at the Play n.d. 11.8 ‘A Disenchantment’ from Mr Punch at the Play n.d. 11.9 ‘Auntie, can you do that?’ from Mr Punch at the Play n.d. 11.10 AB, ‘Mr J. L. Toole as Paul Pry’ 11.11 ‘The Westminster Pantomime’, Judy, 6 January 1869 11.12 ‘Collapse of “Corner Men” ’ (1890), Pictures from Punch (undated), IV, 219
230 231 232 234 236 237
Acknowledgements This book comes out of the project ‘Ruskinian Theatre: The Aesthetics of the late Nineteenth Century Popular London Stage, 1870–1901’ developed at Lancaster University under the auspices of the Ruskin Programme, and generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, 2004–2008. The Editors would like to thank the AHRC, the members of the Ruskin Seminar, and particularly Professors Keith Hanley and Stephen Wildman. Dr Peter Yeandle’s assistance in the project overall has been invaluable, and Professor Sharon Aronofsky Weltman has offered sterling support of our work. Katherine Newey’s research was also supported by a Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC. We would also like to thank Paula Kennedy and Steven Hall at Palgrave Macmillan for their guidance throughout the publication process. This volume of essays originated from one of the three annual colloquia we held as part of the Ruskinian Theatre project, and is testament to the generosity of intellectual exchange we have enjoyed in the project; we thank all our colloquium contributors for helping us to explore this fascinating area. A NSELM HEINRICH, K ATHERINE NEWEY, JEFFREY R ICHARDS
Notes on Contributors Jim Davis is Professor of Theatre Studies and Head of the School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick. He has published widely on nineteenth-century theatre and is the co-author (with Victor Emeljanow) of Reflecting the Audience: London Theatre-going 1840–1880. Current research interests include the iconography of English comic performance, Victorian pantomime and English actors in Australia. Dr Rachel Dickinson is a Senior Lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University Cheshire. Prior to this appointment, she had been the AHRC Research Associate on the three-year ‘John Ruskin, Cultural Travel and Popular Access’ project based at Lancaster University’s Ruskin Centre. She has co-edited Ruskin’s Struggle for Coherence: Self-Representation through Art, Place and Society with Keith Hanley (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2006) and her edition of John Ruskin’s Correspondence with Joan Severn: Sense and Nonsense Letters is published with Legenda (2008). Richard Foulkes is Professor of Theatre History at the University of Leicester. His publications include Church and Stage in Victorian England (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Performing Shakespeare in the Age of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2002) and Lewis Carroll and the Victorian Stage: Theatricals in a Quiet Life (Ashgate, 2005) He has edited a book of essays on Henry Irving and is responsible for the Macready volume in Pickering and Chatto’s Shakespearean Actors series. He is General Editor of Publications for the Society for Theatre Research. Dr Anselm Heinrich is a Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow. Prior to this appointment, he had been the AHRC Research Associate on the ‘Ruskinian Theatre. The Aesthetics of the Late Nineteenth-Century Popular London Stage, 1870–1901’ project based at Lancaster University. He is the author of Entertainment, Education, Propaganda. Regional Theatres in Germany and Britain Between 1918 and 1945 (University of Hertfordshire Press/Society for Theatre Research, 2007). Current research interests include theatre émigrés from Nazioccupied Europe, contemporary German theatre and drama, and national theatres. xi
xii Notes on Contributors
J. A. Hilton, is an independent scholar. He has written articles on Ruskin for the Ruskin Review and Bulletin, The Friends of Ruskin’s Brantwood Newsletter, and Recusant History, and his publications also include Ruskin’s Rome (Portico Library, 2005) and The Artifice of Eternity: The Byzantine-Romanesque Revival in Catholic Lancashire (North West Catholic History Society, 2008). Dr Janice Norwood is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research interests focus on nineteenth-century drama, especially that of the minor London theatres. She has published work on Wilkie Collins and has forthcoming essays on Victorian pantomime, the dramatist C. H. Hazlewood and nineteenth-century productions of Shakespeare. Dr Andrew Leng teaches interdisciplinary arts courses at the National University of Singapore. His recent article, ‘Ruskin’s Rewriting of Darwin: Modern Painters 5 and “The Origin of Wood” ’ Prose Studies 30.1 (April 2008), presents the important discovery that the last volume of Modern Painters (1860) is the first book to respond to Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859). Currently he is researching the matrix of connections between Ruskin’s art criticism and his activities as a patron of the ‘modern painters’. David Mayer, Emeritus Professor of Drama and Research Professor at the , has published extensively on British and American popular entertainment – in particular on the topics of melodrama and pantomime. His books include Harlequin in his Element: English Pantomime, 1806–1836 (Harvard University Press, 1969), Henry Irving and ‘The Bells’ (Manchester University Press, 1984), Playing Out the Empire: Ben-Hur and Other Toga Plays and Films (Clarendon Press, 1994). His recent writings explore the interstices between the late-Victorian stage and early motion pictures. His Stagestruck Filmmaker: D.W. Griffith and the American Theatre is forthcoming (2009) from the University of Iowa Press. Katherine Newey is Professor of Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. She has published widely on nineteenth century theatre, and women’s writing, including Women’s Theatre Writing in Victorian Britain (Palgrave, 2005). Jeffrey Richards, Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University, has published widely on different aspects of Victorian culture. His most recent publications include Imperialism and Music (Manchester University Press, 2001), Sir Henry Irving: A Victorian Actor and His World (Hambledon and London, 2005) and Hollywood’s Ancient Worlds (Continuum, 2008).
Notes on Contributors xiii
Dr Andrew Tate is Senior Lecturer in English Literature in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University. He is the author of Douglas Coupland (Manchester University Press, 2007), Contemporary Fiction and Christianity (Continuum, 2008) and a number of articles and book chapters on Victorian literature and culture. Shearer West is Professor of Art History at the University of Birmingham. Her most recent publications include The Visual Arts in Germany 1890– 1937: Utopia and Despair (Manchester University Press, 2000) and Portraiture (Oxford University Press, 2004). She is currently writing a book on laughter and British art, and a series of articles on art, theatre and comedy in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British culture.
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Speaking Pictures: The Victorian Stage and Visual Culture Katherine Newey
John Ruskin’s reading of Holman Hunt’s 1854 painting, ‘The Awakening Conscience’ is typical of the Victorian desire to read painting for its narrative: I suppose that no one possessing the slightest knowledge of expression could remain untouched by the countenance of the lost girl, rent from its beauty into sudden horror; the lips half open, indistinct in their purple quivering; the teeth set hard; the eyes filled with the fearful light of futurity, and with tears of ancient days. [...] There is not a single object in all that room—common, modern, vulgar [...], but it becomes tragical, if rightly read.1 Narrative, of course, is a description of movement through time, the two things paintings cannot show. Conversely, paintings and performance can ‘show’ in ways that narrative can only ‘tell.’ Ruskin’s combination of two kinds of critical language here indicates a reception practice that dominates the mid-Victorian period. The desire to push against the boundaries of genre is perhaps never so clear as in the aesthetic practice of producing paintings as frozen moments of narrative, concomitant with the widespread practice of ‘reading’ paintings. In both artistic practice and critical reception, the limits of different media of representation are repeatedly challenged. Ruskin’s translation here of the two dimensions of visual art into the four dimensions of plastic form, of bodies moving through space and time, converts the painting into something like a theatrical performance. And it is not simply a tableau: Ruskin translates the painting into a miniature play of Aristotelian dramaturgy, where character and thought are shown through action, taking for granted that unique 1
2 Katherine Newey
quality of performance, its ability to show, as well as tell. Importantly, the ‘play’ is a moral tale, the painting recording a moment of revelation, of enlightenment, set in a quotidian, domestic setting, rendered with careful attention to realistic detail. The domestic detail of the scene contributes to the profundity of the young woman’s realization of her moral peril, and the depravity of the man’s character. That such ‘great reckonings in little rooms’ happened was a common assumption in Victorian popular theatre, painting, and fiction. It seems to have been the necessary balancing impetus to the intellectual reach of epic historical writing, and the grandeur of history painting. This combination of intense moral revelation and ordinariness was the English version of the melodramatic. In discussing Ruskin’s reading of ‘The Awakening Conscience,’ Kate Flint comments on Victorian practices of reading paintings, focussing on what it means to ‘read rightly.’2 Flint invokes Stefan Morawski’s contention that this type of reading of one genre into another – the conversion of a visual image to a narrative – occurs when ‘the boundaries between it [art] and other forms of social consciousness become vague.’3 While Flint argues that Ruskin’s detailed reading can appear to close off other readings and meanings, the recognition of such porousness between word and image offers other broader cultural insights about Victorian practices of reading and spectatorship, rather than simply cutting off other interpretations.4 As Flint remarks later in The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, ‘opposition to this mode of explication came from those – both artists and writers on art – who wished to fracture the bonds between verbal and visual languages, asserting the relative autonomy of the latter.’5 Yet such opposition was literally drowned out in this period, in both critical and popular appreciation of narrative in art, and painting in the theatre; and by the density and ubiquity of narrative and visual communication in the burgeoning Victorian commodity culture. What are the ideological and aesthetic implications of Ruskin’s use of the word ‘tragical’ and the extrapolation of action he describes? For Ruskin’s critical theory was resolutely concerned in articulating the ideological within the aesthetic: seeing ‘rightly’ was seeing morally, and what people liked was what people were. Ruskin expounded this view most directly in his extraordinary address to the unwitting burghers of Bradford in 1864, ‘Traffic.’ Ruskin tells his audience that: Taste is not only a part and an index of morality; – it is the ONLY morality. The first, and last, and closest trial, question to any living
Speaking Pictures: The Victorian Stage and Visual Culture
creature is, ‘What do you like?’ Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what you are. [...] And the entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things: – not merely industrious, but to love industry—not merely learned, but to love knowledge – not merely pure, but to love purity – not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.6 While Ruskin’s use of a theatrical metaphor is foregrounded by my critical focus here, it is worth remembering, or re-remembering, just how pervasive was the Victorian practice of ‘reading’ paintings through the frameworks of theatre and performance – perhaps so pervasive that we overlook it. Foregrounded thus, we might want to note that even that most canonical and sage-like thinker Ruskin uses a theatrical metaphor as a matter of course. His appreciation of that moment when the moral tectonic plates of the young woman’s world shift in dramatic and theatrical terms is an acknowledgement of the communicative and representational practices of the theatre of his day. And although Ruskin uses the word ‘tragical’ for his explanation of the moment, I also find evidence here of Ruskin’s investment in the structure of feelings of the melodramatic mode. His description of the painting offers an explication of the radical opposition between good and evil which has been posited as the mind set of the nineteenth century.7 Considering Ruskin in this context is to consider Ruskin in a new light – or perhaps to add another element to his reputation as one of the period’s most polymathic thinkers – which connects the practices of painting and art criticism with the aesthetics of the mainstream stage of the period. One consequence of that critical move is to draw our attention to the nature of the marketplace, and Ruskin’s connections to it. Although such a consideration is not the chief aim of this essay, nor the volume as a whole, it is worth noting that, as Brian Maidment has pointed out, in spite of his wealth and class affiliations, Ruskin was very involved in ‘Victorian popular literary discourse’ and throughout his career exhibited a ‘sharp awareness of the range of contemporary literary audiences and their pressure on readership, form and style.’8 To move from one painting to speak of the dramaturgy of the nineteenth century theatre is to note how the theatre itself draws from the mode of representation typified in Hunt’s painting, and Ruskin’s reading of it. Victorian theatre – particularly melodrama – relied greatly on the creation of ‘telling’ scenes and ‘speaking pictures’ in its creation of arresting and interesting situations.9 These situations are emphasized through the creation of stage tableaux, where actions and attitudes are
4 Katherine Newey
frozen to realize three-dimensional ‘paintings’ or ‘realizations.’ Martin Meisel notes how this dramaturgical practice moves from the transitive to the intransitive: from the emphasis on units of action to the emphasis on pictures, and moments of stasis.10 Such stage pictures play a dual role: they are of interest in themselves as theatrical events quite independent of the immediate action of the plot, as they produce the sensation of novelty, and, in the case of the realization of already familiar images from the visual arts, introduce an extra-theatrical dimension to the play. Secondly, as briefly frozen images of the action of the play, they strategically highlight elements of each play. Such artful pauses in the action raise the critical issue of the combination of modes of representation within one genre. The change of mode of representation involved in the creation of a tableau also involves a change in the mode of audience reception, and calls on the spectatorial ability to recognize such shifts, and to incorporate these two modes of performance and spectating into one experience of the play as a whole. In this way, we can begin to see the nineteenth century theatre as an important site for a synthesis of all the arts, with its combination of speech and gesture, visual and oral signals, cerebral and plastic communication. Late in the century, Henry Neville articulated what had been a guiding principle for dramatists, actors, and managers throughout the period: Painting and sculpture embody impressions of simultaneous action and effect only; but acting gives us the succession of events in vivid representation, accompanied with the power of language, and the exquisite changes of feature, rapidity of action, delicate bye-play, and the power of the eye which has a special poetry of its own that touches our tenderest sensibilities – all of which are entirely lost in painting and sculpture.11 Such formulations as Neville’s constitute a Victorian reworking of the theory of ut pictura poesis, extending the theory to incorporate the ideals of theatrical performance, and necessitating a modification to the claim that the doctrine is on the decline in the nineteenth century.12 The negation of the validity of the principle of ut pictura poesis in the eighteenth century constitutes an ideological emphasis on the separation of the word and the image, when theorists such as Gotthold Lessing and William Burke, which, as W. J. T. Mitchell argues ‘treat the image as the sign of the racial, social, and sexual other, an object of both fear and contempt ... [and] a site of special power that must either
Speaking Pictures: The Victorian Stage and Visual Culture
be contained or exploited.’13 ‘Iconology’ is the term Mitchell uses to describe the challenges to classicist and academical strategies of separating the word and the image, and a useful reminder of the long history of dialectical movements between the verbal and the visual. Thus the consistent breaking down of generic distinctions in the nineteenth century is, as Neville’s essay exemplifies, part of the radical re-ordering of aesthetics and epistemology which began with the Romantic movement. The convergence and interpenetration of art forms in this period, demonstrated so clearly in melodrama, is a feature of the gradual breaking down of traditional generic boundaries and hierarchical structures in the arts.14 The tendency of this dissolution was to democratize the arts, a process which can be seen as a continuation of the general cultural and political transformation of English society in the first half of the nineteenth century. In the case of the theatre, the reworking is at a popular, demotic level, where intellectual aestheticism is replaced by the extremities of sensation and emotional appeal. The general interest in the combination of word and picture on the nineteenth century stage is suggestive, not only of an interest in novelty and sensation (in both senses), but of a great confidence in the theatrical medium itself. Contrary to the critical doctrine of the ‘decline of the drama’ which emerged at various points throughout the century – most notably in the 1820s and 30s, and again in the 1880s – those working in the mainstream theatre (what we might now call the commercial West End) expressed great confidence in the almost infinite capacity of the stage as an effective means of representation and communication, and its capacity to absorb and incorporate all other art forms. In this light, the exploitation of other art forms is especially significant in reading the cultural and political significance of the theatre. In contrast to the theories of decorum of genre of the eighteenth century,15 the stage in the nineteenth century broke such proprieties and divisions, and in a parallel to Mitchell’s reading of ekphrastic poetry, suggests a confidence in the powers of the medium to express everything, without becoming overwhelmed. Lessing’s Dramaturgie, and his insistence on the separation of word and image, in an acknowledgement of aesthetic decorum, and the academical approach to the hierarchies of painting, all developed in the eighteenth century, are swept away in the explosion of visual culture and its related economies of consumption and commodity of the 1820s, and unfolding throughout the century. For the practitioners of the nineteenth century popular stage, the image did not constitute ‘the Other,’16 but was another device with which to tell a story; not an invader into the integrity of the word, but a device to assist in the greater exploitation of the power
6 Katherine Newey
of the word. In Victorian dramaturgy the conscious and deliberate use of specific visual effects is emphasized, and made part of the experience of spectatorship itself. In the last 20 years, there has been a confluence of scholarly thinking about ways of seeing, the visual imagination, and Victorian visual practices, in relation to other cultural forms such as the novel, poetry, the environment, and science. This new work is linked with studies of the cultures and practices of commodity and consumption in the late Victorian period. The two seem to be intimately – maybe necessarily linked – throughout the century, as modernizing and democratizing cultural forces. Scholars of Victorian culture have come to see the visual in the nineteenth century as a dominating force, in both aesthetic philosophies and everyday lived practices. These insights are no doubt partly in response to our own contemporary sense of living in an extraordinarily powerful visual culture, and our regard for the visual as an index of modernity, yet they also ponder the meanings of the material record of a period Jonathan Smith has recently labelled as ‘relentlessly, explosively visual.’17 What might it mean, then, to think of the Victorian theatre existing not just in parallel to the visual arts, but as a cultural product which is part of this modernizing visual culture? What is at stake, for thinking about the role and place of the theatre in Victorian culture? For the theatre, such a focus can be a liberation from the reductive tyranny of the written text. It shifts the focus to seeing, observing, and a consideration of spectatorship in more general terms. Theatre and performance offered a way of seeing whole, and satisfying the desire to transfer spectatorial experience and affect (often marked as sensational) across aesthetic boundaries and genres. The ethics of such spectatorial practices were, however, the subject of anxious debate throughout the period. While Michael Booth argues that ‘Looking at the world through the medium of pictures [...] became a habit’ in the nineteenth century, he also traces the opposition to the theatrical practice of spectacularism, citing Examiner of Plays, William Bodham Donne’s concern that ‘we are become, in all regards the theatre, a civil, similar, and impassive generation. To touch our imaginations, we need not the imaginatively true, but the physically real.’18 Theatre as visual culture foregrounds the materiality of performance, requiring a different relationship between the spectator and the art work; one based on tangible witness, perhaps, rather than recreation in the imagination. In his study of ‘theatrical historicism,’ Richard Schoch calls our attention to the implications of this approach for acting, contrasting the eighteenth century assumption
Speaking Pictures: The Victorian Stage and Visual Culture
that ‘face acting’ was suggestive of mental states to be inferred by spectators, with the mid-Victorian emphasis on liveness and corporeality to demonstrate feeling. In contrast to Donne’s anxieties about physical realism, Schoch traces the ways in which Charles Kean’s archaeological realism embedded within it powerful ideological statements about English national history, converging in ‘dynamic and popular conjunction to enact a collective model of nationhood and national identity.’19 Wielding the cultural capital of Shakespeare, the visual spectacularism of Kean’s productions was all the more empowered for their accuracy and authenticity. If the theatre is open to interpretation as a visual artefact, then its relation to Nature (in Ruskin’s terms) and realism (in the more humdrum usages of popular culture) is foregrounded. Looking at theatre this way brings us back to one of the central aesthetic debates of the nineteenth century – about the representation of reality, and the relationship of art to truth. Its intricacies cannot be argued here, but its contours, as they affected theatrical aesthetics and practices, offer some food for further thought. In popular culture, the claims of art and entertainment to truthfulness and authenticity became part of the claims to cultural capital and significance in the face of ideologicallybased judgements of aesthetic and moral degradation. In the oppositional and avant-garde work of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the challenges they made to entrenched artistic hierarchies, truth to nature was also a key to respectability and aesthetic value. Famously, Ruskin exhorted young painters to go to Nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and remember her instruction; rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and rejoicing always in the truth.20 This statement has been cited as a direct inspiration for the PreRaphaelite approach to subject choice, composition, and colour, while their challenge to the established conventions and art hierarchies is in sympathy with Ruskin’s art critical voice of the 1840s and 50s. Paul Barlow cautions us, however, that for Ruskin ‘nature inevitably supersedes the grasp of any artist [...]. The relationship between the ultimately incomprehensible natural world and the activity of the artist is never definitively established.’ Barlow goes on to argue that Ruskinian ideals of truth to nature ‘may be said to concern the inevitable failure of a norm of representation to comprehend that which, by definition, lies
8 Katherine Newey
beyond it.’21 Yet the driving force of Pre-Raphaelite art, and the dominant narrative of the theatre in the latter decades of the nineteenth century was indeed to capture the real on the canvas or the stage. Such ambitions – however doomed to failure – drove Pre-Raphaelite artists out of the studio, to paint their canvas landscapes in the physical landscapes which were their subjects; a similar cultural quest for authenticity and the real, drove theatre managers to bring the world into the theatre. While Charles Dickens parodied the fashion for the real, in Mr Crummles’ ‘practicable pump’ which Nicholas must somehow wedge into his play in Nicholas Nickleby, the practice of performing authenticity was embedded deep in Victorian popular culture, and the power of authenticity, or the ‘real’ is hard to underestimate. To return to what I find poignant in ‘The Awakening Conscience’ and Ruskin’s response to it: what is powerful is the attempt by both artist and critic to defy the apparent limitations of the flat canvas. There is a before and an after crammed into this painting, and it is this temporal dimension which gives meaning to the moment captured as much as the two dimensional representation of the situation. In the light of Hunt’s and Ruskin’s attempts to defy the limits of the canvas, and Barlow’s reminder of the inevitability that meaning and representation can never be contained within any structure or genre, I find myself musing on more theoretical lines about failure. Failure seems to be implicit in the desire to transcend the limitations of each medium, and to meld it with other media and other genres – in the theatre, in painting, in sculpture, in tableau, in Poses Plastique. Failure is inscribed in the tendency for the event, the action, or the image to never be quite transcendent enough, and for artists’ desires to be thwarted. What is it that those involved in the cultural production of representation kept on trying to get at? Even when they attempted the generically impossible? In Realizations, that magisterial and important work on the Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in the Nineteenth Century, Martin Meisel argues that nineteenth century culture is characterized by powerful conjunctions between visual, fictional and dramatic ways of seeing and telling stories. He points particularly to the ways that stage metaphors and frameworks were imbricated in the very composition, structure, and ‘structure of feelings’ of other genres and media. Meisel traces a cross- and inter-disciplinary aesthetic particularly related to melodrama, and the historical epic in Victorian ‘realizations’ of narrative in the visual, literary and theatrical arts. However, his trajectory is one which maps the tendency of Victorian realism, by the end of the century, to be rendered and valued mainly as the internalized psychologized
Speaking Pictures: The Victorian Stage and Visual Culture
representation of individual subjectivity, expressed through texts and sub-texts. This is a familiar historiographical narrative, which has operated powerfully to close off other histories. Meisel sees the aesthetic practices of realization at the end of the nineteenth century inevitably looking forward to narrative film, in a replay of Nicholas Vardac’s argument about the inevitable replacement of theatre by film as the popular medium and powerful aesthetic force in the twentieth century.22 Vardac’s history is a replay of the more general historiographic narrative of Modernism, which characterizes late nineteenth century culture as a worked out and exhausted aesthetic, ripe for both technological and aesthetic revolution.23 The essays in this volume are all concerned with exploring the intersections of Ruskin, the word, and the image with the locus of the theatre and the real or imagined dramatic space which vivifies late Victorian modes of expression. To a greater or lesser extent, these explorations challenge conventional theatre and art historic narratives, through the new knowledge they offer us, or the ways in which they bring previously disconnected ideas and materials together. It is a feature of work in this area that the boundaries between high and popular culture, and between the aesthetic and the material, are challenged, and the borders broached, in order to tell a more nuanced story of the interrelationships between theatre and the visual arts. Thinking of the theatre as part of visual culture opens up some different possibilities for stories to be told about the role of theatre in modernity – and not just the theatre of Realism or Naturalism; of Ibsen or Stanislavski or Antoine – but the popular theatre in its multifarious forms, which we encounter in the following essays. Modernity emerges in Britain a lot earlier than is generally thought, as does the framework of a consumption and commodity culture. By the late nineteenth century, technological changes (in photography and film particularly) together with developments in mass culture noted by Jon Klancher and Kevin Gilmartin from the 1820s,24 combine to create a recognisably modern world of mass communication. The arts are part of a complex web of communications which circulate plots between individual art works, and across boundaries of genre, translate aesthetic vocabularies from one medium to another, and remind us of the vitality of what is called the culture of capitalism. In thinking about the relationships between the theatre and the visual arts, the issue of mediation becomes central. Shearer West’s discussion of photography and actors’ portraits argues that ‘photography both reflected and redirected how people saw the world around
10 Katherine Newey
them [...] – early photography mediated vision, offering a selected, fragmented and bleached version of everyday life.’ (p. 230). As West argues, the growing use of a technology which could – apparently – offer a documentary record of the world, actually operates to foreground the constructed nature of vision. This move from vision to what (pace Jonathan Crary) is often referred to as ‘visuality’ is akin to the move from iconography to iconology which Christopher Balme argues for in the use of illustrative material by theatre historians more generally, in a discussion of what he calls the ‘referential dilemma.’25 This, Balme explains, is the set of questions involved in moving from theatre iconography to iconology. To move from iconography to iconology requires that we move from a consideration of the visual as simply another means to document or authenticate the theatrical event (iconography), to a critical analysis of visual material for its own ways of making meaning, and ideological status (iconology). As Jim Davis points out, the work of identifying the cultural and social impact of visual material in theatre history, and the study of what those materials can tell us about the theatre and the place of theatre in Victorian culture, has only just begun. Davis’ outline of what a study of caricature can offer gives us an insight into the rich resources of this area of iconography, and suggests that its mediation of the world of the theatre was a significant one, and one with which, like photography, it was crucial for performers to engage. The record of their responses to these forms of mediation of their images, their work, their personalities, is, as West and Davis show, a significant part of the theatre historical record, particularly in the instances of resistance (such as Irving’s) or embrace (such as Terry’s). For Ruskin, of course, the visual is never simply a documentary record, no matter what a literal reading of his advocacy of Nature as a school for artists might suggest. As Rachel Dickinson points out in her discussion of Ruskin’s celebration of the pantomime, for Ruskin, the theatre was a morally charged space, which enabled ‘true-seeing.’ (p. 78) Dickinson’s essay offers a pendant to the passage with which I open this introduction. ‘True-seeing’ is one of those most powerful, but frustrating Ruskinian terms, which suggest a clear and incisive insight, but which need to be understood within the broader context of Ruskin’s ethical pedagogy. In his engagement with theatre, and his publication of Fors Clavigera, Ruskin’s ‘true-seeing’ is a sympathetic attempt to bring art into everyday experience, and link the quotidian with the transcendental. Jeffrey Richards highlights this desire in his tracing of the combative relationship between the ‘Olympian’ painters and Ruskinian ethics and
Speaking Pictures: The Victorian Stage and Visual Culture
aesthetics. Richards’ essay discusses an interesting reversal of the fashion for realizing extant images on the stage, finding that painters sought opportunities to contribute to various performances precisely so that they could see their pictures brought to life. Richards’ focus on amateur dramatics sheds light on an almost unknown area of theatrical activity, the amateur stage, and identifies the considerable networks of cultural and social capital which connected ‘high art’ with economic capital. In a further explication of the extent of Ruskinian influence in this confluence of high art and theatrical activity, Richard Foulkes demonstrates the very real ways in which Ruskin’s Stones of Venice exerted its influences over scene painters, theatre managers, and performers alike. His detailed examination of the ways in which drama and painting are brought together on the stage under the auspices of Ruskin’s aesthetic code of ‘true-seeing’ offers direct evidence of the complex nature of influence and engagement in Victorian culture, as the ‘flurry of revivals’ of The Merchant of Venice (p. 210) inspired by the publication of Stones not only pay homage to Ruskin’s magisterial account, but also offer opportunities to set aright the picture of that city’s death and decay which formed Ruskin’s strongest theme throughout his three volumes. Charles Kean’s mid-century productions of The Merchant of Venice, with their combination of Shakespeare, Ruskin, and Kean’s scholarly approach, offered a formidable example of Ruskin’s ideal of the stage as a space of education. However, this combination was not simply the province of the ‘legitimate’ theatre: as Tony Hilton elucidates, the lively and topical Savoy operas show direct evidence of Ruskin’s influence, and Ruskin’s interventions in debates of the day. Like pantomime, the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are now almost ossified in their cultural positions as representative of a certain kind of cosy ‘Englishness’ as popular entertainments which shore up a national sense of a stable and homogeneous culture. Hilton unpicks the ways in which their humour and bonhomie home in on contemporary concerns (the education of women, the control of empire) and translate Ruskin for ‘Marie Lloyd’s boy in the gallery’ (p. 59). Anselm Heinrich’s essay, although approaching the Ruskinian influence in the theatre through institutional routes, traces this same focus on Englishness in the theatre, and reiterates the significance of theatre as a national institution. The ideals of the National Theatre as a place of education and edification, but also of rational amusement, are part of that uniquely Victorian interest in culture as an antidote to what Carlyle called ‘the cash nexus’ and which Ruskin expounded from 1858, as he moved from art criticism to what he argued was its broader application to social and economic theory.
12 Katherine Newey
While Heinrich shows how the founders of the National Theatre followed the route forged by the evangelists of the avant garde rather than the mainstream of commercial theatre with which Ruskin was engaged, Ruskinian influence is clearly delineated in the acceptance of amusement and education within the same national space. Our explorations of London theatre, Ruskin, and the visual arts keep us moving between these poles of commerce and education, popular and high culture, in much the same way as in lived experience. Andrew Leng, offering us his revisionist analysis of the troubled relationship between Ruskin and Robert Browning, argues that Ruskin’s acts of criticism – which make Ruskin an ‘ideal reader’ of Browning – ironically must also be read within the context of Ruskin’s own attempts to establish his career. According to Leng, Ruskin’s engagement with Browning’s innovative dramatic poetry ‘can be interpreted as a highstakes power struggle within a strategic group of bourgeois, metropolitan art-writers to determine whether the dramatic art-poetry of Browning and Rossetti – or Ruskin’s didactic and discursive art criticism – would be the pre-eminent mode of Victorian art-writing’ (p. 86). High stakes indeed, and a worldly sub-text to the script of Browning criticism which has hitherto not been analysed. Leng offers us a context for understanding Ruskin’s work which Ruskin may have preferred to have remained obscure – criticism should serve the high aim of ‘true-seeing,’ rather than the pragmatism of the literary market-place. In a related study of the anxiety of influence, Andrew Tate discusses Ruskin’s reading of Molière, ‘a strange and beguiling spectre in Ruskin studies’ hitherto unexplored. While the connections between Shakespeare and Ruskin are ubiquitous, Ruskin’s love of the comic playwright Molière is perhaps less obvious or explicable. But Tate argues that Ruskin finds in Molière a gentle representation of a pre-Revolutionary, aristocratic world: not the savage expression of the medieval Gothic developed in Stones of Venice, but the idea of a life lived and art practised ‘as a sanctuary set apart from the pressures of capitalist, industrialised life’ (p. 150). Ruskin’s ambivalent relationship to getting and spending is at one with his time, and is a cultural attitude that much later scholarship has adopted, rather than analysed. In the period before a subsidized National Theatre (such as that for which Molière wrote), as Anselm Heinrich argues, art and commerce were in a necessary but uneasy relationship. Yet the producers and consumers of popular culture for working-class Londoners did not exhibit such qualms as the literati who advocated a national theatre. Janice Norwood’s study of the Hoxton Britannia’s
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participation in the fashion for ‘telling scenes’, demonstrates the gusto with which realization was adopted throughout the Britannia’s history, the practice lasting longer than in theatres of the West End. As Norwood points out, while the connections between high art and prestigious theatrical productions of the West End have been well documented, the interaction between visual culture and popular theatre has been overlooked. This easy movement between image and action in the Britannia’s staging practices might counter Norwood’s somewhat elegiac concern for the eventual fate of the Britannia as a cinema; as David Mayer has commented elsewhere, there was a much stronger interconnection between both the aesthetic and industrial practices of the theatre and early film industries than some film and theatre historians have previously cared to admit. This consideration of both the aesthetics and the industrial practices of the theatre underpins Mayer’s trenchant critique of Ruskin’s idealization of the visual fantasies of the pantomime in this volume. Mayer draws our attention to the realities of the economic and industrial conditions of cultural production in the nineteenth century, suggesting that idealized aesthetic practices were fundamentally enabled by an unregulated area of employment, which, even at the end of the century, still shamed the profession in comparison to the working conditions in the manufacturing industries. And it is in this kind of work, where, in pursuit of a fuller account of our subject, we cross borders of scholarly discipline, taste, and habitus. We become engaged in a study of the tactics of a busy, voluble, multi-vocal profession of the theatre in an expanding visual culture in blurring those boundaries, long before ‘experimental’ or ‘avant garde’ art emerges, within the demotic, domestic, and industrial contexts of popular culture and entertainment.
Notes 1. John Ruskin, Letter to The Times, 25 May 1854, ‘The Pre-Raphaelite Artists,’ in E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., Library Edition. The Complete Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols. (London: George Allen, 1903–1912), vol. 12, p. 334. 2. Kate Flint, ‘Reading The Awakening Conscience Rightly’, in Marcia Pointon, ed., Pre-Raphaelites Re-Viewed (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), pp. 45–46. 3. Stefan Morawski, Inquiries into the Fundamentals of Aesthetics, cited in Flint, p. 51. 4. See Flint, ‘Reading The Awakening Conscience Rightly’, p. 46. 5. Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 234.
14 Katherine Newey 6. John Ruskin, ‘Traffic,’ in The Crown of Wild Olive; Three Lectures on Work, Traffic, and War, in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 6, pp. 64–66. 7. See Wylie Sypher, ‘Aesthetic of Revolution: The Marxist Melodrama’, Kenyon Review, (Vol. X, No. 3, Summer, 1948), and Peter Brooks, Melodrama and the Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, James, and the Mode of Excess (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), for theoretical discussions of the ‘melodramatic mode’ in the nineteenth century. 8. Brian Maidment, ‘Interpreting Ruskin, 1870–1914,’ in John Dixon Hunt and Faith M. Holland, eds., The Ruskin Polygon: Essays on the Imagination of John Ruskin, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982), p. 162. 9. ‘To theatrical minds the word ‘situation’ suggests some strong point in a play ... where the action is wrought to a climax, where the actors strike attitudes, and form what they call a ‘picture’ (Edward Mayhew, Stage Effect: or, The Principles Which Command Dramatic Success in the Theatre (London: C. Mitchell, 1840), pp. 43–44). 10. Martin Meisel, Realizations. Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 38. 11. Henry Neville, The Stage. Its Past and Present in Relation to Fine Art (1875; New York: Garland, The Victorian Muse Series, 1986) p. 67. Neville’s book is an expanded version of a lecture delivered to the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts, on 13 July 1871. 12. This claim, and its refutation, is argued in Richard Altick, Paintings From Books (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1985), p. 57. 13. W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 151. 14. For an account of the establishment of this hierarchy in the eighteenth century, see Lawrence Lipking, The Ordering of the Arts in the Eighteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), and particularly chapters 7, ‘The Art of Reynolds’ Discourses’, and 11, ‘Pope, Warburton, Spence, and the Uses of Literary History’. The dismantling of this hierarchy, and, in particular, the ‘fortunate fall’ of history painting, is discussed by Altick, Paintings From Books, p. 61 and ff. 15. This change in the hierarchy and decorum of the arts, visual and literary, is well-documented: my purpose here is to point out the parallel occurrence in the theatre and its implications. For a useful discussion of the first dismantlings of the hierarchy of the visual arts in the nineteenth century, see Altick, Paintings from Books. 16. Mitchell, Iconology, p. 151. 17. Jonathan Smith, Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 30. 18. William Bodham Donne, ‘The Drama, Past and Present,’ in Essays on the Drama and on Popular Amusements (London: John Parker and Son, 1858), p. 206, cited in Michael Booth, Victorian Spectacular Theatre (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 2. 19. Richard W. Schoch, Shakespeare’s Victorian Stage: Performing History in the Theatre of Charles Kean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 15. 20. Modern Painters I, in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 2, p. 624.
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21. Paul Barlow, ‘Pre-Raphaelitism and Post-Raphaelitism: the Articulation of Fantasy and the Problem of Pictorial Space’, in Marcia Pointon, ed., PreRaphaelites Re-Viewed, p. 80. 22. A. N. Vardac, Stage to Screen, Theatrical Method from Garrick to Griffith (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949). 23. For a larger argument about this literary history, see Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986). 24. See Jon Klancher, The Making of English Reading Audiences, 1790–1832 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987) and Ian Haywood, The Revolution in Popular Literature: Print, Politics and the People, 1790–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) for discussions of the power of popular print culture from the beginning of the nineteenth century. 25. Christopher Balme, ‘Interpreting the Pictorial Record: Theatre Iconography and the Referential Dilemma’, Theatre Research International 22:3 (1997), p. 190.
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Part I Ruskin and the Theatre
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1 John Ruskin, The Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage Jeffrey Richards
In his later years Ruskin developed a fascination with mythology, particularly Greek mythology. Lecturing on ‘The Art of England’ in 1883, he said: ‘The thoughts of all the greatest and wisest men hitherto, since the world was made, have been expressed through mythology’.1 His works began to carry mythological titles – The Cestus of Aglaia, Ariadne Florentina, Proserpina, Deucalion, Queen of the Air (about Athena) – as he proceeded to explore a mythical symbolism which he believed encoded timeless moral teachings, explained the relationship of Man and Nature and defined gender roles.2 Ruskin’s immersion in myth coincided with both the Victorian classical revival in painting and with the vogue for classical plays on both the professional and amateur stage through which Ruskin believed appreciation of great art and the principles of morality could be taught. The Victorian classical revival in painting, which celebrated the civilizations and values of Greece and Rome, lasted from the 1860s to 1914. According to Christopher Wood in his authoritative Olympian Dreamers Victorian classicism is not easy to define. ‘Inevitably it meant different things to different people; it was an influence rather than a coherent body of opinion; a catalyst, rather than a clearly defined artistic movement’. In support of this view, he characterizes the leading classical painters: ‘the lofty aspirations of Leighton, the antiquarianism of Alma-Tadema, the aesthetic classicism of Moore and BurneJones, the decadence of Simeon Solomon and Aubrey Beardsley, and the high romanticism of Waterhouse’. What links them he suggests is that they were part of a reaction against the ‘domination of English art by Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites. The new generation of artists wished to break away from the moral straight-jacket of Ruskin, and the insularity of the Pre-Raphaelites, and to renew contact with the great 19
20 Jeffrey Richards
traditions of European art.’3 But this is not entirely true and needs to be qualified. The published lectures of leading Olympians Lord Leighton and Sir Edward Poynter would seem to underline this hostility to a Ruskinian position. Poynter’s Ten Lectures on Art (1880) were delivered when he was the Slade Professor at Oxford and were dedicated to Leighton. Lecture 9 was devoted to ‘Professor Ruskin on Michelangelo’. Stung by Ruskin’s comment on Poynter’s painting The Golden Age in his 1875 Academy Notes that ‘Mr Poynter’s object is to show us, like Michelangelo, the adaptability of limbs to awkward positions’, he launched an all-out attack on Ruskin and his values. Poynter thought that Ruskin’s comment on Michelangelo: indicates a depth of ignorance on his part, wilful or unconscious, that could not be passed over; and its immediate effect was to induce me to read his lecture on Michelangelo and Tintoret, hitherto avoided by me, as, from what I had been told of it, a probable cause of vexation and annoyance. Truly it made me burn with indignation, and, the fire kindling, I felt impelled to point out the glaring perversions which Mr Ruskin’s curious spite against this greatest of artists allowed him to introduce into its pages; and not only this, but I felt it necessary to explain to my students, likely to be misled by his special pleading, the general blindness to the higher qualities of art, which is observable ... in all Mr Ruskin’s later writings, and which is the necessary result of his want of observation of the highest form of natural beauty, and of his ignorance of the practical side of art. He professes respect for Ruskin’s ‘exalted views, unrivalled power of poetic description and his knowledge and love of natural history’ but he notes that ‘Mr Ruskin has so consistently elevated the moral and sentimental side of art over the aesthetic, that we are tempted to suspect him of never having had any perception of beauty in art, as distinguished from beauty in nature; and we may search his later writings in vain for any appreciation of beauty of form or colour’.4 He claims that Ruskin has set himself up as a high priest intolerant of dissent and who expects his ex cathedra judgements to be ‘taken in faith’. He goes on: ‘it is certain that, as far as experience is a qualification, his opinion as to the comparative merits of fresco and oil-painting is absolutely valueless’.5 Already in lecture 2, he had set himself against Ruskin’s theory, declaring flatly ‘that the moral nature of beauty is of the kind that cannot be expressed in painting or sculpture; that
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
therefore, as far as art is concerned, ideas of beauty are and must be purely aesthetic.’6 However, having soundly trounced Ruskin for his lack of appreciation of Michelangelo, Poynter goes on in lecture 20 – ‘The Influence of Art on Social Life’ – to argue what sounds distinctly like a Ruskinian message. He claims it would be ‘an unmixed good’ if there was ‘a universal extension of a spirit and love of art’. He wants society to reject materialism and obsession with money-making, to revive the idea of good workmanship for its own sake, a characteristic of Greek civilization – and in this context he denounces the depredations of the railways and the hideousness of railway bridges and stations. He wants to encourage the spread of education, arguing that teaching drawing ‘must gradually infuse a spirit of art and a love of beauty ... and a capacity for distinguishing the true from the vulgar and pretentious’ and he supports the role of museums and galleries in exhibiting the best examples of art objects which ‘cannot but have a refining and educating effect on those whose tastes are sufficiently raised by cultivation to appreciate them’.7 Lord Leighton in his 1881 address to the students of the Royal Academy, on the relation of art to morals and religion, outlined two opposing theories: one view is that ‘the first duty of all artistic production is the inculcation of a moral lesson, if not indeed of a Christian truth’ and the other view is that ‘the function of Art ... is absolutely unconnected with Ethics, and that its distinct and special province is to satisfy certain cravings and excite certain emotions in our nature to which it alone has access’. He goes on to observe that ‘Art is indeed, in its own nature, wholly independent of Morality, and ... the loftiest moral purport can add no jot or tittle to the merits of a work of art.’ But having said this, he goes on to say that ‘there is, nevertheless, no error deeper or more deadly ... than to deny that the moral complexion, the ethos, of the artist does in truth tinge every work of his hand’.8 The duty of Art is ‘to awaken those sensations directly emotional and indirectly intellectual which can be communicated only through the sense of sight, to the delight of which she has primarily to minister.’ But the aesthetic sense comes ‘overlaid ... with elements of ethic or intellectual emotion’.9 Certainly Leighton’s pronouncements on Rome smack of moral disapproval, as he denounced ‘that craving for display and luxury which pervaded Roman society already in the last century of the Republic, and, merging in the general appetite for unbridled self-indulgence, helped to bring about under the Empire that moral turpitude and putrescence on which the wrath of Juvenal and shameless Martial’s jibes have thrown so fierce a light’.10 Clearly neither Leighton nor Poynter is advocating a
purely aesthetic ‘art for art’s sake’ doctrine devoid of moral prescription. Their doctrine seems to be a form of modified Ruskinism, speaking of moral education, duty and intellectual uplift. There is, however, a more direct link between Ruskin and the leaders of the Classical school and that is in their constructions of gender. As Joseph Kestner argues in his books Masculinities in Victorian Painting and Mythology and Misogyny, Victorian classical painting constructs images of masculinity and femininity which habitually reinforce the gender division and gender images summarized by Ruskin in ‘Of Queens’ Gardens’. Ever since it was first published in Sesame and Lilies in 1865, Ruskin’s essay ‘Of Queens’ Gardens’ has been regarded as a definitive statement of the doctrine of separate spheres in Victorian society which expected men and women to fill different though complementary roles. The classical statement was: The man’s power is active, progressive, defensive. He is eminently the doer, the creator, the discoverer, the defender. His intellect is for speculation and invention; his energy for adventure, for war, and for conquest ... But the woman’s power is for rule, not for battle, – and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision ... By her office, and place, she is protected from all danger and temptation. The man must encounter all peril and trial ... But he guards the woman from all this; within his house, as ruled by her ... need enter no danger, no temptation, no cause for error or offense. This is the true nature of home – it is the place of Peace.11 Walter E. Houghton wrote that this lecture of Ruskin was ‘the most important single document I know for the characteristic idealization of love, women and the home in Victorian thought’.12 But in recent years some scholars have argued that Ruskin’s lecture is more complex and contradictory than has previously been recognized. They point out that Ruskin’s prescriptive account of the separate spheres is at odds with his own life (the unconsummated marriage to Effie, the unfulfilled love for Rose La Touche, the many close friendships with women), with what some contemporaries saw as the essential ‘femininity’ of his nature, with his advocacy of women’s education and his recognition in the lecture that women, particularly middle class women, had a role to play outside the home ‘to assist in the ordering, in the comforting, and in the beautiful adornment of the state’. Nevertheless Helsinger, Sheets and Veeder still admit that ‘The essay emphatically reaffirms a
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male attitude central to nineteenth- century thinking: protective devotion to the innocent girl, the angel- wife, and the home of which they are the presiding spirits’ and Seth Koven concedes that the lecture was ‘indisputably an exemplary expression of Victorian separate sphere ideology’.13 It was the basic message of the Ruskinian doctrine rather than the contradictions that the paintings dramatized. Furthermore they reinforced Ruskin’s interpretation of myth as a three-fold process, with its roots in nature, its personal incarnations and its moral significance. ‘Mythology became part of contemporary sociology through Ruskin’ says Kestner.14 So the classical painters turned again and again to the heroes of Ancient Greece (Theseus, Perseus, Jason, Achilles, Hercules, Odysseus, Orpheus, Pygmalion) for their archetypes of male behaviour (active, energetic, fearless, self-reliant) and to the myth of rescue (Andromeda by Perseus, Alcestis by Hercules, Eurydice by Orpheus) as the paradigm of the male-female relationship. The female role models they chose from mythology conformed to two overarching stereotypes: the submissive woman, passive, loving, self-effacing, companionable, compliant, (Penelope, Alcestis, Oenone, Echo, Cassandra, Nausicaa, Clytie, Andromeda) and the destructive woman, fatal, dangerous, cruel, perverse, aggressive, demonic, deceptive, unfaithful, treacherous (Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, Electra, Pandora, Medusa, Calypso, Medea, Leda, Danae, Ariadne, Phaedra, Niobe etc). Kestner concludes that ‘nineteenth century British mythological painting was part of a system of cultural indoctrination that represented women as terrifying or submissive and men as the heroic stabilizing factor in the social structure’.15 In her study of the Victorian representations of the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, the feminist scholar Adrienne Auslander Munich confirms this judgement but attributes it to a defensive fear of change rather than a positive endorsement of the status quo: The Victorian myth portrays the helplessness of women and their need for protection in the face of increasingly strong opposing stories and growing evidence to the contrary. It presents the helpless maiden as a permanent truth against a changing and evolving reality. By counselling men against rape and women against ambition, it promises an eternity as a heavenly constellation.16 Leighton painted idealized pictures of an Ancient World that was a vision of beauty, order and human perfection. Poynter’s greatest and most popular pictures were ‘Faithful Unto Death’ (the sentry remaining
24 Jeffrey Richards
at his post in Pompeii during the eruption of Vesuvius) and ‘The Catapult’ (soldiers directing the catapult in the siege of Carthage) – much reproduced pictures of male archetypes of duty and warrior activity. By contrast Albert Moore painted a succession of dreamily idealized classically draped maidens, frequently asleep – the ultimate image of feminine passivity. The Olympians mostly steered clear of the Roman Empire, preferring the abstract purity and marmoreal perfection of Ancient Greece. But Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, ‘best known and best paid of all Victorian classical painters’, was celebrated for the fidelity of his genre paintings of everyday life in the Ancient World, particularly Rome. His desire, as he put it in an 1899 interview, was ‘to express in my pictures that the old Romans were flesh and blood like ourselves, moved by the same passions and emotions’.17 The secret of his success was to portray the rituals, practices and mores of wealthy Romans – their dinner parties, their courtship rituals, their shopping expeditions, their visits to the Baths – so that they appeared to spectators, as one commentator put it, like ‘Victorians in togas’.18 At the same time he drew on archaeology to create as accurate a picture as possible of buildings, furniture and clothing, so that spectators felt they were learning while viewing. AlmaTadema said: ‘If I am to revive ancient life, if I am to make it relive on canvas, I can do so only by transporting my mind into the far off ages, which deeply interest me, but I must do it with the aid of archaeology. I must not only create a mise-en-scène that is possible but probable’.19 It was his archaeological accuracy and sense of dramatic composition that was to lead to Alma-Tadema becoming the established painter most often employed by the actor-managers of the Victorian West End stage, Sir Henry Irving (Coriolanus, Cymbeline) and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (Hypatia, Julius Caesar). Ruskin strongly disapproved of Alma-Tadema’s failure to use his paintings to dramatize uplifting episodes and to teach morality. In Academy Notes (1875), Ruskin began by saying that Shakespeare knew far less of the facts about Ancient Rome than Alma-Tadema but he got to its heart, whereas Alma-Tadema, having read Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities from A to Z, ‘knows nothing of her but her shadow, and that cast at sunset’. Declaring ‘all good art is more or less didactic’, he complained of ‘The Sculpture Gallery’ by Alma-Tadema, that while it showed ‘artistic skill and classical learning, both in high degree’ it was wasted on an unworthy subject. ‘The old French Republicans, reading of Rome, chose such events to illustrate her history, as the battle of Romulus with the Sabines, the vow of the Horatii, or the self-martyrdom of Lucretia. The
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modern Republican sees in the Rome he studies so profoundly, only a central establishment for the manufacture and sale of imitation Greekarticles of virtu’.20 In his 1883 Oxford Lectures later published as The Art of England, Ruskin discerned six different schools of painting. One of them was the classical. He was generous in his praise of Leighton. ‘Of all our present masters, Sir Frederic Leighton delights most in softly-blended colours, and his ideal of beauty is more nearly that of Correggio than any seen since Correggio’s time’. He praised Leighton’s ‘acutely observant and enthusiastic study of the organism of the human body’ and ‘his precision of terminal outline’. Characteristically Ruskin also thanked him for ‘painting ... with a soft charm, peculiarly his own, the witchcraft and wonderfulness of childhood’.21 He praised Alma-Tadema’s ‘varied and complex powers of minute draughtsmanship, more especially in architectural detail, wherein, somewhat priding myself as a specialist, I nevertheless receive continual lessons from him.’ But he criticized the lack of morality. Having argued that Classical Art was characterized by a concern with light, he disliked the fact that many of Tadema’s interiors are seen in twilight, that people are lolling about or crouching ‘in fear or laziness’. In particular he was critical of the ‘most gloomy, the most crouching, the most dastardly of these representations of classic life ... the little piece called The Pyrrhic Dance, of which the general effect was exactly like a microscopic view of a small detachment of black beetles, in search of a dead rat’. He went on ‘it is the last corruption of this Roman state and its Bacchanalian phrenzy, which Mr. Alma-Tadema seems to hold it his heavenly mission to pourtray’. He reminds him and his readers that the ‘true meaning of classic art and classic literature was not the license of pleasure, but the law of goodness’.22 Given Ruskin’s reservations about the lack of overt and direct moral teaching in the paintings of artists like Alma-Tadema, Poynter and Moore, where was this teaching to be found? The answer is on the stage where the art of the Victorian classical painters could be deployed to realize dramatic texts in which educational and moral lessons were uppermost in the minds of the producers and authors. Several of the greatest Olympian artists had direct input into stage production. But some of them contributed only to the amateur rather than professional stage. It was an opportunity for them to see their pictures brought to life through the medium of the tableau. Some of these amateur productions, often involving the leaders of fashionable society, received as much press coverage as the professional stage.
26 Jeffrey Richards
Willie Wilde, drama critic brother of the more famous Oscar, noted in 1886 the development of a classical craze: At certain fitful periods breezes of artistic sentiment sweep over our London life. We have had a craze for the fashions and furniture of the late Queen Anne, for the doings and thoughts of the Renaissance, for the ‘Second Empire’, and now we are Greek – very Greek. Sweet modern maidens who this time last year were probably playing lawn-tennis ... have suddenly changed their flannels for sweeping draperies. Well-modelled, white arms that were wont to wield a rein, a racquet, or sculls, are slowly uplifted in rhythmic sway as the solemn chant arises from the smoking thymele. Swift feet that used to swing to the pulsations of the last new valse now tread in sandelled silence over mosaics and marbles; mirthful eyes are filled with mournful mystery, and clear young voices no longer laugh, but bewail the woes of Troy in most melancholy music. For the moment the triumph of the Peplum over the Petticoat is absolute.23 It first became the fashion to perform Greek plays in the original language at the ancient universities. This had already been done at Harvard and Edinburgh universities and at Westminster School when Oxford caught up with the trend in 1880.24 There was a Shakespeare Reading Society at New College and in 1880 one of its members M. C. Bickersteth suggested a reading of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus. It was third year undergraduate, Frank Benson, who had been a schoolboy actor at Winchester, usually playing female parts, but was best known in Oxford as a star athlete who suggested to his friend W. N. Bruce of Balliol, ‘Why not act the “Agamemnon”?’ It was agreed and Benson was assigned the task of directing. Benson, who in his autobiography acknowledges the influence of Ruskin, Morris and Burne-Jones on his aesthetic vision, rounded up a cast, ‘choosing them’, he recalled, ‘for their athleticism, scholarship and histrionic or musical accomplishments’.25 W. N. Bruce, who had represented Oxford against Cambridge in the quarter-mile, was cast as Agamemnon, G. Lawrence who was ‘a superlative performer over hurdles’ played Cassandra and Benson himself, the champion three mile runner of those years, Clytemnestra.26 Bruce applied to Dr. Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol and soon to be ViceChancellor of the University, for permission to stage the play in Balliol College Hall. Permission was granted and Jowett gave the production his enthusiastic support. Oscar Wilde claimed to have suggested the idea to Benson and to have distributed the parts, chosen the costumes
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
and arranged the scenes. But there is no mention of this in any of the accounts of the production.27 It became a major cultural event, widely reviewed in the national press and leading to letters of congratulation from Tennyson, Gladstone, Goschen, Browning, Millais, George Eliot and many others. The aim was not to produce a facsimile of a Greek drama – the masks, voice trumpets, and the traditional division of the chief characters among three actors only were abandoned – but the gestures and the arrangement of the chorus aimed at classical simplicity. There were no curtains, wings or proscenium and Alan MacKinnon, who acted in the subsequent London production of the Agamemnon, said it was ‘probably more classical in feeling that any of its successors’.28 With all the boldness of youth, Frank Benson interviewed or corresponded with leading Greek scholars of the day, developed a scene plot and a property plot and persuaded Walter Parratt, the organist of Magdalen College, to arrange the score, which was entirely vocal and performed by a chorus. Benson also consulted by letter and interview Leighton, Alma-Tadema and Burne-Jones for advice on how to create an authentic Greek effect for the robes the cast would wear. The result was that the robes were ‘graceful in form and harmonious in colour’ according to The Theatre magazine.29 The Slade Professor of Fine Art, Sir William Richmond, son of Ruskin’s old friend, George Richmond, sketched the chariot of the sun which was to decorate the central pediment. Scene-painting was carried out by Rennell Rodd of Balliol (who was also in the chorus) and A. S. Ryle of New Hall. Scene building was supervised by W. A. S. Benson, Frank’s brother. A cloth of sky blue was erected to obscure the great Gothic window of Balliol Hall. The play was performed in Balliol Hall in June 1880, only six weeks after the idea had first been mooted. Frank Benson recalled the event in his memoirs: For an hour and three-quarters, without wait or break, a modern audience was held breathless by the boys as the chorus sang their anthem, exultant with arms uplifted round the lower stage, in front of the gates of Mycene. The palace front of the Atreidae was the scene throughout the play and occupied the upper stage. Benson described it: Yellow-plastered walls and timber, with sphinx pattern and tracery, Apollo’s effigy over the central arch, garlands of laurel, hangings of
purple and soft saffron, two or three altars, designed by my brother William, crowned with fruits, garlands and blue lambent flames, carried out with the assistance of Richmond and Rennell Rodd, made a rough-and-ready but simple and singularly beautiful scene.30 The central altar was hollow and housed the prompter, Alfred Robinson, Bursar of New College. Andrew Lang reviewed the production, praising in particular Benson’s Clytemnestra: ‘His success was little short of extraordinary ... Mr. Benson’s clear and sustained elocution, the grace of his gestures, and towards the close his changeful emotions were truly admirable.’ He said of Lawrence’s Cassandra: ‘the beautiful clearness and softness of his elocution and the stately calm with which he proclaimed the splendour of honourable death, deeply moved his audience’. But some found Lawrence’s Cassandra ‘strongly reminiscent of Miss Ellen Terry’s Ophelia’. Everything did not go smoothly: Frank Benson, who had been preoccupied with directing, was not word-perfect and some classics dons noted: ‘strange collocations of impossible words and metrical licenses among the lapses of his memory’ and the chants, which were difficult to learn for some, ‘required the horrid modernism of a few notes on a piano’ to bring them in. The Theatre noted that the lighting of the beacon fire announcing the fall of Troy was ‘heralded by the striking of a match, which was audible throughout the hall’.31 But an elderly don told Benson: ‘You have done more for the study of Greek in fifty minutes than we professors have done in fifty years’.32 The production was repeated at Harrow, Eton and Winchester and in the autumn three performances were given at St. George’s Hall in London. Some additional music was written and changes made in the chorus to improve the singing. There were a few cast changes. The scenery was redesigned and reconstructed to fit the wider and more convenient stage. The chariot of the sun god on the pediment gave way to an archaic Apollo, painted by Heywood Sumner. According to Alan MacKinnon, the London press was ‘unanimously laudatory’.33 The leading actors in London all went to see the production and sent letters of congratulation. The result was that Henry Irving and Ellen Terry invited Benson to join the Lyceum company and he made his professional debut in September 1882 as Count Paris in Romeo and Juliet, beginning a career that ended with him as respected actor-manager Sir Frank Benson. This theatrical success plus the activities of another troupe of undergraduate amateurs, The Philothespians, led directly to the formation of the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) in 1884 and it was OUDS
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
which put on a production of Julius Caesar at Oxford’s New Theatre in 1889. It opened on 27 February 1889. Alma-Tadema designed the Capitol and forum scenes, which were painted by professional London scenepainters T. W. Hall and Joseph Harker. The play included a realization of Gérôme’s celebrated painting ‘The Death of Caesar’. Music was specially written by Leslie Mayne. Future stage stars Arthur Bourchier and H. B. Irving (son of Sir Henry) appeared as Marcus Brutus and Decius Brutus respectively. It was reviewed by The Times, The World, The Theatre, The Stage and The Era. The extensive press coverage was partly inspired by the desire to cover the stage debut of the son of the great Sir Henry Irving, who although cast in a very small part, received a round of applause on his first entrance. One reviewer wrote of Julius Caesar: ‘Whether it is that Irvingism is infectious or that Mr. Irving is wilfully imitated at Oxford, the comic idea suggests itself at the crisis of the play that an Irving was being killed by a dozen other Irvings’.34 Although the reference here is to Irving’s acting, it is worth noting that Sir Henry Irving shared many of Ruskin’s ideas about the nature of art and the educational importance of the stage. The OUDS production seems to have been conceived in an Irvingian and thus Ruskinian spirit.35 W. Davenport Adams in The Theatre described the production as a tour de force, though adding of the cast: ‘if they were not wholly successful, if the ‘crowds’ were not quite convincing, and if even Mr Tadema’s designs did not quite create the illusion of reality, this at least was certain – that the mere attempt to secure success was commendable.’36 The Era (2 March 1889), devoting a full length review to the production, praised ‘the lavish expenditure and untiring efforts of the O.U.D.S. to place Julius Caesar on the boards in a manner worthy of the great bard’. The amateurs had ‘the inestimable advantage of a professional stage-manager, Mr. Stewart Dawson, of the Haymarket Theatre, an old Oxford man and noted ‘shooting star’ in his days, whose ready zeal and indefatigable energy have been conspicuously apparent in the well drilled crowds, and nowhere more so than in the disposition of the supers in the Forum during Antony’s oration over the corpse of Caesar, when the strong and growing emotion of the Roman crowd, finally wrought to frenzy by the fiery torrent of Antony’s words, was expressed in a fashion that quite brought down the house’. Alma-Tadema’s set designs were declared ‘remarkable for beauty of design and skill in execution. The Capitol in act three was a most striking and realistic scene, closely following Mr. Gérôme’s celebrated picture ‘The Death of Caesar’; but it is in the design of the Forum that Mr. Alma-Tadema has surpassed
30 Jeffrey Richards
himself in a set the exquisite beauty and marvellous effectiveness of which will be the talk of every visitor to the theatre, and by itself will repay a visit. Nothing finer has ever been seen on any stage.’ Leslie Mayne’s music, which he himself conducted, was ‘very suitable, and highly spoken of by competent judges’. The costumes and armour by Victor Barthe were ‘handsome and had the merit of being historically correct, while the fasces, vexillaria, etc. showed that the society had had the good fortune of receiving advice from persons who were intimately versed in archaeology’. The reviewer concluded that the production was a ‘distinct success. No doubt the extraordinary beauty of the scenery and Mr. Leslie Mayne’s music had a great deal to do with the enthusiastic reception accorded the play; but a fair level of excellence was attained by all engaged in it.’ The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (9 March 1889) was much less indulgent and pulled no punches: ‘Frankly, the whole affair was of very modest merit, and certainly was not good enough to repay the visit to Oxford.’ The performances were of an evenness: ‘Nobody was so-not good as to make the performance ridiculous, or so-not bad, as to make his colleagues jealous. I have seen a good many better amateur performances, and some few worse ones; it is only because the amateurs here were dealing with blank verse, and wearing a costume which has its difficulties, that they are perhaps entitled to be placed rather farther from the worse than from the better’. As if this dismissal of the performances were not enough, the reviewer added: ‘Of the music, generally composed by Mr. Leslie Mayne, I can only say without claiming to be an authority that I got terribly tired of it. I am bound to add that the scenery of which I had heard so much, was nothing to be enthusiastic about.’ It should, however, be pointed out that Alma-Tadema’s scenery was taken over by Frank Benson for his professional production of Julius Caesar, in which Benson himself played Antony and Louis Calvert, Brutus.37 It was first seen on the provincial tour of 1890, and thereafter remained in Benson’s repertoire. According to J. C. Trewin, one of Alma-Tadema’s backdrops, now brown with age, was still being used by the H. V. Neilson touring company in Manchester in May 1939, and was believed to have been destroyed with other scenery in the blitz.38 Also Lillie Langtry sent an envoy to offer H. B. Irving the role of Orlando in her forthcoming West End production of As You Like It. Young Irving declined, preferring to complete his studies, before embarking on a stage career which he did in 1894 with conspicuous success (creating the title role in Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton, for
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
instance). But Arthur Bourchier, the old Etonian star of all the major OUDS productions, made his professional debut in September 1889 as Jaques in Mrs. Langtry’s production of As You Like It and by 1900 was an established actor-manager. E. Holman Clark who had played Cassius also embarked on a successful stage career.39 In London, celebrity amateur productions of The Tale of Troy and The Story of Orestes were staged, with the participation of leading classical painters. George C. Warr, Professor of Classical Literature at London University, made an arrangement of scenes from The Iliad and The Odyssey called The Tale of Troy and he was encouraged in 1883 to stage it in public to raise money for the London University Building Fund to provide better accommodation for the King’s College lectures for ladies.40 Lady Freake, wife of Sir Charles Freake, offered the use of the little theatre in her home in South Kensington, Cromwell House. Considerable efforts were made to ensure an authentic and artistic realization of the text, in line with the currently fashionable demand for archaeologically accurate and intellectually educational stage productions. Sir Charles Newton, Keeper of Classical Antiquities at the British Museum, was consulted about properties, and Leighton and Poynter were asked to advise on design and – no doubt because it was for charity – agreed. The descriptive and choral music was composed by Otto Goldschmidt, Malcolm Lawson, Walter Parratt and Professor W. H. Monk. Newton, it should be remembered, was an old friend of Ruskin and contributed a scholarly appendix ‘Ancient Representations of Water’ to volume I of Ruskin’s Stones of Venice. The Tale of Troy took the form of a series of artistically staged tableaux with Warr’s lines declaimed by the actors. The prologue to Part I – The Iliad – was a tableau ‘The Pledge of Aphrodite Redeemed’ featuring Paris, Helen, Aphrodite, Peitho and Eros. It was a realization of a specially prepared drawing by Sir Frederic Leighton. Scene 1, Helen at the Scaean Gate and the Parting of Hector from Andromache, was designed by Poynter and Newton. Scene 2, featuring the Plain of Troy by moonlight, showed Priam on his way to the Achaean camp and was also by Poynter. Scene 3, Priam in the tent of Achilles, had the interior of Achilles’ tent designed by Poynter and G. F. Watts. Scene 4, back at the Scaean Gate, had the Trojan women (Andromache, Hecuba, Helen, Cassandra and the female chorus) mourning for Hector. Part 2 – The Odyssey, showing all the women who tempted Ulysses and how he returned to Ithaca and was reunited with Penelope, began with a tableau – Ulysses in the Palace of Circe – designed by Poynter. It was followed by a tableau – Ulysses in the grotto of Calypso – designed
32 Jeffrey Richards
either by George Simonds or Edward Poynter (the sources disagree). Scene 1 – Ulysses at the Court of Alcinous featuring Ulysses, Alcinous and Nausicaa – was set in the courtyard of the palace of Alcinous, designed by Poynter. Scene 2 – the return of Ulysses, featuring Ulysses, Penelope, Telemachus and Eumaeus – set at ‘the hearth of Ulysses’ was also designed by Poynter. The Tableau – the Retribution of Ulysses – saw Ulysses dispose of the suitors of Penelope. Scene 3, set again at the hearth, saw Ulysses and Penelope united. The painters’ designs were realized by leading theatrical scene-painter John O’Connor. The play was directed by actor-manager George Alexander, later Sir George Alexander. There were four performances, two in Greek and two in English, with the Greek performances taking place on the evenings of 30 May and 4 June 1883, and the English performances in the afternoons of 29 May and 6 June. The actors were a mixture of professionals and amateurs. Some appeared in both versions; in some cases roles changed hands.41 Mrs Maud Tree, who played Andromache in the English version and Helen of Troy in the Greek, recalled ‘we all loved to be the willing slaves of all the great artists of the day’, calling on them to adjust the folds of their drapes.42 The Theatre thought that ‘on the whole, there was far more to praise than to find fault with, and if now and then a laugh was raised, it was a perfectly kindly one’. The anonymous critic found Warr’s arrangement of the texts ‘distinctly satisfactory’; the English version ‘tolerable if nothing more’. He found that ‘the scenery was admirable ... and all the adjuncts and properties were in keeping with it and with each other. The labours of Professor Newton, whose knowledge and love of Greek art is unsurpassed, ensured the correctness of every detail, and placed in the hands of the artists who had tableaux to arrange the very best materials’. The tableaux themselves were ‘charming’, the most notable being Leighton’s ‘Pledge of Aphrodite’ and Poynter’s ‘Grotto of Calypso’ – ‘in which Mrs Bram Stoker won all hearts’ (Mrs Bram Stoker – nee Florence Balcombe – was a noted beauty of the day and in Dublin had been courted both by Bram Stoker (now Irving’s business manager) and Oscar Wilde). Much of the acting was praised. In The Odyssey, the scene of ‘Nausicaa and her maidens’ was the most effective, ‘the grouping of so many figures on so small a stage without confusion was a notably clever piece of stage management’. The production was declared ‘a real success’; the little theatre was crowded for each performance and distinguished guests included Mr. Gladstone, Lord Dufferin and the Dean of Westminster. The Theatre reported: ‘On the fourth occasion Mr. Ruskin, who is said to be nothing if not
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
critical, came and forgot to criticise’. Homer was of course an acknowledged influence on Ruskin. ‘At the close of the last performance the corps dramatique assembled in the green-room to present a testimonial (a copy of Shakespeare) to Mr. George Alexander, the stage manager, which Mr. Ruskin consented to hand to him, with a few words of which Mr. Alexander may be proud.’43 This connection with Alexander is interesting because Alexander, by now a leading London actor-manager, wrote to Joan Severn on Ruskin’s death: You will be deluged with letters. I am loath to add mine to the number but I must just express my sympathy with you and yours, and my deep regret at the loss of so great a man. I had nothing but great kindness at his hands.44 This suggests that there developed a friendship between them at some point, perhaps initiated by this contact. This would add another leading actor of Ruskin’s theatrical circle along with Mrs. Kendal, Mary Anderson, Helen Faucit and Wilson Barrett. The Times (31 May 1883), which on 30 May 1883 declared the play a ‘success no less artistic than pecuniary’, said: ‘It is impossible to conceive how this could be done with a more scrupulous regard to the spirit of the poem or with a more sympathetic or more refined appreciation of the beauty of Greek art. Costume, scenery, grouping, music, the product of many minds, were blended into a whole, and impressed the spectator no less with their admirable harmony than with their severely classical correctness. Every stage picture here shown, whether technically to be described as a “tableau” or a “scene”, is strikingly beautiful.’ The production was revived on Friday 14 May 1886, at the Prince’s Hall in Piccadilly in aid of the London University Endowment Fund. The scenery had to be newly painted because of the larger scale of the venue. The Leighton tableau was retained but this time almost all the other scenes and tableaux were designed by G. F. Watts and painted by T. W. Hall. Henry Holiday designed the scene of the grotto of Calypso, in which the artist Mrs Gascoigne took the part of Calypso. Walter Crane supervised the art direction of the production, designing new costumes, scenery and accessories where appropriate. Crane was a Ruskinian. He recalled in his autobiography that Ruskin had made encouraging remarks about his illustrations to Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shalott’ when shown them in 1858 and that Ruskin ‘had no more enthusiastic admirer and devoted follower at that time’ than himself. He professed himself
influenced by Ruskin’s economic writings and saddened by a visit to Brantwood in 1897 when he found Ruskin frail and monosyllabic (‘a sad end to such a life as Ruskin’s had been’). On Ruskin’s death he wrote a memorial poem published in The Westminster Gazette (23 January 1900) celebrating Ruskin’s denunciation of materialism and support for the principles of Pre-Raphaelitism.45 On 13 and 15 May 1886, also for the London University Endowment Fund and also at the Prince’s Hall, Piccadilly, there was a production of Professor Warr’s translation from Aeschylus of The Story of Orestes, with proscenium design and art direction by Walter Crane. A fashionable audience, headed by the Prince and Princess of Wales, attended. The play, in a prologue and three acts, ran for two hours and 20 minutes. The prologue had a tableau – the sacrifice of Iphigenia – and a scene on the coast at Aulis, designed by G. F. Watts. Act I – Agamemnon – featuring the return of Agamemnon, his reception by Clytemnestra and Cassandra foretelling her own death, involved scenes of the gateway of Agamemnon’s palace and the palace interiors. It concluded with a tableau – Nemesis – with Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Scenes and tableau were designed by Edward Poynter. Acts 2 and 3 were designed by Crane. Act 2 – The Libation – had Electra and her maidens at the tomb of Agamemnon and a tableau – the Dirge at the Tomb of Agamemnon – featuring the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes. Act 3 – The Furies – had scenes in the interior of the temple of Athena in Athens where Orestes, pursued by the Furies, seeks refuge and the Hill of Ares in Athens, with a culminating tableau The Trial of Orestes before the Areopagus. The designs were realized by Walter Severn (brother of the more famous Arthur and thus brotherin-law of Joan Severn, Ruskin’s cousin and carer in later years) and Sir Jocelyn Coghill Bart. Walter Parratt, by now organist of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and from 1893 Master of the Queen’s Music, composed the musical score. Ruskin by now was confined to Brantwood with his deteriorating mental condition. Otherwise it seems likely he would have attended the production, as the Greek tragedies had become important to him as he had turned more and more to Greek mythology as a source of serious study after the ‘unconversion’ of 1858, before which he had regarded the Greek myths as distinctly inferior to Christianity and virtually pernicious. The press were less than complimentary about this play. The Era (15 May 1886) linked the play directly to the classical painting school and to Wilson Barrett’s plays at the Princess’s Theatre. It noted ‘the
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
outburst of neo-classicism’ characterising the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century. The painters such as Leighton and Alma-Tadema had set the ball rolling and the writers like Pater had kept it in motion. ‘The drama – always the last of the arts to be moved by new intellectual impulses ... has at length succumbed’. On the English stage, it has taken two forms, a popular form at the Princess’s Theatre where Wilson Barrett on the direct advice of Ruskin was staging a series of classically set plays, Claudian, Junius and Clito, and an academic form at the two Universities, ‘which have vied with one another in the revival of Greek tragedy with much pomp of mounting and archaeological parade’. The latest academic exercise was the adaptation of Aeschylus. ‘The costumes and accessories were as “correct” as if they had been exhumed by Dr. Schliemann, the Greek maidens were impersonated by a bevy of dames of high degree, and the “supers” by gentlemen with doublebarrelled names, while a fashionable audience, headed by the Prince and Princess of Wales, filled guinea stalls, and the ubiquitous Sir Frederick Leighton beamed, as a kind of presiding genius of classicism over all’. But it went on: ‘Yet candour compels us to say that the result of the whole thing was – alas for this stiff-necked generation which refuses to be classicised – little save weariness of the flesh and vexation of the spirit. Boredom was writ large – boredom polite, but unmistakable – upon the countenances of the spectators long before the performance had come to a conclusion’. The reasons were plain. This was ‘partly due to the essentially undramatic nature of the Aeschylean theatre, according to our modern ideas ... Nowadays we read Aeschylus, if we read him at all, for the colossal majesty of his poetry.’ There was ‘a still more potent cause of failure ... the hopeless incompetence of the performers’. ‘Miss Gertrude Kohnstamm ... looked the part of Clytemnestra to perfection but ... only about one–fourth of her lines could be heard, so indistinctly were they gabbled, and the few that were heard were not improved by an unmistakably Teutonic accent.’ George Lawrence as Orestes was ‘personable enough, but he began by deliberately intoning his lines like a high-church curate and ended by shouting them like a Boanerges of the parks’. ‘The one effective unit of the cast was the Cassandra of Miss Dorothy Dene, a young lady who could make herself heard ... and who showed herself, moreover, in her one declamatory scene possessed of considerable dramatic power’. The Daily Telegraph (14 May 1886) declared of Orestes the acting space was too cramped, the music suffered from ‘ineffective rendering’ and the acting of the amateurs deserved to be passed over in ‘charitable silence’. ‘Amidst much
36 Jeffrey Richards
false art and false singing, there was one performance of really striking merit’ – that of Dorothy Dene. All the reviews were like this. Dorothy Dene, the favourite model and protégée of Leighton, and one of the ideals of classicism in Victorian art, perhaps encouraged by such notices, went on the stage as a professional actress, but failed and died young in 1899.46 In 1889 came perhaps the most notable of the productions in this cycle and in this manner Helena in Troas, John Todhunter’s translation and adaptation of Sophocles’ play, staged as a benefit for the British School of Archaeology in Athens. The poet and playwright Dr John Todhunter was an Irish Quaker who trained and practised as a doctor. But he abandoned both religion and medicine for a life in art and letters in the 1870s. His biographer describes him as ‘a second generation PreRaphaelite’. He was strongly influenced by Ruskins’s ideas, quoting him with approval in his essay on aesthetics, A Theory of the Beautiful (1872). He toured Venice, using Ruskin’s writings as his guide. When Ruskin died, he was one of many to write a memorial sonnet. It was published in the March 1900 issue of The Cornhill Magazine. It ended: The century dies with him, its loveliest light, The century dies with him, its noblest voice; Who taught men best what things to love and hate, Who saw things none beheld, with clearest sight; Whose heart was fiercest, most compassionate Whose wisdom was to worship and rejoice47 The architect, designer and theatrical theorist E. W. Godwin, who Oscar Wilde called ‘one of the most artistic spirits of this century in England’ and who was a major link between Ruskin’s ideas and the stage, produced the play.48 He took over Hengler’s Circus in Great Pulteney Street which had an arena normally used for equestrian shows. He did not seek to reproduce the scenery or costumes of Ancient Greek plays and dispensed with the masks and speaking trumpets which were then in use. But he did try to recreate a Greek theatre with the audience seated in tiers of seats around two thirds of the arena, a painted oilcloth showing tessellated marble covering the floor of the arena and in the middle an altar burning incense. The raised stage had at the rear Walter Hann’s painted backdrop of the wall of Priam’s Palace, broken by three entrances in the classical style, two of which revealed the blue waters of the Mediterranean and the purple hills in the distance. Over the chief portal hung a great curtain, painted with crimson lions and in front of
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
the Palace a gold image of Aphrodite. The play opened on 17 May 1886, and was played in front of a celebrity audience which included the Prince and Princess of Wales, Oscar Wilde, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Professional actors played the leading roles but notable society beauties were to be found in the chorus and in minor roles. Constance Wilde played one of Helen’s handmaidens and the painter Louise Jopling played Hecuba’s tire-woman. Louise Jopling was ‘instructed to drape and seat half a dozen figures in the same attitudes of those on the frieze of the Parthenon. The poor things had to remain without moving during the whole time the play was in progress! They were attired in unbleached draperies, which simulated the white marble, just tinged with age, wonderfully well’. She noted ‘Godwin was a splendid producer: he spared no trouble, and incidentally, no expense, to arrive at perfection’ and she called him ‘one of the most fascinating of men. He worshipped Greek art. He was the only man I knew who had a life-sized figure of the Venice Venus de Milo in his chambers’.49 The play was widely reviewed and the general consensus was that as a play it was dull but as an aesthetic experience it was superb. Critics regularly referenced Alma-Tadema when describing the visuals. The costumes were designed by Godwin from descriptions in The Iliad and The Odyssey and from copies of figures on Greek vases. The Era (22 May 1886) reported ‘that the general effect produced by the performance was boredom, mitigated by gratified curiosity, was to be attributed not so much to the author or the actors, as to the difference between the taste of our own day and that of Euripides ... What atoned for this dullness was the novelty of the whole production, the graceful forms and archaic costumes of the chorus, their eloquent attitudes and quaint, if monotonous, chants, the calm, severe beauty of the skene, with its columns, its side-entrances showing the deep blue sea through them, and the “royal door” in the centre, with a curtain embroidered with lions and leopards in a conventional pattern. Nor was less pleased interest felt in the admirably designed dresses of the performers in the play, and the finished accuracy with which the accessories were supplied ... The performance was well worth seeing, simply as a curiosity of archaeological research and conscientious reproduction of the Past’. Acoustic problems made some of the dialogue inaudible but the leading performances were praised: Hermann Vezin’s Priam for his ‘dignified bearing, clear, distinct and sonorous delivery’, Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s Paris ‘enacted with delicacy and care’, Mrs Maud Beerbohm Tree playing Oenone ‘with admirable energy and intensity’; and Alma Murray
‘if not an ideal Helen, was an admirable actress of the role written by Mr Todhunter’. There was praise too for ‘the aesthetic poses and picturesque appearance of Mrs Oscar Wilde’ and ‘gracefulness and appropriate acting of Mrs. Louise Jopling.’ The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (22 May 1886) noted, while praising acting and sets, ‘To classical scholars and literary antiquarians generally the representation was undeniably of interest; to the modern Philistine, with little taste for the curiosities of the drama, it was decidedly dull, and we fear it lacked the elements of popularity likely to make the undertaking remunerative.’ Oscar Wilde, himself a disciple of Ruskin in earlier years, writing in The Dramatic Review (22 May 1886), called it ‘the most perfect exhibition of a Greek dramatic performance that has as yet been seen in this country’. He rhapsodized about the setting: ‘The scene was lovely, not merely in the harmony of its colour but in the exquisite delicacy of its architectural proportions. No nation has ever felt the pure beauty of mere constructions so strongly as the Greeks, and in this respect Mr. Godwin has fully caught the Greek feeling.’ And about the costumes: ‘The play opened by the entrance of the chorus, white vestured and gold filleted, under the leadership of Miss Kinnaird, whose fine gestures and rhythmic movements were quite admirable. In answer to their appeal the stage curtains slowly divided, and from the house of Paris came forth Helen herself, in a robe woven with all the wonders of war, and broidered with the pageant of battle. With her were her two handmaidens – one in white and yellow and one in green; Hecuba followed in sombre grey of mourning, and Priam in kingly garb of gold and purple, and Paris in Phrygian cap and light archer’s dress; and when at sunset the lover of Helen was borne back from the field, down from the oaks of Ida stole Oenone in the flowing drapery of the daughter of a river-god, every fold of her garments rippling like dim water as she moved.’ He had some reservations about the acting. He concluded: As an artistic whole, however, the performance was undoubtedly a great success. It has been much praised for its archaeology, but Mr. Godwin is something more than a mere antiquarian. He takes the facts of archaeology, but he converts them into artistic and dramatic effects, and the historical accuracy that underlies the visible shapes of beauty that he presents to us, is not by any means the distinguishing quality of the complete work of art. This quality is the absolute unity and harmony of the entire presentation, the presence of one mind controlling the most minute details, and revealing itself
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
only in that true perfection which hides personality ... the secret of its beauty was the perfect correspondence of form and matter, the delicate equilibrium of spirit and sense ... It is much to be regretted that Mr. Godwin’s beautiful theatre cannot be made a permanent institution. Even looked at from the low standpoint of educational value, such a performance as that given last Monday might be of the greatest service to modern culture; and who knows but a series of these productions might civilise South Kensington and give tone to Brompton? Still it is something to have shown our artists ‘a dream of form in days of thought’, and to have allowed the Philistines to peer into Paradise. And this is what Mr. Godwin has done. By contrast the critic in Punch (29 May 1886) irreverently suggested that the production reminded him of the production of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These plays perfectly fulfilled the Ruskinian mission for the stage – education in the classics and demonstrations of great painting. But these plays also contained that set of female archetypes identified by Kestner as the passive women and the destructive women: Helen, Clytemnestra, Andromache, Cassandra, Hecuba, Penelope, Nausicaa, Circe, Oenone, Calypso, conforming to Ruskinian gender archetypes.
Notes 1. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn eds., Complete Works of John Ruskin (London: George Allen, 1903–12), vol. 33, p. 294. 2. On Ruskin and myth see Dinah Birch, Ruskin’s Myths (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) and Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Ruskin’s Mythic Queen (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998). 3. Christopher Wood, Olympian Dreamers (London: Constable, 1983), p. 16. 4. Edward Poynter, Ten Lectures on Art (London: Chapman, 1885), pp. 218–219, 220. 5. Poynter, Ten Lectures on Art, p. 224. 6. Poynter, Ten Lectures on Art, p. 84. 7. Poynter, Ten Lectures on Art, pp. 253–282. 8. Lord Leighton, Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1897), pp. 39, 41, 42. 9. Leighton, Addresses, p. 56. 10. Leighton, Addresses, p. 124. 11. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 18, p. 121–122. 12. Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind 1830–1870 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1957), p. 343. 13. For a revisionist view of ‘Of Queens’ Gardens’ see Elizabeth K. Helsinger, Robin Lauterbach Sheets and William Veeder, The Woman Question (New
40 Jeffrey Richards
15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.
25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.
34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39.
York: Garland, 1983), vol. I, pp. 77–102; Dinah Birch, ‘Ruskin’s “Womanly Mind” ’, in Dinah Birch and Francis O’Gorman, eds., Ruskin and Gender (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 107–120; Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Ruskin’s Mythic Queen, pp. 102–123; Seth Koven, ‘How the Victorians Read Sesame and Lilies’, in Deborah Nord Epstein, ed., John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 165–204. Joseph A. Kestner, Mythology and Misogyny: the Social Discourse of Nineteenth Century British Classical-Subject Paintings (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 30. Kestner, Mythology, p. 63. Adrienne Auslander Munich, Andromeda’s Chains (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), p. 185. Frederick Dolman, ‘Illustrated Interviews 68: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’, Strand Magazine 18 (1899), p. 607. Christopher Forbes, Victorians in Togas (New York: Metropolitan Museum, 1973). Vern G. Swanson, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (London: Ash and Grant, 1977), p. 44. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 14, pp. 265, 271. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 33, pp. 318–319. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 33, pp. 321–322, 323. The Theatre, vol. 7 (1 June 1886), p. 332. On the production of Greek plays in the ancient universities and the public schools, see now Edith Hall and Fiona Macintosh, Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre 1660–1916 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). They describe the Balliol Agamemnon as ‘the first production of a Greek tragedy in the original language to receive serious consideration since the Renaissance’ (p. 453). Frank Benson, My Memoirs (London: Ernest Benn, 1930), pp. 134, 117. W. A. S. Benson, ‘Agamemnon at Oxford’, Cornhill Magazine n.s.46 (January– June 1919), p. 535. Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987), p. 101. Alan MacKinnon, The Oxford Amateurs (London: Chapman and Hall), p. 60. The Theatre, vol. 2 (1 September 1880), p. 184. Benson, My Memoirs, p. 125. Benson, ‘Agamemnon at Oxford’, pp. 540–541, 53; The Theatre, vol. 2 (1 July 1880), p. 37. Benson, My Memoirs, p. 125. For detailed accounts of the production see MacKinnon, The Oxford Amateurs, pp. 53–64; Benson, ‘Agamemnon at Oxford’, pp. 534–546; Benson, My Memoirs, pp. 115–126. Humphrey Carpenter, O.U.D.S. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 49. Jeffrey Richards, Sir Henry Irving: A Victorian Actor and his World (London: Hambledon, 2005), pp. 197–215. The Theatre, vol. 13 (1 April 1889), p. 231. Benson, My Memoirs, p. 301. J. C. Trewin, Benson and the Bensonians (London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1960), p. 85. Humphrey Carpenter, OUDS, pp. 48, 50.
John Ruskin, the Olympian Painters and the Amateur Stage
40. On Warr, see Hall and Macintosh, Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre, pp. 466–473. 41. Full details of the painters and designers involved are given in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 2 June 1883. 42. Max Beerbohm ed., Herbert Beerbohm Tree (London: Hutchinson, 1920), pp. 18–19. 43. The Theatre n.s. vol. 2 (1 August 1883), pp. 101–102. 44. Letter from Sir George Alexander to Joan Severn, 23 January 1900 (now in Pierpont Morgan Library, New York). I am indebted to Gillian Mawby for this reference. 45. Henry Holiday, Reminiscences of My Life (London: William Heinemann, 1914), p. 312; Walter Crane, An Artist’s Reminiscences (New York: Macmillan, 1907), pp. 284–285, 45, 57, 254, 445–447. 46. Christopher Wood, Olympian Dreamers, p. 77. 47. For Ruskin’s influence on Todhunter, see David James Moriarty, John Todhunter: Child of the Coming Century, unpublished University of Wisconsin Ph.D., 1979, pp. 124, 160–161, 166, 261, 280. 48. Fanny Baldwin, ‘E. W. Godwin and Design for the Theatre’ in Susan Weber Soros ed., E. W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 313–351. 49. Louise Jopling, Twenty Years of My Life (London: John Lane, 1925), pp. 289–290.
2 Ruskin at the Savoy: The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas as Indications of the Victorian Popular Reception of Ruskin J. A. Hilton
For the last quarter of Ruskin’s long life (1819–1900), English musical theatre was dominated by the Savoy operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, which satirized English institutions, contemporary social and intellectual movements, and public figures. Their work often reflected Ruskin’s impact as art critic and social reformer on the public.1 Ruskin knew at least one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In The Art of England he described a scene in Iolanthe as: A dance of ungainly fairies on the site of the cabstand under Westminster clock tower, ... [and] making the Queen of them all fall in love with the sentry on guard.2 This essay, however, is not about Ruskin’s views on musical theatre,3 but about Gilbert’s response to him as an indication of his audience’s knowledge of Ruskin. Although Gilbert and Sullivan had friends amongst the supporters of the Aesthetic movement, which developed partly in response to Ruskin’s teaching and partly in opposition to it, they could not resist satirizing Aestheticism. The locus classicus of Ruskinian influence in Gilbert and Sullivan is Patience, and it is obvious in The Gondoliers, The Pirates of Penzance, and Princess Ida, whilst it is paradoxically a positive absence in The Mikado.4 Gilbert’s libretti poke fun at institutions, for example the law in Trial by Jury and parliament in Iolanthe, and at individuals, for instance W. H. Smith as Sir Joseph Porter in H. M. S. Pinafore and Sir Garnet Wolseley as Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance.5 To call these operas satire is to imply a reforming purpose, which perhaps Gilbert did not have. The objects of his humour were merely grist to his comic mill, what the Mikado calls ‘a source of innocent merriment’ 42
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 43
(The Mikado, II, 336). Nevertheless, given Gilbert’s belief that ‘The secret of success is to keep well within the understanding of the least intelligent section of the audience’,6 these operas indicate not only Gilbert’s and Sullivan’s knowledge of Ruskin, but also their expectations of their audiences’ recognition of their references to him, and, therefore, suggest the extent of Ruskin’s popular influence. The collaboration between W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan lasted from 1871 until 1896. It began with the now lost and largely forgotten Thespis and ended with the neglected The Grand Duke, but in between it produced a dozen successful comic operas. Apart from Thespis, this creative partnership was supported by the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, and he built the Savoy Theatre, opened in 1881 with Patience, to house the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Gilbert’s libretti poked fun at English society, and Sullivan set the words to music, which combined catchy tunes with arrangements that paid homage to the traditions of Western music. The punters in the gods, the musical connoisseurs in the stalls, and the socialites in the boxes could all enjoy the operas. They were not only performed at the Savoy, but were taken on tour by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and were increasingly performed by amateurs, and so were enjoyed throughout the English-speaking world. Gilbert laced his libretti with references to contemporary debates about the arts, including the contribution of Ruskin.7 Gilbert and Sullivan were keenly aware of Ruskin’s teaching. In 1873 Sullivan visited a friend at Oxford and took the opportunity to hear Ruskin lecture.8 I have, however, been unable to discover any printed account of Gilbert actually reading Ruskin, which does not mean that he did not, though he may have picked up his knowledge of Ruskin from conversation and the press by a kind of cultural osmosis. There was originally a reference to Ruskin by name in Iolanthe (1882). Mountararat explains how peerages are conferred and describes De Belleville who was a famous painter, too, and shone upon the line And even Mister Ruskin came and worshipped at his shrine. This song was cut after the first night, but Gilbert published it as ‘The Reward of Merit’ in The Bab Ballads of 1897.9 Both Gilbert and Sullivan moved in the artistic circles that included Sir Coutts Lindsay, owner of the Grosvenor Gallery, and Whistler.10 They could not, therefore, have been unaware of Ruskin’s teaching (Figure 2.1).
44 J. A. Hilton
Patience. Contemporary drawing of the first production.
Patience (1881), the first opera to be performed at the Savoy,11 was written as a satire on the Aesthetic movement, with which Gilbert and Sullivan had close connections. The movement with its exaltation of beauty and what was ‘blessed and precious in art’,12 originated with Ruskin, even down to its symbols of lilies and peacock feathers, though Ruskin’s own
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 45
attitude towards it, like so much else was ambivalent, changing, and even hostile. It included such artists and writers as Rossetti, Whistler, Wilde, and Pater. These Aesthetes exalted ‘art for art’s sake’, whereas Ruskin disapproved of art divorced from morality. In the 1870s and 1880s Punch parodied Ruskin’s concern with the ‘blessed and precious in art’ with ‘Distinctly Precious, Blessed, Subtile [sic], Significant, and Supreme’ and ‘How Consummate! How Perfect! How Supreme, Precious and Blessed! Nay, how Utter!’,13 and suggested that Gilbert should write a ‘Pater Song’ instead of his usual patter song.14 Du Maurier produced cartoons on the movement, his women possibly modelled on Burne-Jones’s nymphs exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery. West End plays satirized it: Tom Taylor’s Victims attacked Swinburne, John Hollingshead’s The Grasshopper parodied Whistler with the artist’s approval, James Albery’s Where’s the Cat? portrayed Wilde, and The Colonel by Sullivan’s former collaborator, F. C. Burnand, the editor of Punch, ridiculed Aestheticism in the person of Lambert Streyke, a Professor of Aesthetics, a reference to Ruskin as Slade Professor of Fine Art.15 Robert Buchanan denounced ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’. Sullivan was a friend of Sir Coutts Lindsay, the founder and owner of the Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street, London, where Aesthetic artists such as Rossetti and Whistler exhibited, and Sullivan even helped Lindsay in the gallery. Gilbert was a friend of Whistler and attended at least one of his Sunday breakfasts. Gilbert, a former lawyer, also attended the Whistler versus Ruskin libel trial of 1877,16 in which Whistler sued Ruskin for denouncing his paintings on show at the Grosvenor Gallery as ‘flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’.17 At the end of the trial Punch published a cartoon, ‘Whistler versus Ruskin’, in which a member of the jury is depicted saying ‘no sympathy with the defendant’,18 perhaps an echo of the lines sung by the jurymen in Trial by Jury, ‘I haven’t a scrap/ of sympathy with the defendant!’ (Trial by Jury, 81–82). The title Patience is the same as an essay (‘Patience’) by Ruskin in The Cestus of Aglaia.19 Ruskin writes: All that matters especially to us ... is that, next to Patience were ‘Beheste’ and ‘Art’; – Promise, that is, and Art ... and the intended patience is here only the long-suffering of love, and the intended beheste, its promise, and the intended art, its cunning.20 These words could pass as a summary of the plot of Patience, which begins with: Twenty love-sick maidens we, Love-sick all against our will.
J. A. Hilton
Twenty years hence we shall be Twenty love-sick maidens still. Twenty love-sick maidens we, And we die for love of thee. Patience, 1–6 In Patience the sets, costumes, and dialogue refer to the Aesthetic movement and by implication to Ruskin, an implication made explicit by D’Oyly Carte. In sending Patience on tour to the provinces, D’Oyly Carte explained in a circular that it mocked ‘a “movement” in the direction of a more artistic feeling, which had its commencement some time since in the works of Mr Ruskin and his supporters’.21 Gilbert originally wanted Du Maurier to design the costumes, but did so himself, and wanted Walter Crane to design the sets, but gave the job to his usual designer John O’Connor. Gilbert’s direction placed his characters in stage-pictures in the style of contemporary paintings; his procession of damozels was like Leighton’s ‘Daphnephoria’ and Burne-Jones’s ‘Design from “Romance of the Rose” ’22 and Lady Jane was described by a contemporary critic as ‘a gigantic nocturne in black and peacock green’.23 To win these ladies, the soldiers abandon their uniforms and enter ‘in imitation of Aesthetics’ (Patience, II, 292). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was mocked as ‘the Inner Brotherhood – perceptively intense and consummately utter’ with cries of ‘How Botticellian! How Fra Angelican!’ (Patience, II, 333–336).24 Their favourite colours were emphasized in ‘A greenery-yallery Grosvenor Gallery’ (Patience, II, 505).25 Their tastes were lampooned in: Still, there is a cloudy grey velvet, with a tender bloom like cold gravy, which, made Florentine fourteenth-century, trimmed with Venetian leather and Spanish altar lace, and surmounted with something Japanese – it matters not what – would at least be early English. Patience, I, 328–331 These lines are reminiscent of some words in Ruskin’s ‘Patience’: But it is a noble colour that Grison Grey, – dawn colour – graceful for a faded silk to ride in.26
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 47
The leading characters of Patience are modelled on the leading figures of the Aesthetic movement. It is sub-titled Bunthorne’s Bride, and the clash between Ruskin, self-confessedly notorious for his middleaged weakness for young women (a weakness which Gilbert shared and which led to his death, when, teaching two young women to swim, one got into difficulties, and Gilbert, going to her aid, had a heart attack), and Whistler becomes the rivalry between the Fleshly Poet Bunthorne and the Idyllic Poet Grosvenor for the love of a Village Milkmaid.27 Bunthorne was partly modelled on Oscar Wilde, and sings: Though the philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle in the high aesthetic band, If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand. Patience, I, 414–415 Wilde attended the opening night, and was jeered by the audience. When Patience was sent on tour in America, Carte also sent Wilde on a lecture tour to appear in each town, wearing black velvet and knee breeches, just as the opera opened. Bunthorne was also partly modelled on Whistler, and George Grossmith, the actor who created the role, asked his permission to reproduce his characteristic lock of white hair. Bunthorne’s other possible models include Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Crane, and Swinburne, whose poems he parodies in ‘Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!’ (Patience, I, 293–314). Grosvenor may also have been based on Wilde, Patmore, and Morris. Ruskin’s friend Coventry Patmore’s poems were about simple family life, and Grosvenor recites ‘a decalet – a pure and simple thing, a very daisy’ (Patience, II, 60–61). Patmore’s poetry was criticized for its mildness, and Bunthorne complains of Grosvenor’s ‘confounded mildness’ (Patience, II, 245). Ruskin’s disciple William Morris has also been put forward as the original of Grosvenor as ‘a man of propertee ... Money I despise it’ (Patience, I, 540–542), and ‘a trustee for Beauty’, ‘the Apostle of Simplicity’ (Patience, I, 575, 578), and ‘a man with a mission’ (Patience, II, 349).28 Swinburne and Morris received a passing mention in Ruddigore (I, 402), and Morris got another mention in The Grand Duke.29 These descriptions, however, are equally characteristic of Ruskin himself. That Gilbert could assume that, with a little help from D’Oyly Carte, his audience could pick up on some, if not all, of these cultural references indicates the extent to which Ruskin and his disciples had impinged upon the popular consciousness.
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Ruskin was also an obvious presence in The Gondoliers (1889). As Arnold Lunn pointed out, Ruskin was the greatest influence in converting the Victorians to a love of Venice.30 For Ruskin it was ‘the paradise of cities’,31 his The Stones of Venice (1851–1853) described its architecture for the English public, and he re-assessed its history in St Mark’s Rest (1877–1884). As Henry James put it, ‘It is Mr Ruskin, who beyond anyone, helps us to enjoy [Venice]’.32 The public responded by flocking to Venice, a journey made easier by the construction of railways linking Venice to England in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The first Cook’s tour arrived in Venice in 1867.33 The Gondoliers, as its title indicates, is set in Ruskin’s beloved Venice. The opera opens in the piazzetta in front of the Ducal Palace, described by Ruskin in the Stones of Venice as ‘the central building of the world’.34 The opera ends with the gondoliers Our gondolas plying And merrily crying Our ‘preme’, ‘stali!’ Ah! The Gondoliers, II, 883–884 And Ruskin devotes an entire Appendix in The Stones of Venice, II, to ‘The Gondolier’s Cry’ of ‘Premi’ [sic] and ‘Stali’.35 The Gondoliers not only deals with Ruskin’s artistic influence but also with his social concerns. These issues were already prefigured in The Stones of Venice, volume II, chapter 6, ‘The Nature of the Gothic’, – William Morris called it ‘one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of the century’36 – in which Ruskin denounced the ‘degradation of the operative into a machine’,37 concerns elaborated in Unto This Last (1860) and Fors Clavigera (1871f.). Gilbert summed up the opera’s plot thus: The Venetians of the fifteenth century were red-hot Republicans. One of their party is made king and invites his friends to form a court. They object because they are Republicans. He replies that he has considered that and proposed to institute a court in which all people shall be equal, and to this they agree.38 The striking parallel with Ruskin’s account of the history of Venice is suggestive: Let the reader therefore conceive the existence of the Venetian state as broadly divided into two periods: the first of nine hundred, the
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 49
second of five hundred years; the separation being marked by what was called the ‘Serrar del Consiglio’; that is to say, the final and absolute distinction of the nobles and the commonalty, and the establishment of the government in their hands to the exclusion of the influence of the people on the one side, and the authority of the Doge on the other. The first period, of nine hundred years, presents us with the most interesting spectacle of a people struggling out of anarchy into order and power.39 Gilbert’s chronology may be suspect, but it is this first period, Ruskin’s ‘a people struggling out of anarchy’, which he seems to be describing as that of ‘red-hot Republicans’, though he may also have had in mind the short-lived Venetian Republic of 1848–1849.40 Marco and Giuseppe sing ‘all shall equal be’ (The Gondoliers, I, 870), and the chorus replies Then hail! O King, Whichever you may be, To you we sing, But do not bend the knee. Then hail! O King. The Gondoliers, I, 903–907 This egalitarianism is criticized by the Grand Inquisitor in his song about the king who, in a caricature of Ruskin’s views, Wished all men as rich as he (And he was rich as rich could be), So to the top of every tree Promoted everybody. The Gondoliers, II, 327–330 The gondoliers’ kingdom, the setting of Act II, is Barataria, the name of the island of which Sancho Panza became governor in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and the stronghold, to the south of New Orleans, of the pirate Jean Laffite or Lafitte, pirates being notoriously democratic.41 Ruskin was in the habit of describing the reforming activities of the Guild of St George, which he founded in 1871, as his ‘island of Barataria’.42 It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that the penultimate line of the opera is
50 J. A. Hilton
Old Xeres, adieu – Manzanilla, Montero – (The Gondoliers, II, 887) the sherry from which Ruskins’ wealth was derived.43 Once again Gilbert could assume that the public would recognize a range of cultural references that derived from Ruskin. The entry of General Stanley’s Daughters on to the stage in The Pirates of Penzance (1880) is perhaps a reference to Ruskin’s advocacy of ‘Mountain Beauty’, which helped to popularize mountaineering, amongst women as well as men. It is also fitting that the spirit of Ruskin should lead General Stanley’s Daughters on to the stage in The Pirates of Penzance. As Lunn remarked, Ruskin ‘had more influence than any of his predecessors (or of his successors) in converting contemporary England to a love of mountains ...’.44 In Praeterita, Ruskin recalled his first sight of the Alps: ‘the seen walls of lost Eden could not have been more beautiful to us; not more awful, round heaven, the walls of sacred Death’.45 In ‘Of Mountain Beauty’ in volume IV of Modern Painters (1856), he analysed scientifically and described eloquently the structure of mountains, illustrated with sketches and diagrams, ‘For, to myself, mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery’.46 Just as many of his readers rushed off to Venice, so the more adventurous dashed off to climb the Alps, and the Alpine Club was founded in 1857. As a result, despite some initial prejudice, a little light mountaineering was evidently seen as a proper pastime for young ladies,47 and General Stanley’s daughters enter Climbing over rocky mountain, Skipping rivulet and fountain .................................................... Scaling rough and rugged passes, Climb the hardy little lasses The Pirates of Penzance, I, 234–242 Ruskin was conspicuous by his absence from The Mikado (1885), but his influence was implied. Having fathered the Aesthetic movement, he was reluctant to acknowledge it, and inclined to censure what he regarded as its excesses. Amongst these were Japonisme (so-called because it was initially taken up by the French), the cult of Japanese art. It began with the International Exhibition in London in 1862, which displayed the largest collection of Japanese art hitherto seen in Europe. It was taken up by Ruskin’s protégés Rossetti and Burne-Jones
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 51
and by others in their circle, such as Swinburne and Whistler especially. When Liberty’s opened in London in 1875 it became the leading importer of Japanese goods to an eager market of Aesthetes. By the time Patience appeared, Japonisme was a characteristic of Aestheticism;48 when Bunthorne confesses that he is not ‘an aesthetic man’ (Patience, I, 376), he declares that I do not long for all one sees That’s Japanese. Patience, I, 391–392 Ruskin did not share in the Aesthetic admiration of Japonisme; as he wrote to Rossetti in 1865, ‘You shall bar Parma [that is, Corregio] and I Japan’.49 The Mikado, however, glorified Japonisme. Legend has it that Gilbert was inspired by a Japanese sword falling from the wall. The opera opened at the same time as a Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge. The costumes for the opera were based on authentic Japanese designs, including kimonos specially made by Liberty’s, and the actors were schooled in Japanese gestures, a geisha being brought in from Knightsbridge to teach the three leading ladies, the Three Little Maids. The opening musical phrases were in the pentatonic scale, the basis of Oriental music, and the Mikado himself was greeted with a genuine Japanese song.50 Nevertheless, as Chesterton remarked, ‘I doubt if there is a single joke in the whole play that fits the Japanese. But all the jokes in the play fit the English’.51 Ruskin’s concerns figured in Princess Ida (1884), but these allusions seem to have escaped subsequent notice. Princess Ida or Castle Adamant was billed as ‘A Respectful Operatic Perversion of Tennyson’s “Princess”.’52 The eponymous heroine of the opera is a champion of women’s rights, an advocate of celibacy, and the founder of a women’s university. The opera’s obvious background is the development of women’s education with the founding in the 1870s of Somerville College and Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford and Girton and Newnham Colleges at Cambridge. Ruskin was concerned with the scientific education of girls, teaching science to girls at Winnington School in the 1860s, and writing books on science for girls. In Love’s Meinie (1873– 1881), Proserpina (1878–1881), and Deucalion (1875–1883), he offered not merely science to girls but an alternative feminine science with nature under Athene (Minerva), to whom Princess Ida offers an aria as ‘goddess
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wise’ (Princess Ida, I, 79–89). Ruskin engaged with Darwin. As George Levine has pointed out: The index to the Cook and Wedderburn edition of Ruskin is thick with allusions to Darwin. Most of them show a Ruskin angrily, contemptuously, comically denigrating what he takes to be Darwinism, though occasionally demonstrating respect for Darwin’s naturalist work. But Cook and Wedderburn also report friendly relations, citing in particular Charles Eliot Norton’s description of a meeting between Darwin and Ruskin: ‘Ruskin’s gracious courtesy was matched by Darwin’s charming and genial simplicity.’53 Ruskin offered a theory of evolution by metamorphosis as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution by the survival of the fittest, which also tended to view women as intermediate between children and men, who grew bigger and more hairy.54 Hence, Lady Psyche pokes fun at ‘Darwinian man’, who however well-behaved Is only a monkey shaved. Princess Ida, II, 463–465 Perhaps as part of this feminine science, Ruskin was particularly opposed to dissection and detested vivisection. Writing of his ‘new element of drawing’, he stated that its ‘first vital principle is that man is intended to observe with his eyes, and mind; not with microscope and knife’.55 The decision in 1884 to build a laboratory, in which vivisection might be practised, at the Oxford Museum, where Ruskin lectured, caused him to resign his chair in 1885. ‘I cannot’, he wrote, ‘lecture in the next room to a shrieking cat – nor address myself to the men who have been – there’s no word for it’.56 His resignation was no sudden decision, and his attitude to vivisection was widely known: he had attacked vivisection in a symposium, and a report of the meeting was printed and distributed by anti-vivisectionist organizations, including the Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection, of which he was a member.57 At the symposium Ruskin declared: For one secret discovered by the torture of a thousand animals, a thousand means of health, peace, and happiness were lost, because the surgeon was continually infecting his students not with the
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 53
common rabies of the dog, but with the rabies of the man, infecting them with all kinds of base curiosity, infecting the whole society which he taught with a thirst for knowing things which God had concealed from them for His own good reason, and promoting amongst them passions of the same kind.58 Princess Ida’s suitor, Hilarion, and his two companions mock female learning, concentrating on their scientific experiments, amongst which weasels at their slumbers They trepan – they trepan. Princess Ida, I, 233–234 The annotator of the operas glosses trepan as ‘Ensnare or catch in a trap’, and remarks that ‘The word occurs with a very different meaning in Colonel Calverley’s recipe for a Heavy Dragoon in Patience, when he sings of the “coolness of Paget about to trepan” (Act I, Line 37)’, which he defines as ‘operation on a skull’.59 There is perhaps Gilbertian humour in educated young ladies sneaking up on sleeping weasels in order to catch them, but it surely makes more sense to think of them dissecting the anaesthetized animals, especially as Princess Ida opened in the very year of the controversy over vivisection at Oxford. Moreover, the Finale is preceded by a speech by Hilarion in which he declares that Women are far too precious, too divine, To try unproven theories upon. Experiments, the proverb says, are made On humble subjects – try our grosser clay, And mould it as you will. Princess Ida, III, 378–382 The proverb is a translation of the saying ‘Fiat experimentum in corpore vile’, derived from someone who narrowly escaped dissection while in a trance.60 Gilbert, however, had little sympathy with feminism. Hilarion argues: Madam, you placed your trust in Woman – well, Woman has failed you utterly – try Man. Princess Ida, III, 375–376
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Ida responds: I have been wrong – I see my error now. Take me, Hilarion Princess Ida, III, 402–403 The opera ends in marriage and the defeat of feminism, but not before Ruskin’s opposition to vivisection and his attempt to construct a feminine science have been discussed. The Savoy operas, in effect Gilbert’s libretti, indicate the extent of Ruskin’s influence. Gilbert and Sullivan were aware of Ruskin’s work, and he was an important presence in their own oeuvre. There was the obvious satire of Aestheticism in Patience, and The Mikado derived directly from the popularity of Japonisme. The Gondoliers depended on Ruskin’s celebration of Venice, and also addressed his proposals for social reform. Princess Ida discussed Ruskin’s interest in the education of girls and in current scientific concerns, such as Darwinism and vivisection. In addition, there are passing allusions to Ruskin’s interests in other operas, such as the praise of mountaineering in The Pirates of Penzance. The Savoy operas not only show Gilbert’s knowledge of Ruskin but also that of his contemporary audiences. They may not demonstrate Ruskin’s influence on the proverbial man in the street, but they do, perhaps, suggest his appeal for Marie Lloyd’s ‘boy ... up in the gallery’.61
Notes 1. This paper first appeared in The Friends of Ruskin’s Brantwood Newsletter (Autumn 2000). I am grateful to its editor, Mr Paul Dawson, for permission to publish a revised version of the paper. I am grateful to Miss A. M. Cunningham for her help in the preparation of the original paper, and to Dr. Anselm Heinrich and Professor Jeffrey Richards for their help in revising it for publication here. 2. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn eds., Complete Works of John Ruskin (London: George Allen, 1903–1912), vol. 33, p. 332. 3. Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Performing the Victorian: John Ruskin and Identity in Theater, Science, and Education (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007), pp. 19–62. 4. All citations from the operas are given by act and line number as in Ian Bradley, The Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, 2 vols (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982–1984). 5. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 1, pp. 32, 116–118.
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 55 6. Hesketh Pearson, Gilbert and Sullivan: A Biography (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950), p. 110. 7. Leslie Ayre, The Gilbert and Sullivan Companion (London: Pan Books, 1974), pp. 10–33, 41, 75–76; Pearson, Gilbert and Sullivan, pp. 68–179. 8. Arthur Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 82. 9. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 1, pp. 230–232. 10. Pearson, Gilbert and Sullivan, p. 72; Jane W. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and His Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 164; Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician, p. 79. 11. Ayre, Gilbert and Sullivan Companion, p. 260. 12. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, p. 182. 13. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, p. 182. 14. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, p. 182. 15. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, p. 182. 16. Nicholas Shrimpton, ‘Ruskin and the Aesthetes’, in Dinah Birch, ed., Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 131–152; Wolfgang Kemp, The Desire of My Eyes: The Life and Work of John Ruskin (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), pp. 340–346; Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, pp. 164, 181–183; Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, pp. 124, 142; Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician, pp. 79, 105, 147–148. 17. Shrimpton, Ruskin and the Aesthetes, p. 141. 18. James S. Dearden, John Ruskin: A Life in Pictures (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), p. 142. 19. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 19, pp. 82–94. 20. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 19, p. 85. 21. Shrimpton, Ruskin and the Aesthetes, p. 141. 22. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, p. 183; Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician, pp. 147–188. 23. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, p. 183. 24. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, pp. 190–191. 25. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, pp. 200–201. 26. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 19, p. 88. 27. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 35, pp. 507–508; Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, pp. 345–346; Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician, p. 151. 28. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, pp. 125, 146, 154, 156–157, 174–175, 184–185, 196–197; Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician, p. 151; Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, pp. 183–184. 29. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, p. 338. 30. Arnold Lunn, ‘Alpine Mysticism and “Cold Philosophy”,’ in Douglas Woodruff, ed., For Hilaire Belloc (London: Sheed and Ward, 1942), pp. 57–58. 31. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 30, p. 296. 32. Henry James, Italian Hours (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), p. 8. 33. Christopher Hibbert, Venice: The Biography of a City (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), pp. 255–310; Robert Hewison, Ruskin’s Venice (London: Pilkington Press, 2000), passim; Sarah Quill, Ruskin’s Venice: The Stones
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34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41.
43. 44. 45. 46. 47.
49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54.
Revisited (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), passim; John Pemble, Venice Rediscovered (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), passim. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 9, p. 38. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 10, pp. 441–442. Gillian Naylor, ed., William Morris by Himself: Designs and Writings (London: Time Warner Books, 2004), p. 13. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 10, p. 194. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 1, p. 362. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 9, pp. 19–20. Hibbert, Venice, pp. 215–254; John Julius Norwich, Paradise of Cities: Venice in the 19th Century (New York: Doubleday, 2003), pp. 155–170. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 1, pp. 376–377; Jan Rogozinski (1999), The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pirates (London: Wordsworth Editions), pp. xv, 189–190. E. T. Cook, ‘Ruskin, John’, in Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1907–1917), vol. XXII, p. 1192; Janet Barnes, Ruskin in Sheffield (Sheffield: The Ruskin Gallery, Collection of the Guild of St George, Sheffield, n.d.), passim. George P. Landow, Ruskin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 1. Lunn, Alpine Mysticism, p. 53. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 35, p. 115. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 6, p. 418. Anon., Sublime Inspiration: The Art of Mountains from Turner to Hillary (Kendal: Abbot Hall Art Gallery, 1997), passim; Rebecca A. Brown, Women on High: Pioneers of Mountaineering (Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2002), passim. Tomoko Sato and Toshio Watanabe, ‘The Aesthetic Dialogue Examined’, in Sato and Watanabe, eds., Japan and Britain: An Aesthetic Dialogue 1850–1930 (London: Lund Humphries, 1991), pp. 19–22, 28. Shrimpton, Ruskin and the Aesthetes, p. 142, n. 19. Stedman, W. S. Gilbert, p. 208; Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 1, pp. 257–258, 260, 278, 320. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 1, p. 258. Ayre, Gilbert and Sullivan Companion, p. 312. George Levine, ‘Ruskin, Darwin, and the Matter of Matter’, NineteenthCentury Prose 35 (2008): 224. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, p. 211; Levine, ‘Ruskin, Darwin, and the Matter of Matter’, pp. 223–249; Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, ‘Myth and Gender in Ruskin’s Science’, in Dinah Birch, ed., Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 153–174; Ann Shearer, Athene: Image and Energy (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996), pp. 195–197; Weltman, Performing the Victorian, pp. 39–86. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 25, p. xxx; Robert Hewison, ‘ “Paradise Lost”: Ruskin and Science’, in Michael Wheeler, ed., Time & Tide: Ruskin and Science (London: Pilkington Press, 1996), p. 42. Hewison, ‘Paradise Lost’: Ruskin and Science, p. 43. Jed Mayer, ‘Ruskin, Vivisection, and Scientific Knowledge’, NineteenthCentury Prose 35 (2008): 200–222.
Ruskin at the Savoy: Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and Ruskin 57 58. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 36, pp. 643–644, quoted in Mayer, Ruskin, Vivisection and Scientific Knowledge, p. 201. 59. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, pp. 134–135, 250. 60. Bradley, Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, vol. 2, pp. 306–307. 61. Richard Anthony Baker, Marie Lloyd: Queen of the Music-Halls (London: Robert Hale, 1990), p. 16.
3 Ruskinian Moral Authority and Theatre’s Ideal Woman Rachel Dickinson
John Ruskin loved the theatre in a broad sense. He was particularly fond of popular, comic performances; childlike, he delighted in the Christy Minstrels, which he referred to as ‘Kisty Mins’; comique operas such as Edmond Audran’s The Mascot, which he referred to by its French title, ‘La Mascotte’, and described as a ‘naughty opera’; romantic comedies such as Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Money; and pantomimes such as Cinderella.1 He publicly expressed his preference for such lighter theatre in ‘Letter 39’ of Fors Clavigera, his series of regularly published Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain. This instalment of Fors was published in March 1874 and in it he overtly articulated a parallel between the Church and the Theatre as spaces of particular influence on the morality of society. This connection is one facet of Ruskin’s broader project to teach his readers to re-learn what he believed infants naturally know: how to see, to judge and to act along useful, morally sound paths. Focusing on Fors 39, and using supporting evidence from Ruskin’s diaries and personal correspondence, this essay considers Ruskin’s perception of the moral power of theatrical space – that good theatre can teach an audience about morality which, in this instance, is emphatically represented by usefulness. At least, it can ideally achieve this when rightly done. I say ‘rightly done’, for Ruskin did not approve of all theatre, and was as likely to complain of performances that did not live up to his expectations as he was to praise those that did. For example, he wrote a letter to his cousin and ward, Joan Severn, asking: ‘Do you remember the play I took Connie & you to see at Paris, the first time?2 That is the kind of thing that has destroyed the French, and is destroying the English, – and no one ever speaks of it.’3 To Ruskin’s mind, that particular, unidentified production epitomized all that was wrong with French society; it reflected the culture’s immorality and lack of good. In The 58
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Eagle’s Nest, he makes similar claims about Henri Meilhac’s and Ludovic Halévy’s Frou-Frou, noting that ‘[t]he sight of it made me thoroughly ill, and I was not myself again for a week’.4 For Ruskin, a theatrical performance should have a lasting effect on an audience – and this should be positive. Rather than reflecting ‘the kind of thing that has destroyed’ a culture, he believed that it should offer a clear perception of reality so that, having learned to recognize properly coded morality within the rarefied space of the theatre, the audience might learn to recognize and cultivate it in the external, real world. In this particular letter of Fors, Ruskin focuses on lessons related to his feminized ideal of humanity – that is, that one should learn to judge and to be useful. He notes how these lessons come to life in stock characters like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Although the attributes and actions he praises here are embodied in archetypal female characters, Ruskin presents their actions as a composite model for ideal human experience and he pays particular attention to how the audience, which is implicitly composed of all of Victorian society, should be affected by watching them. At the heart of Ruskin’s oeuvre lies a compulsively pedagogical drive to teach his readers to see, to be good and to be actively useful. For example, ‘Letter 1’ of the Elements of Drawing begins by asserting that, if the reader wants to acquire a ‘refinement of perception’ which would enable them to ‘set down clearly, and usefully, records of such things as cannot be described in words’ and ‘to obtain quicker perceptions of the beauty of the natural world’ and to begin to ‘understand the minds of great painters, and to be able to appreciate their work sincerely, seeing it for yourself’, that is, the reader come student’s self. ‘Then’, says Ruskin, ‘I can help you, or, which is better, show you how to help yourself’.5 Similarly, in The Stones of Venice Ruskin takes his readers by the hand and leads them on a tour of the city, teaching them to see Venice, yes, but also offering many other lessons along the way, including how to see and to judge their own cultures and surroundings. ‘Letter 39’ of Fors fits this Ruskinian pattern, taking readers on a verbal journey which follows whimsical paths peppered with anecdotes, with experiments he has tried (and the reader is encouraged to emulate) and with compelling images – all designed actively to engage with the reader and to make the reader, in turn, actively and ethically engage with the world. Entitled ‘The Cart Goes Better, So’,6 Fors 39 is essentially a lesson in usefulness. It begins: On a foggy forenoon, two or three days ago, I wanted to make my way quickly from Hengler’s Circus to Drury Lane Theatre, without
losing time which may be philosophically employed; and therefore afoot, for in a cab I never can think of anything but how the driver is to get past whatever is in front of him.7 Ruskin takes his readers with him on his walk between two performance venues, narrating his frustration with cabbies who cannot understand enough basic geometry to plot the fastest route between two points – which is, after all, the reason why Ruskin was walking between venues. This critique is somewhat ironic, considering the tangential paths his epistolary self walks in narrating the story. En route to Drury Lane Theatre, he uses the cabbies’ collective lack of education to discuss his educational plans for St. George’s schools: that children will be taught such practical points of geometry and science by actively, physically, usefully doing; in this instance, by pushing and pulling carts along a route so as to discover the best way to plot a route. His point being that ‘every bit of science the children learn shall be directly applied by them, and the use of it felt’. By the time he and his readers have reached Covent Garden (mapping their route by noting shops and signs along the way), Ruskin was into the full swing of his lesson, the key to which – that is, learning to be useful and thus good – has already been seeded for the reader if not yet overtly stressed. His primary pedagogical tool, which he later calls ‘theatrical entertainments’, has been invoked from the very first sentence. And, he has also created an implicit parallel between the children who will learn to understand geometry through practical, useful lessons, and the adult readership whom he is leading with him on epistolary feet along a journey through the streets of London. Having prepared his readers to consider issues of pedagogy, and having suggested that they should reconsider their own perceptions and understandings of how the world works, he reaches his physical destination within the text, Drury Lane Theatre, and circles closer to his pedagogical destination. He continues: ‘I was but just in time to get my tickets for Jack in the Box, on the day I wanted, and put them carefully in the envelope with those I had been just securing at Hengler’s for my fifth visit to Cinderella.’ At this point, almost half way through the main body of the letter, Ruskin finally reveals his primary pedagogical tool for this epistle: he will teach his readers by invoking the world of pantomime with which they are all familiar. He anticipates their potential surprise that such a low-brow form of entertainment will be the focus of his lesson.8 In ‘The Cart Goes Better, So’, Ruskin meets any imagined outcry of irrelevance head-on by mischievously noting that it will be his ‘fifth visit to
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Cinderella’, adding: ‘[f]or indeed, during the last three weeks, the greater part of my available leisure has been spent between Cinderella and Jack in the Box’. Implicitly, this is high praise: the eminent author and professor had chosen to spend his free time at such performances. Ruskin then describes how these performances had affected him, causing this curious result in my mind, that the intermediate scenes of [... ‘the outside’ world], have become to me merely as one part of the drama, or pantomime, which I happen to have seen last; or, so far as the difference in the appearance of men and things may compel me to admit some kind of specific distinction, I begin to ask myself, Which is the reality and which the pantomime? On the surface, by asking this question, ‘Which is the reality and which the pantomime’, Ruskin blurs the distinction between the two. But implicitly, he sets them up in contrast to each other: he groups together all human interactions on the streets, the broad ‘outside world’, and sets these up in opposition to the action within a rarefied world he names as that of pantomime. In this letter of Fors, the world of pantomime is conflated with other forms of what Ruskin calls ‘theatrical entertainments’, such as ‘the Church and the Circus’, which he describes as populated with ‘imaginative congregations’ who, within those rarefied contexts, ‘still retain some true notions of the value of human and beautiful things [... and] retain some just notion of the truth, in moral things.’ Thus, in ‘Fors 39’, Ruskin lumps together church, circus, pantomime, fairytales, and the ‘little romance’ with which he concludes this letter (a serial translation of the story of Hansli the Broom-maker). When he uses pantomime in the question ‘Which the reality and which the pantomime?’, what he means is: which is the mundane, jaded, external, mind-and-soul deadening adult world, and which is the rarefied, innocent, magical, inner, infantilized world. He answers his own question with: ‘Nay, it appears to me not of much moment which we choose to call Reality.’9 For Ruskin, ‘Reality’ with a capital ‘R’ is where the good, the ideal resides – and he proceeds to present the composite pantomime world as the locus for lessons in ethical, moral living. These forms of theatrical and imaginative entertainment are chosen by him precisely because of their apparently escapist, infantile appeal – in this world, the audience is unjaded and is able clearly to discern good and bad. Ruskin attributes a great deal of power to all theatre, not just such age- and class-levelling performances as pantomime. He makes the
62 Rachel Dickinson
broad point more explicitly elsewhere. Writing in 1882 about his intention to see a performance by the iconic actor-manager Henry Irving, he said: ‘Irving has so much power with the public that I want to see how he gets and how he uses it’.10 Ruskin ascribes such influence not just to actors but to the whole experience of the theatre. Writing in 1880 about a Parisian play, he praised the production but expressed indignation at the vulgar ‘decorations’ and ‘squalor and dismalness’ and the cheap, mercantile aspects of the theatre itself, arguing that a ‘ghastly want of sense of beauty [... was] gaining hourly on the people’.11 For Ruskin, the theatre is a whole experience: the audience is affected not only by the merits of a particular production (and it is worth remembering that Ruskin was well aware of these – for example, in Fors 39 he praises the costuming, skill and grace of performers) but also by such seemingly extraneous aspects as the architecture of the building, what products are being advertised, what products are for sale, how the interval is handled, and even the aesthetic appeal of the rest of the audience. He recognizes that all of these factors combine to affect the individual audience member – including himself. For example, in an 1872 letter to Joan Severn, he notes that he had carried the emotional effect of a play with him out of the theatre and into the following day. He writes: ‘I saw such a lovely French play last night. but so infinitely sad that I can’t even jest in writing today – any more than if some new grief had happened to myself’.12 Ruskin’s hangover of theatrical depression helps to explain his preference for lighter performances such as pantomime, Christy Minstrels and comic operas. But it does not fully explain it, for he appreciated the sad and the dramatic as well as the comic. For Ruskin, the power of pantomime and allied performances rests in its resonant associations with childhood. Although pantomime ‘appealed to all classes of society’,13 its subject matter and performance were particularly child-friendly with simple plots of good and evil, clowns, ornate costuming and escapist locations – all, as David Mayer expresses it in his introduction to Harlequin in his Element, ‘suggest a swift return to the nursery or the childhood hearth’.14 Ruskin is, after all, a man who chose his childhood nursery to be his London study in later life; who presented his child self in Praeterita as the ideal self, who constructed people close to him as family members by christening them with familial titles – Mama Talbot, Papa Carlyle – and who corresponded with his cousin Joan Severn and intimate friends using infantilized idiolects. For Ruskin, the domestic, infantilized nursery and the relationship patterns it entails represents the height of human goodness and ways of being. Its rejuvenating and restorative power is implied in
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a letter Ruskin wrote to his cousin just a few months before the final breakdown which marked his absolute withdrawal from society. In it, he wrote: ‘Ive resolved to stay here [Folkestone] till Christmas – and then come up to my old nursery, and take everybody to the Drury Lane Pantomimes.’15 Intriguingly, he did not initially specify ‘the Drury Lane Pantomimes’. Rather, he began by writing ‘theatre’ then superimposed ‘Drury Lane’ over the line representing ‘-atre’, transforming the first three letters of ‘theatre’ into the word ‘the’, thereby specifying that not just any theatre would do. He also specified that he would stay in ‘my old nursery’. While Ruskin commonly referred to his study in the London home he had grown up in and later given to the Severns as his nursery, the term takes on special resonance here when paired with going en famille to see the pantomimes, to re-experience the revitalizing, infantilized joy of pantomime. This rejuvenating and restorative function is important within Ruskinian conceptions of human morality and perception. For Ruskin, learning truly to see and to understand the world requires an ‘innocence of the eye’. Defining this phrase in relation to visual art work, Ruskin explained: ‘that is to say, of a sort of childish perception of these flat stains of colour, merely as such, without consciousness of what they signify – as a blind man would see them if suddenly gifted with sight’16 This is a type of sight which Jonathan Crary describes as ‘uncluttered by the weight of historical codes and conventions of seeing’, but which makes ‘the effort time and again to see afresh and anew’, tracing ‘its own pattern of repetition and conventions’.17 While pantomime and allied theatrical performances are essentially conventional, their conventions often take the everyday world’s norms, exaggerate them, and turn them on their heads. For Ruskin, pantomime and the circus offered passage back to the realm of the child, which could be revisited through repeat attendance (like the adult Ruskin going five times to the same production). Ruskin argues in Fors 39 that, within this conventionalized space, one can re-learn a child-like, innocent understanding of the world and regain a perspective which is fresh and new. He is overt about the importance of taking on such an infantilized perception within the context of the theatre and argues that, of ‘pantomime’ and ‘reality’, ‘it appears to me not of much moment which we choose to call Reality’, adding: Both are equally real; and the only question is whether the cheerful state of things which the spectators, especially the youngest and wisest, entirely applaud and approve at Hengler’s and Drury Lane,
must necessarily be interrupted always by the woeful interlude of the outside world.18 Ruskin conceives of such theatre as a place where the youngest are the wisest and, guided by them, where jaded adults can re-learn to see. He was not alone in recognizing the child-centred appeal of such theatre. W. S. Gilbert,19 for example, similarly recognized its effect on him in childhood: ‘Harlequin, Columbine, Clown and Pantaloon!’ Yes, they awaken, in my mind at all events, the only recollection of unmixed pleasure associated with early childhood. Those night expeditions to a mystic building, where incomprehensible beings of all descriptions held astounding revels, under circumstances which I never endeavoured to account for, were to my infant mind absolutely realizations of a fairy mythology which I had almost incorporated with my religious faith.20 But Gilbert also notes with some regret that, for his adult self, the pantomime had lost its mythic power. He adds that: To be a Harlequin or a Columbine was the summit of earthly happiness to which a worthy man or woman could aspire; while the condition of Clown or Pantaloon was a fitting purgatory in which to expiate the guilty deeds of a life misspent. But as I grew older, I am afraid I came to look upon the relative merits of these mystic personages in a different light.21 In marked contrast to Ruskin, Gilbert, claims that ‘[t]he happiness of infancy lies in its total irresponsibility, its incapacity to distinguish between right and wrong, its general helplessness, its inability to argue rationally’.22 This is, in effect, the opposite perspective from Ruskin’s assertion that ‘the spectators, especially the youngest and wisest, entirely applaud and approve’ right, moral behaviour in the pantomime. The Ruskinian conception of the ‘innocence of the eye’23 is the key; its childlike and, as constructed by Ruskin, feminized,24 innocence of perception – untarnished and unblinded by the fallen, cruel, principles of the public sphere, the ‘Real World’ – of which he also claims in this Fors to have become ‘hopelessly an inhabitant’, can be transcended through the experience of pantomime and, as implied in this letter and argued elsewhere, through useful-yet-feminized domestic activities. Ruskin
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exhorted his readership to learn from the pantomime experience and to transport the ‘in-sight’ gained there into the outdoor world, there to transform it literally from ‘inside’. Ruskin would have agreed with Mayer’s assessment of the social power of pantomime: that despite – indeed because of – its childish associations, pantomime was a highly topical form of dramatic art, offering audiences immediate and specific comment on the issues, major and minor, of the day. Disguised in its exotic and traditional ornamentation, the pantomime held up an imperfect mirror to its audiences. 25 Ruskin recognized that, within this escapist space, audiences were primed to let down their collective guard, to escape the daily grind and to see simple, moral lessons revealed in its mirror. Indeed, within a Ruskinian conception of the ideal, the very imperfection of that mirror adds to its power. In The Stones of Venice, Ruskin contrasts apparently ‘perfect’ yet essentially corrupt industrial production with the apparent imperfection or ‘Savageness’ in the craftsmen’s work.26 For Ruskin, human imperfection (‘Savageness’) liberates the craftsman authentically to create works that reveal ‘the whole majesty of him’.27 Arguing that imperfection in human creation echoes the imperfection in divine Creation, for Ruskin the ‘Savageness’ entailed in craftsmanship is ‘the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change’,28 representing the authentic, imperfect, moral self. Part of the power of pantomime rests in the skewed and imperfect perspective of humanity offered therein. Another aspect of the power of such performances stems from their corporate nature. Theatre is a shared experience. Through it, all members of the audience focus on the same thing and share a single, if splintered, vision – which is one of the reasons why Ruskin conflates church and theatre in Fors 39. Although he did attend plays by himself, for example a staging of La Mascotte on 8 July 1882,29 he preferred to be accompanied by others. He regularly refers to taking others to performances, for example a few days later on 12 July 1882, he wrote: ‘I’m going to take Mr & Mrs West to see “Money”30 on Saturday. or perhaps, to the Opera.’31 His diary notes that he attended Jack in the Box in mixed company.32 His companions of choice were young women and his personal correspondence is peppered with references to excursions to the theatre in the company of women. Take, for example an undated letter to
Joan Severn: Darlin Poos moos, Here’s me, in town again. – Me’s going to take Angie to see Cinderella tomowie. – and me wanted to be early at work in National Gallery [which, implicitly, is why he was spending the night at the Golden Cross Hotel, Charing Cross, rather than staying with the Severns in the outskirts of the city].33 Similarly, having seen La Mascotte he wrote: last night I went to the Mascotte, and of all the naughty operas I evy saw, its the naughtiest. Di ma, their weer about two hundred peepies in it – soldiers and pages and maids of (honour!) and princesses and princes and one fairy and one lot of farmers and peasants and pipers and dancers – and I think quite seriously di ma – as far as me can recollect out of the two hundred peepies there were only Four ‘gentlemen’ – All the rest – feminine of various ages, [...]. I’m thinking of taking Claudia & Mattie – for they’d get some pitty notions in dresses oo know [...] I thought it was – little too bad when the princefs was in a bad temper, and could’nt be pleased with anything, – and the King her father, after asking every mortal thing she could want, asked [as]34 a last recource– ‘whether she wanted a split skirt?’!35 He followed up on his plan to see the performance accompanied by young women and a fortnight later wrote: And. di wee Ma, the Nieces and I all went to see Clara. last night – and they were dited [...] And we had a lovely little darky private box – and ices and sponge cake, and I got the carriage for them in a minute and they went home to supper and I to Cup of tea and beezy bo.36 He was delighted by the shared experience, which entailed not only watching the performance and learning from it, but also the quality of their box, the sweets they ate and the transportation they enjoyed. This is a recurring theme in Ruskin’s letters to Joan Severn: that performances – whether opera, pantomime, Bach,37 or dramas – were improved by good company. As here, particularly prized companions for such events were young females such as Angie Acland, Edith and Alice Liddell or the girls of Winnington School. While it is easy to assume that this preference reflects a lecherous tendency on Ruskin’s part; there is much more at work here. In the company of such young women,
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Ruskin could see their innocent delight in the performance played out on their faces and in their body language, and could hear their assessment of the entertainment. And (like Wordsworth in the Dorothy Coda of ‘Tintern Abbey’) he could re-experience his own innocent, child-like enjoyment through watching theirs. He effectively could see through their eyes and perceive the performance from a perspective of care-free innocence – which itself echoes the ideal femininity Ruskin perceived in pantomime and articulated in Fors 39. In this letter of Fors, Ruskin notes that the shared experience of theatre refines that experience and enables the individual members to see and judge with the heart of a child. At first he notes that it is ‘the youngest and wisest’ who rightly respond to the performance. But then he leads his readers through their own mnemonic re-experiencing of pantomimes they have seen, noting that ‘the whole audience’ (which implicitly includes the reader now ‘watching’ the remembered performance with him) responds appropriately to the performance: They can’t have enough, any more than I can, of the loving duet between Tom Tucker and little Bo Peep: they would make the dark fairy dance all night long in her amber light if they could; and yet contentedly return to what they call a necessary state of things outside, where their corn is reaped by machinery, and the only duets are between steam whistles. Why haven’t they a steam whistle to whistle to them on stage instead of Miss Violet Cameron? Why haven’t they a steam Jack in the Box to jump for them, instead of Mr. Evans? or a steam doll to dance for them, instead of Miss Kate Vaughan? They still seem here to have human ears and eyes, in the Theatre; to know there, for an hour or two, that golden light, and song, and human skill and grace are better than smoke-blackness, and shrieks of iron and fire, and monstrous powers of constrained elements. And then they return to their underground railroad, and say, ‘This, behold, – this is the right way to move, and live in a real world.’38 The full weight of Ruskin’s disapproval falls on ‘them’, the ‘they’ who are both fictionalized audience and real readership. Ruskin has taken his readers with him, the ‘they’ of the theatrical audience have implicitly become the ‘you’ who are his epistolary audience. And they are seeing with Ruskin the juxtaposition of the magical, fairytale world inside the theatre set against the harsh reality of the exterior world. Together with Ruskin, they begin to recognize the destructive, unnatural force of mechanization which leads to dehumanization. This argument against
modernization and industrialization recurs throughout Ruskin’s work. Often, as it is here, it is set up in opposition to a playful, infantilized and feminized ideal. Rather than using an example of this from his published works, I offer a manuscript letter, written to Lily Severn, an adopted granddaughter, on her eighth birthday. Strictly speaking, it does not relate to theatre, but it does talk about fairies and, in Fors 39 and elsewhere, Ruskin blurs the boundaries between pantomime, circus, church and fairytale. My darling Lily, So many thanks for your pretty Valentine; – and I am sure you should thank the Fairies for bringing your mother to see you on your birthday, and for putting it into my head to give you a pretty silken dress – I will tell you some day how the Fairies teach silkworms to spin the silk: – the first lesson they have to teach the little things is that they must be very industrious all their lives – then, that though they’re only worms, they can, if they’re industrious make the loveliest dresses for little Lilies like you.– and then, they show them how they must eat, mulberry leaves and how they must sip dew: and then how they must make their leaf huts – and then how they must spin all day long (I don’t know how long their working day is though, but I’m sure its the right length – the fairies know.) And then the fairies tell them they must rest – and that their work is to dress beautiful little and great – ladies, who when they are wise, do as the fairies bid them and spin, – golden threads. And thats all I have time to tell you today – but I wish I were with mama to see you in your fairies dress – for spring. Perhaps they’ll give you pretty dreams, even when you put it off – and will watch by your bedside – and sweep the floor for you during the night – only you can’t see them. –. you know – green and blue dresses cant be seen with open eyes – onin the night – so nobody believes in fairies – except – but only dreamed of with shut ones – I’m in a tebby hurry and am making a mess Ever your lovingest Di Pa.39 Here, he engages in a form of imaginative play by telling Lily a story about ‘how the Fairies teach silkworms to spin the silk’.40 Young Lily’s gift-dress was silk, not really the ‘piece of useful clothing’ made of homespun, which he recommended to his readers in Sesame and Lilies41; nor the ‘plain housewifely dress’ he had praised in Fors 20.42 But Ruskin nevertheless invested
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the dress he gave to young Lily with the principles he associated with idealized women’s clothing. He speaks of ‘loveliest dresses’ for little girls, crafted by industrious labourers who work fair hours. The silkworms not only engage in spinning silk and making dresses, they also engage in the proper preparation and consumption of food, as well as in crafting their own ‘huts’. Combined with the pretty new dress, they offer Lily Severn a fairy-story object-lesson in ideal femininity, which was by extension a lesson in ideal humanity – including learning to sweep. This is in keeping with his plans for St. George’s Society. Ruskin offers the same message in Fors 39 when he writes about the female pantomime characters. Although Fors 39 mentions stock male characters like Jack in the Box, Tom Tucker (and male preachers), as his lesson in theatrical true-seeing builds to a climax and offers specific examples of usefulness (of how ‘the cart goes better, so’), his gaze rests on the female characters. His focus is particularly on Cinderella – after all, this instalment of Fors opens with him having just procured tickets to a fifth viewing of a staging of her story – but he also offers the example of Red Riding Hood. In each case, he gives a brief glimpse of idealized domestic femininity such as he praises throughout his works. So, he writes, ‘[l]ittle Cinderella [...] never thinks of offering her poor fairy Godmother a ticket from the Mendicity Society. She immediately goes and fetches her some dinner.’ In so doing, ‘[l]ittle Cinderella’ enacts (and teaches the audience) one of the most powerful and useful domestic roles: supplying others with food – after all, to control the flow of food is to control one of the most basic human needs; this is power indeed, and a form of power which rested with the woman within Victorian cultural norms.43 Notably, although a form of power socially constructed as feminine, it is a form of power which Ruskin himself engaged in. In the late 1860s and early 1870s he encouraged his cousin and ward Joan (Agnew) Severn to learn to cook and bake. For example, on 27 September 1868, he wrote to his 21-year old cousin, saying: will you please lose no opportunity of doing and seeing cookery. I am more and more daily impressed with the need of young ladies in the humbler occupations of life, to make them all beautiful and orderly again. – and I want you to be a subtle cook – Make a point of this – not to plague yourself – but learn all you can from mama – & whenever you come acrofs a nice dish. enquire about it. and get a recipe book – & write it all down. Importantly, he too began actively to learn to cook and to bake and in letters to his cousin written in spring 1873 records his attempts and
70 Rachel Dickinson
lessons. As with the lessons in geometry outlined at the beginning of Fors 39, these lessons in food preparation were engaged in at least partly in preparation for establishing his Society of St. George, which later became realized at least in part in the Guild of St. George. Ruskin elaborates on Cinderella’s actions, saying: ‘And she makes herself generally useful and sweeps the doorstep, and dusts the door; – and none of the audience think any worse of her on that account. They think the worse of her proud sisters who make her do it.’ The phrase ‘she makes herself generally useful’ again empowers her: she has a choice. Cinderella not only does what the ‘proud sisters’ ask, but she chooses to do it well. In this passage, Cinderella is constructed as a ‘good little housewife’ (albeit unmarried) of the sort with whom Ruskin converses in The Ethics of the Dust. He adds: ‘But when they [that is, the audience, which is also implicitly the you who is the reader] leave the Circus, they never think for a moment of making themselves useful, like Cinderella.’ This is the central message of this instalment of Fors, although just in case his readership has not learnt the lesson, Ruskin reiterates it in several ways. He continues by offering other examples of how the audience perceives the pantomime characters’ actions and rightly judges them within ‘theatrical entertainments’. This is the case in Red Riding Hood, of whom he writes: Again, in all the dramatic representations of Little Red Riding Hood, everybody disapproves of the carnivorous propensities of the Wolf. [which] they clearly distinguish there [...] but once outside the theatre, they declare the whole human race to be universally carnivorous – and are ready themselves to eat up any quantity of Red Riding Hoods, body and soul, if they can make money by them. Ruskin is restating a message he has offered over and over again. Just as, in ‘The Nature of Gothic’ (the central chapter of The Stones of Venice) he states that the reader must choose to make a man or a machine out of the workman, here he is arguing for the moral responsibility of each individual to choose not ‘to eat up any quantity of Red Riding Hoods’ for their own economic gain. As in ‘The Nature of Gothic’, this lesson is filtered through a description of feminized domestic activity. Ruskin argues for the essential ‘Reality’ of ‘pantomime’; it captures the essence of what is real and, in this refined form, the audience can re-learn to recognize and rightly applaud its feminized ethical and economic lessons. The individual audience member must empower him- or
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herself by learning to recognize and enact these in ‘the outside world’. Ruskin ends the main body of this letter with a statement which levels all barriers between class and gender, between himself and his readers: ‘we may farther consider, in due time, how, without help from any fairy Godmother, we may make Cinderella’s life gentle to her, as well as simple; and, without taking the peasant’s hand from his labour, make his heart leap with joy as pure as a king’.44
Notes 1. With the exception of Cinderella, taken from Fors 39, these examples come from manuscript letters from Ruskin to Joan Severn: 12 January 1873 (‘Kisty Mins’), 26 June 1882 (‘Mascotte’) and 12 July 1883 (‘Money’). All manuscript letters from Ruskin to Severn reproduced in this essay are from the John Howard Whitehouse Collection, housed in the Ruskin Library, University of Lancaster. A selection of these letters appears in my John Ruskin’s Letters to Joan Severn: Sense and Nonsense Letters (Oxford: Legenda, 2008). For a similar listing of Ruskin’s wide-ranging taste in theatre, see Sharon Aronofsky Weltman’s Performing the Victorian: John Ruskin and Identity in Theatre, Science, and Education (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2007), esp. p. 19. 2. By ‘the first time’, he presumably means the first time they travelled to the Continent together, in 1866, accompanied by the teenaged Constance Hilliard and her maternal aunt and uncle, Lady Pauline Jermyn Trevelyan and Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan. 3. The letter is undated, but was probably written in February 1871. Ruskin often used idiosyncratic idiolects, spelling and punctuation in his personal letters. I have reproduced them here, generally without comment. Obvious errors such as the use of a full stop rather than a comma are Ruskin’s, as are atypical spellings and emphases passed without note. 4. The Eagles’ Nest in The Complete Works of John Ruskin (Library Edition), 39 vols, ed. by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1903–1912), vol. 22, p. 74. For a further discussion of Ruskin’s reaction to Frou-Frou, see Weltman’s Performing the Victorian, pp. 43–44, 71 and 131n12. 5. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 15, p. 25. 6. While this title comes from a line in Hansli’s story at the end of the chapter, it nevertheless relates to the comments he makes about education on p. 49. 7. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 28, p. 48. 8. Although, really, his readers would have known to expect the unexpected from Ruskin. See, for example, Fors 25, January 1873 (27.447–449), which he begins with a lesson in cooking while nevertheless fully expecting his readers to find it ‘irrelevant’. 9. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 27, pp. 50–51. 10. Letter to ‘Queen Ellen’, 14 December 1882 in the Appendix to ‘Ruskin’s May Queens’, Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 30, pp. 341. 11. Letter to John Stuart Bogg, the Secretary of the Dramatic Reform Association of Manchester, from Amiens, 12 October 1880, printed in Arrows of the Chace, Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 43, pp. 550.
72 Rachel Dickinson 12. To Joan Severn Tuesday, 26 January 1872, from Denmark Hill, London. This is presumably the Frou-Frou of which he wrote in his diary, entries reproduced in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 22, p. 174n. 13. Michael R. Booth, Theatre in the Victorian Age (Cambridge UP, 1991), p. 198. 14. David Mayer, Harlequin in his Element: The English Pantomime, 1806–1836 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1969), p. 1. 15. Letter to Joan Severn, 9 September 1887. 16. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 15, p. 27. 17. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, 1998), pp. 95–96. 18. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 27, p. 51. 19. W. S. Gilbert’s ‘Getting Up a Pantomime’ was anonymously published in London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life. With Upwards of 70 Illustrations (London: Stanley Rivers & Co, 1871). A word about the authorship of this text: the first section of the book, ‘Thumbnail Studies in the London Streets’ is almost certainly written by Gilbert as the illustrations, which are integral to the narrative, bear his pseudonym ‘Bab’. While his authorship cannot be guaranteed for the rest of the book, including ‘Getting up a Pantomime’, John McDonnell argues that the pantomime section ‘is practically identical in both text and illustrations to an article of the same title by William S. Gilbert that was published in London Society in January 1868’, see www.victorianweb.org/books/mcdonnell/author.html. 20. Gilbert, p. 43. 21. Gilbert, p. 44. 22. Gilbert, p. 43. 23. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 15, p. 27. 24. As defined by Ruskin in this and other passages such as excerpts from Sesame and Lilies and Ethics of the Dust, this is a feminized, womanly perception. For more on Ruskin’s feminized ideal self, see Dinah Birch’s ‘Ruskin’s “Womanly Mind”‘ in Dinah Birch and Francis O’Gorman, eds., Ruskin and Gender (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 107–120. See also the introduction to my John Ruskin’s Letters to Joan Severn: Sense and Nonsense Letters (Oxford: Legenda, 2008). 25. Mayer, Harlequin in his Element, p. 2. Note, however, that Mayer is largely concerned with earlier performances, primarily to the end of Grimaldi’s career in 1823. 26. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 10, pp. 202. 27. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 10, pp. 92–93. 28. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 10, p. 203. 29. Letter to Joan Severn, 8 July 1882. 30. Written by Edward Bulwer Lytton in 1840. The themes of this too would have appealed to Ruskin: ironic satire and heavy emotion; poor male secretary inherits a fortune, everyone fawns on him, intense love and ‘final triumph of Evelyn over betrayers and sycophants alike ... and the hand of the devoted but financially disinterested Clara’ (Booth, Theatre in the Victorian Age, p. 179). 31. Letter to Joan Severn 12 July 1882.
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32. Ruskin’s diary, 23 January 1874. I have used the MS version from the John Howard Whitehouse Collection, held in the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University, but this also appears in Joan Evans and John Howard Whitehouse, eds., The Diaries of John Ruskin, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956–1959). 33. This manuscript letter is filed under 1873 but I suspect is from 1874, the same year as Fors 39. It was written on a Tuesday from the Golden Cross Hotel, Charing Cross. In it, Ruskin uses the baby-talk idiolect he shared with Joan Severn. 34. This could be ‘at’. 35. Letter to Joan Severn, 26 June 1882. 36. Letter to Joan Severn, 12 July 1882. 37. On 6 December 1873, he wrote to his cousin about listening to Bach with Edith Liddell. 38. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 28, p. 52. 39. Letter to Joan and Lily Severn, 17 February 1881. 40. Letter to Joan and Lily Severn, 17 February 1881. 41. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 18, p. 40. 42. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 27, p. 347. 43. See Lynette Hunter, ‘Tea Drinking in England: Ceremony, Scandal and Domestic Bliss’, New Comparisons: A Journal of Comparative and General Literary Studies, 24 (1997), p. 144. 44. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 28, p. 54.
4 Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’ Andrew Leng
I know of no other piece of modern English, prose or poetry, in which is so much told, as in these lines of the Renaissance spirit, – its worldliness, inconsistency, pride, hypocrisy, ignorance of itself, love of art, of luxury and of good Latin. It is nearly all that I said of the central Renaissance in 30 pages of the Stones of Venice put into as many lines, Browning’s being also the antecedent work. The worst of it is that this kind of concentrated writing needs so much solution before the reader can fairly get the good of it, that people’s patience fails them, and they give up the thing as insoluble; though, truly, it ought to be the current of common thought like Saladin’s talisman, dipped in clear water, not soluble altogether, but making the element medicinal.1 Hitherto Ruskin’s best-known engagement with Victorian ‘dramatic’ writing has been the first two sentences in this extract from his account in Modern Painters 4 (1856) of ‘The Bishop Orders his Tomb in St Praxed’s Church’ a poem that Robert Browning had originally published twice in 1845: in Hood’s Magazine, and then his collection, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.2 Ruskin’s exegesis has become a locus classicus of literary criticism: every current, scholarly edition of Browning’s poetry cites these same two sentences as a standard-issue footnote, representing them as a watershed in the reception of Browning’s oeuvre. Ruskin is thus portrayed as Browning’s ideal reader: a paragon of rare critical insight and generosity who is credited with making a pioneering breakthrough in the understanding, and acceptance, of Browning’s much-maligned new genre – the dramatic monologue. Browning had been cultivating the as yet unnamed hybrid that would become ‘arguably the flagship genre of 74
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
Victorian poetry’, alongside his failed experiments in historical verse drama, since 1836.3 But if we reread Ruskin’s treatment of ‘The Bishop’ it proves to be problematic in ways that oblige us to reconsider the universal assumption that he wholeheartedly endorsed Browning’s dramatic monologues. My revisionist interpretation of Ruskin’s notably brief public engagement with Browning’s poetry recontextualizes the iconic account given of ‘The Bishop’ in Modern Painters 4 in terms of his more extensive private comments about Browning’s writing. I suggest that Ruskin was profoundly troubled by the new genre, and that his suspicion of it peaked in 1865 with his appalled reaction to Browning’s ‘Mr Sludge, “The Medium”.’ My analysis of Ruskin’s extreme responses to the dramatic monologue culminates with an examination of an important, unpublished letter in Lancaster University’s Ruskin Library: Browning’s last surviving letter to Ruskin (See Appendix), written on 15 December 1879. In this missive, Browning assures Ruskin of the historical accuracy of ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’, by confirming that the Carmelite monk was the first painter ‘to treat sacred subjects indecorously’.4 I examine the basis upon which Ruskin – in/famous mid-Victorian scourge of ‘the foul torrent of the Renaissance’ (Cook and Wedderburn, eds., Works of Ruskin, vol. 8, p. 98) – appeared, surprisingly, to have finally come to terms with Browning’s celebration of incontinent Renaissance visual culture by 1879. Ruskin’s quarter-century struggle to assimilate the dramatic monologue is inseparable from his relationships in the mid-1850s with the struggling poet, Browning, and the emergent painter-poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.5 The intensely competitive nature of Ruskin’s dealings with both aspiring authors can be interpreted as a high-stakes power struggle within a strategic group of bourgeois, metropolitan art-writers to determine whether the dramatic art-poetry of Browning and Rossetti – or Ruskin’s didactic and discursive art criticism – would be the pre-eminent mode of Victorian art-writing. Thus while the three men were intellectual and to a lesser extent, social equals, Rossetti and Browning were dependant on the independently wealthy critic’s patronage, a situation that each inevitably found intolerable. Consequently although Rossetti was Ruskin’s second Pre-Raphaelite protégé (after Millais), as a longstanding Browning devotee and an exponent of experimental dramatic poetry and art-poetry himself, he asserted his intellectual independence from his sponsor by pressurizing Ruskin into giving his desperately needed support to Browning’s latest collection, Men and Women (1855). In mid-November 1855 Rossetti undiplomatically told Ruskin: ‘I did most strangely forget ... to get your dictum on “Lippo Lippi” and others
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of his art-poems, which seem to me perfection’.6 Rossetti’s hyperbolic commendation of a group of art-historical works that includes ‘Old Pictures in Florence’ and ‘Andrea del Sarto’, was simultaneously a strategic appeal to his patron to recognize the three art-writers’ shared connoisseurship of Italian visual culture, and a calculated provocation, since it indicated that he valued Browning’s art-poetry more highly than Ruskin’s art criticism.7 Indeed on 25 November 1855, Rossetti mischievously confided in fellow poet, William Allingham, that he considered Browning’s ‘knowledge of early Italian Art beyond that of anyone I ever met, – encyclopaedically beyond that of Ruskin himself’.8 Duly antagonized by Rossetti’s insubordination – and the further indignity of having to get his protégé to spend a night explaining Men and Women to him – on 2 December 1855 Ruskin sent Browning an exhaustive analysis of his poetry that was as devastating as any of the critical abuse the poet had suffered since Sordello had first blighted his reputation in 1840: I find them absolutely and literally the most amazing set of Conundrums that ever were proposed to me ... in fra Lippo – I am only fast at the grated orris root [‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ l. 351], which I looked for in the Encyclopaedia and could not find; and at the There’s for you [‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ l. 345] – give me 6 months – because I don’t know What’s for you ... I entirely deny that a poet of your real dramatic power ought to let himself come up, as you constantly do, through all manner of characters, so that every now and then poor Pippa herself shall speak a long piece of Robert Browning ... your Ellipses are quite unconscionable ... That bit about the Bishop and St Praxed, in the older poems, is very glorious. Rossetti showed it to me.9 Browning’s distraught reply dismissed Ruskin’s negative criticisms as wholly irrelevant; because the critic had judged his poetry by the inapplicable criteria of his own expository prose: I cannot begin to write poetry until my imaginary reader conceded licences to me which you demur at altogether. I know that I don’t make out my conception by my language; all poetry being a putting the infinite within the finite. You would have me paint it all plain out, which can’t be ... in prose you may criticise so – because that is the absolute representation of portions of truth ... but in asking for more ultimates you must accept less mediates. (Browning’s emphasis)10
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
In many respects Ruskin’s appalled response to Browning’s verse is simply symptomatic of his critical orthodoxy – a contemporary conservatism about an emergent poetic genre that Ruskin has subsequently been deemed to have transcended in Modern Painters 4. In fact the month before he had interrogated Browning, in November 1855 Ruskin had confided in fellow art collector, Ellen Heaton: ‘Every word in that Athenaeum critique I agree with – for I am very stupid in making things out in poetry; and that Men & Women is to me simply a set of 50 Conundrums, of the most amazing and tormenting kind.’11 On 17 November The Athenaeum had concluded that although Browning’s latest offering evinced his ‘riches’ and ‘ability’: ‘the employment and the expression of them seem ... more perverse, personal, and incomplete than they were formerly.’12 Ruskin was thus fully aware that he shared the consensus view that Browning’s writing was culpably perverse in ways that conclusively disqualified it as poetry. In 1842 Browning had explained that his collection of Dramatic Lyrics was ‘often Lyric in expression’, but ‘always Dramatic in principle, and so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine’.13 But Ruskin’s observation that Browning had failed to sustain his dramatic method in ‘Pippa Passes’ demonstrates a conviction that the avant-garde theory of authorial impersonality in a first-person discourse was simply not a viable literary mode. For, by Browning’s definition, a dramatic monologue could have no ‘ethos’: the compelling aura of authorial presence, essential identity and consequent integrity that was the distinguishing – and indispensable, unifying – feature of Ruskin’s diverse oeuvre; the hallmark of his writing that earned him a reputation as a ‘sage’. It may well be the case, as Sharon Aronofksy Weltman has recently, persuasively argued, that Ruskin’s fascination with the Victorian theatre centred on ‘his conflicted understanding of identity as the result of performance rather than essence’.14 But it would appear that in his long engagement with the dramatic monologue he was always resistant to the idea that the poet could legitimately ‘perform’ any identity other than his own – though perhaps the dramatist or the stage performer could do so. Ruskin’s intense scepticism about the un-ethical new poetic genre would form the basis of his objections in 1860 to ‘Jenny’, Rossetti’s dramatic monologue in which a client soliloquizes over the sleeping figure of a prostitute.15 Then Ruskin would judiciously warn Rossetti that his monologue made him a hostage to critical fortune, because most of the minority of readers who might countenance the poem’s subject
matter: would be offended by the mode of treatment. The character of the speaker himself is too doubtful. He seems, even to me, anomalous. He reasons and feels entirely like a wise and just man – yet is occasionally drunk and brutal: no affection for the girl shows itself – his throwing the money into her hair is disorderly – he is altogether a disorderly person. The right feeling is unnatural in him, and does not therefore truly touch us.16 Ruskin’s conviction that Browning and Rossetti could not avoid obtruding into – and thus being implicated by – their professedly ‘dramatic’ compositions was prescient. For the dramatic monologue became identified with the Aesthetic Movement, particularly in the wake of the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ controversy in 1871, when Robert Buchanan vilified Rossetti’s incontinence and incriminatingly linked him with three fellow exponents of the genre: Browning, and William Morris and Algernon Swinburne. Yet as I have indicated, every modern annotated edition of Browning’s poetic works (collected and selected) cites the same two sentences from Modern Painters 4 about ‘The Bishop’. For example, the Penguin English Poets edition notes simply that ‘Ruskin’s praise of the poem ... is well known’, while the Longman Annotated English Poets edition observes that Browning was ‘vexed that Ruskin’s praise was not more widely circulated by’ his publisher, Edward Chapman, and asserts that Ruskin’s comments ‘undoubtedly helped the improvement of’ Browning’s ‘literary reputation in the 1860s’.17 Thus editors universally cast Ruskin as a kindred spirit of Browning’s: a pioneering exponent of his otherwise unpopular dramatic monologues who wrote an unqualified eulogy that was also (somehow) an uncannily faithful – and therefore definitive – prose translation of the poem’s essence. But Ruskin’s crucial third sentence about ‘The Bishop’ is never cited, and thus it is effectively suppressed. For here his critique is both heavily qualified (‘The worst of it’), and corrective of Browning’s notorious unintelligibility (‘this ... concentrated writing needs so much solution’). Yet even Ruskin’s two sentences of ‘praise’ are both backhanded and patently, primarily self-congratulatory. For his claim that ‘The Bishop’ ‘is nearly all that I said of the central Renaissance’, two years previously in the third, concluding volume of The Stones of Venice – ‘The Fall’ – indicates that Ruskin commends the poem only insofar as it anticipates his masterpiece. But Ruskin ostentatiously regrets that Browning’s
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
perverse attempt to compress into 30 lines, an argument that would require 30 pages of his own, model prose to do it justice, was wellintentioned – but doomed to be both tasteless and incomprehensible. In contrast, Ruskin advertises how The Stones had had a ‘medicinal’ effect on the ‘current of common thought’, because it unambiguously denounced Renaissance degeneracy, while providing the antidote to it: his blueprint for Gothic Revival architecture. Moreover, Ruskin’s critique is buried, almost as an afterthought, over 400 pages into Modern Painters 4, and he does not even review Men and Women, as Browning and Rossetti had importuned him to. Indeed by reverting to an art-monologue that had been published a decade earlier, Ruskin gives the impression that his interpolated endorsement of Browning is more a product of his sense of personal obligation to the poet than of any compelling conviction about the merits of his writing. Apparently Ruskin was embarrassed by his treatment of Browning in Modern Painters 4. For whilst he had presented Browning with a copy of Modern Painters 3 in January 1856 inscribed ‘with affectionate and respectful regards’, curiously he did not send the poet the next volume where ‘The Bishop’ was discussed, when it came out four months later.18 Thus it was left to Rossetti to act as an intermediary, and to make Browning a copy of the relevant passage. Browning responded to Rossetti on 22 April: The extract from Ruskin was strange and pleasant... I value a word from him at its worth ... I know at least how I should regard any Brown or Jones with a ‘passed muster, J. Ruskin’ – stuck on the front of his cap: the praise, in itself, is quite above this mark, of course – but in this world judgements are made by overpayments here and under payments there, from the same paymaster often, and the result is the only fair thing.19 Browning’s characterization of Ruskin’s exegesis as ‘strange’ suggests not only that he may have been surprised that the critic was kinder to him in public than he had been in private, but also that the analysis of ‘The Bishop’ in Modern Painters 4 was misleading. Correspondingly, Browning’s observation that the same individual’s judgements might include under and overpayments registers his disturbance at the violent fluctuation between Ruskin’s private and published treatment of his poetry. Thus although Browning was, perforce, pragmatically grateful for the critic’s imprimatur, a strong residual ambivalence and bitterness clearly remained. After all, being adjudged to have ‘passed muster’
hardly amounted to receiving a ringing endorsement of the sort that Ruskin had given Turner, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Venetian Gothic architecture. Browning could not have failed to notice the most ‘strange’ aspect of Ruskin’s response to ‘The Bishop’: the mutilated version of it reproduced in Modern Painters. For Ruskin outrageously appropriates Browning’s poem, by comprehensively expurgating it thus (the highlighted parts of the poem are those that Ruskin reprints): Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity! Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back? Nephews – sons mine ... ah God, I know not! Well – She, men would have to be your mother once, 5
Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she was! What’s done is done, and she is dead beside, Dead long ago, and I am Bishop since, And as she died so must we die ourselves, And thence ye may perceive the world’s a dream.
10 Life, how and what is it? As here I lie In this state-chamber, dying by degrees, Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask ‘Do I live, am I dead?’ Peace, peace seems all. Saint Praxed’s ever was the church for peace; 15 And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know: – Old Gandolf cozened me, despite my care; Shrewd was that snatch from out the corner South He graced his carrion with, God curse the same! 20
Yet still my niche is not so cramped but thence One sees the pulpit o’ the epistle-side, And somewhat of the choir, those silent seats, And up into the aery dome where live The angels, and a sunbeam’s sure to lurk:
And I shall fill my slab of basalt there, And’ neath my tabernacle take my rest, With those nine columns round me, two and two, The odd one at my feet where Anselm stands: Peach-blossom marble all[.], the rare, the ripe
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
30 As fresh-poured red wine of a mighty pulse. – Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone, Put me where I may look at him! True peach, Rosy and flawless: how I earned the prize! Draw close: that conflagration of my church 35
– What then? So much was saved if aught were missed! My sons, ye would not be my death? Go dig The white-grape vineyard where the oil-press stood, Drop water gently till the surface sink, And if ye find ... Ah God, I know not, I! ...
Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves soft, And corded up in a tight olive-frail, Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli Big as a Jew’s head cut off at the nape, Blue as a vein o’er the Madonna’s breast ...
Sons, all have I bequeathed you, villas, all, That brave Frascati villa with its bath, So, let the blue lump poise between my knees, Like God the Father’s globe on both his hands Ye worship in the Jesu Church so gay,
50 For Gandolf shall not choose but see and burst! Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years: Man goeth to the grave, and where is he? Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black – ’Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else 55
Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath? The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me, Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so, The Saviour at his sermon on the mount,
60 Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan [,] Ready to twitch the Nymph’s last garment off, And Moses with the tables ... but I know Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee, Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah, ye hope 65
To revel down my villas while I gasp Bricked o’er with beggar’s mouldy travertine
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Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at! Nay, boys, ye love me – all of jasper, then! ’Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve. 70
My bath must needs be left behind, alas! One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut, There’s plenty jasper somewhere in the world – And have I not Saint Praxed’s ear to pray Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts [?],
And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs? – That’s if ye carve my epitaph aright, Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully’s every word, No gaudy ware like Gandolf’s second line – Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need[.]!
80 And then how I shall lie through centuries, And hear the blessed mutter of the mass, And see God made and eaten all day long, And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke! 85
For as I lie here, hours of the dead night, Dying in state and by such slow degrees, I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook, And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point, And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop
Into great laps and folds of sculptor’s-work: And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts Grow, with a certain humming in my ears, About the life before I lived this life, And this life too, popes, cardinals and priests,
Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount, Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes, And new-found agate urns as fresh as day, And marble’s language, Latin pure, discreet, – Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our friend?
No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best! Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage. All lapis, all, sons! Else I give the Pope My villas! Will ye ever eat my heart? Ever your eyes were as a lizard’s quick,
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
They glitter like your mother’s for my soul, Or ye would heighten my impoverished frieze, Piece out its starved design, and fill my vase With grapes, and add a vizor and a Term, And to the tripod ye would tie a lynx
110 That in his struggle throws the thyrsus down, To comfort me on my entablature Whereon I am to lie till I must ask ‘Do I live, am I dead?’ There, leave me, there! For ye have stabbed me with ingratitude 115 To death – ye wish it – God, ye wish it! Stone – Gritstone, a-crumble! Clammy squares which sweat As if the corpse they keep were oozing through – And no more lapis to delight the world! Well, go! I bless ye. Fewer tapers there, 120
But in a row: and, going, turn your backs – Ay, like departing altar-ministrants, And leave me in my church, the church for peace, That I may watch at leisure if he leers – Old Gandolf, at me, from his onion-stone,
As still he envied me, so fair she was!
Ruskin alludes evasively to this wholesale rewriting of ‘The Bishop’ when he introduces his version of it to readers of Modern Painters 4: ‘I miss fragments here and there not needed for my purpose in the passage quoted, without putting asterisks, for I weaken the poem enough by omissions, without spoiling it also by breaks’.20 Ruskin’s neatly camouflaged censorship of ‘The Bishop’ appalled Rossetti, who pinpointed how the critic had violated a fellow poet’s sacrosanct intellectual integrity when he told Allingham that ‘the omissions in Browning’s passage are awful’.21 Yet in an act of suppression even more extraordinary than Ruskin’s – because it can be characterized as nothing less than collective denial – in the century and a half since Ruskin expurgated ‘The Bishop’ no-one has noticed that he systematically (and not, as he claimed, just casually, ‘here and there’) bowdlerized two-thirds of his ‘favourite’ monologue! Instead we have remained oblivious to Ruskin’s censorship of ‘The Bishop’ because – since Rossetti and Browning – self-evidently, no-one has ever actually read the version of the poem
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printed in Modern Painters 4. Thus we have colluded in the perpetuation of the myth that Ruskin redeemed ‘The Bishop’; when in fact he programmatically emasculated Browning’s monologue, destroyed its libidinal economy, and reduced the poem to nonsense. For as Rossetti realized, and even Ruskin himself acknowledged, his editing of ‘The Bishop’ simply renders it absurd: most notably between lines 60–62, when ‘Pan’ – whom Browning had left ‘ready to twitch the Nymph’s last garment off’ – is transported (in a moment of sublime bathos) from a place in titillating antiquity to Mount Sinai. There the fertility god shares in the most surreal of revelations, by becoming, in Ruskin’s grotesquely airbrushed verse paragraph: ‘one Pan, / and Moses with the tables’! Thus Ruskin flagrantly excludes the Bishop’s ruling passion – his rampant lust – from his deceptively comprehensive-looking catalogue of Renaissance vices, whilst mutilating Browning’s text to make it match this misleading synopsis of its content. However the formulaic neatness of Ruskin’s bravura summary has distracted generations of editors, scholars and readers from noticing that his ‘definitive’ account of ‘The Bishop’ is not merely incomplete, but actually misleading. If Ruskin’s posthumous reputation has perversely benefited from our collective failure to compare his adaptation of ‘The Bishop’ with the Browning version, then to a significant degree it has been at the expense of Rossetti’s reputation as an astute and selfless sponsor of avant-garde culture. Moreover, Rossetti was himself blighted by the closeness of his identification with Browning, and perhaps by the radical generic instability of the dramatic genre that he pioneered in emulation of his idol. For after Buchanan’s ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ diatribe accused him of being ‘an emasculated Mr Browning’, in June 1872 a paranoid Rossetti would read his review copy of Browning’s ‘Fifine at the Fair’ and reach the conclusion that it treacherously travestied ‘Jenny’.22 Ruskin’s unannounced (and hitherto unnoticed) censorship of ‘The Bishop’ indicates that, from the outset, he regarded Browning’s bravura impersonations of a rogues’ gallery of speakers as duplicitous, because Browning culpably abdicated his authorial duty by making himself invisible – and thus creating a moral vacuum. But the poet had then compounded his sin of omission by promiscuously playing devil’s advocate on behalf of countless depraved and disturbed individuals. Ruskin’s suspicion that Browning’s signature dramatic method was thus inherently corrupt/ing crystallized in June 1865, when he wrote an extraordinary, scatological letter to Browning about ‘Mr Sludge, “The Medium” ’ (Dramatis Personae 1864), in which he made explicit his conviction that
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
‘plain prose’ was the only way to satirize corruption safely: I was provoked by that poem of yours about table rapping – for this reason. If it be jugglery – one does not write poems against jugglers ... But if it be not jugglery – there is no use in raving about it – and you only hinder the proper investigation of the facts. Of course it is very disgusting. Nothing can be more disgusting than having to go to a water closet – but one does not write poems on the nastiness of corporeal dejection. If tables turn – it is the part of a man of sense to know why – and if not to say so in plain prose. I am violently grieved and angered by the abuse of a talent like yours on such a matter, while the passions of the nation are allowed to run riot in war and avarice, without rebuke.23 Ruskin’s visceral, scatological response to ‘Mr Sludge’ – he twice characterizes the poem as ‘disgusting’, and explicitly associates it with excretion – suggests that he equated it with the incontinence that he had expunged from ‘The Bishop’. Moreover Ruskin’s revulsion against Browning’s monologues may have intensified because of recently increased awareness of the dangers posed to society by ‘obscene’ culture. Public consciousness of obscenity had been raised by debates that surrounded the passage of Lord Campbell’s Obscene Publications Act in 1857. For this landmark legislation had the effect of simultaneously addressing, and exacerbating, mid-Victorian fears about the social consequences of the increasing visibility of prostitution and ‘pornographic’ materials in London. Lord Campbell said that his Act was ‘intended to apply exclusively to works written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth, and of a nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency in any well-regulated mind,’ and Lynda Nead notes that it was ‘not his intention that the legislation should apply to high culture ... but that it should be directed to the public dissemination of mass-produced obscenity.’24 Thus Ruskin’s rhetoric of extreme, but ill-defined, moral panic and physical revulsion implies that he did not regard Browning’s hybrids as high culture, but as an example of the corrupt/ing debasement of that culture that Lord Campbell had recently legislated against. Hence Ruskin effectively criminalizes Browning, by identifying him with the contemporary clairvoyant whose fraudulent performances ‘Mr Sludge’ ostensibly exposes. Ruskin’s denunciation of ‘Mr Sludge’ treats it as another of Browning’s spurious ‘art-poems’: the one that finally gives the poet’s game away because it betrays his pretensions to be an authority on fine
art as mere showmanship; a form of deception that Ruskin dubs ‘jugglery’. In this way Ruskin calls Browning’s bluff by suggesting that his trademark obscurity and erudition – and apparent gift for communing with the dead – amounted to a cynical strategy of obscurantism and obfuscation that was intended to camouflage his moral and artistic bankruptcy, by mystifying his credulous readers with the superficial trappings of high culture. Implicit in this confessedly violent attack on Browning’s integrity is Ruskin’s conclusion that Browning was neither a genuine mystic, nor a true poet: but merely a pseudo-spiritualist, or false prophet; because every dramatic monologue he wrote constituted an act of bad faith.25 Notably, three years after Ruskin’s onslaught on his charlatanism, in Book 1 of his magnum opus, The Ring and the Book (1868–1869), Browning’s speaker-poet identifies himself unrepentantly with a medium: he ‘Creates, no, but resuscitates, perhaps’ (l. 719), so that ‘something dead may get to live again’ (l. 729). How then did Ruskin’s opinion of the dramatic monologue genre change so radically by 1879 that Browning’s final letter to him (Appendix) should have gone to the trouble of documenting all the evidence from Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (first edition 1550; second, enlarged edition 1568, Vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori Italiani) that corroborated ‘what my little poem alleges of Brother Philip’? What could have induced Browning to transcribe for this most censorious friend, several scandalous Vasarian anecdotes that he had not assimilated into ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ – most notably the attempt made by the parents of one of Lippi’s mistresses to poison him? In 1858 Ruskin had initiated a relationship with Rose La Touche whom he had met when she was nine years old, and he was 39. Rose’s agonizing death in 1875 devastated him, and in 1876 he became fixated on the Dream of St Ursula (1495) by Venetian Renaissance artist, Vittore Carpaccio. In the Academia in Venice, Ruskin obsessively copied Carpaccio’s virgin martyr, whom he regarded as a type of Rose; because she had been ‘prevented by martyrdom from consummating her marriage to a pagan English prince’.26 Ruskin’s fetishization of St Ursula was the catalyst for his ultimate acceptance of Browning’s affirmation of a libidinal visual economy in ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’. For after 1870, Ruskin reinterpreted Lippi’s career sympathetically, recasting the dissolute Carmelite as Carpaccio’s more congenial, sensual twin: an artist who was (miraculously) ‘Fleshly’; yet unfallen. For Carpaccio’s compelling visualization of St Ursula’s chaste martyrdom had doomed Ruskin to spend eternity sublimating – but never consummating – his desire; by repeatedly replicating the scene of Rose’s marmoreal apotheosis. But if
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
Browning had told the truth, then Brother Philip had discovered that authentic artistic vision was not merely compatible with violating his vow of chastity – but actually dependant upon his doing so. While Browning’s final letter to Ruskin is far more civil than their correspondence in the mid-1850s, traces of that formative conflict surface in the stiff formality of his protestations of cordiality. For Browning indicates that Ruskin had shown no sign either of understanding, or accepting, the distinctively dramatic, non-didactic properties of his artmonologues. Rather, Ruskin appears to have treated the poet in much the same way as the Browning Society would do in 1881: as a repository of arcane knowledge and wisdom that required explication in plain English! Unable to overcome his suspicion of the dramatic monologue therefore, Ruskin evidently wanted to bypass the obstacle of Browning’s poem altogether, in order to obtain unmediated access to his original, Italian prose sources. Browning registers how the recidivist critic has again marginalized ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ when he refers to it with mock self-deprecation as: ‘my little poem’. Hence Browning responds defensively to Ruskin’s latest belittlement of his monologue – and perhaps recalls how the critic had criminalized ‘Mr Sludge’ – by sardonically adopting a legalistic idiom (‘justification’, ‘alleges’), when assuring Ruskin that, although scandalous, his poem is legitimate because it is scrupulously documented. Browning duly provides his inquisitor with chapter and verse about his sources in the form of numerous, pointedly untranslated, quotations from Vasari’s landmark Lives of the Artists. Browning’s references to Vasari’s Lives, and Filippo Baldinucci’s sequel to it, Report on Drawing Teachers from Cimabue to the Present (Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, 1681–1728), to advertise his credentials as an authority on the founding texts of critical art historiography. 27 Consequently, Browning’s observation that he hopes he has ‘spared’ Ruskin the ‘tiresomeness of referring’ to these sources is considerate, yet patronizing – hinting that (as Rossetti had told Allingham) the English poet who resided in Italy had a more extensive, first-hand knowledge of its early art history than Ruskin did; and that his art-poems may have rendered these primary materials more faithfully than Ruskin’s prose had. In a final reversal of their roles perhaps, Browning may have been uneasy at the expediency transparently underlying Ruskin’s unprecedented deference to him, since the critic patently had an ulterior motive for revisiting the unhappy subject of Browning’s erotic art-monologues: the hope that ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ could retrospectively sanction his own, radically altered thinking about the connection between illicit sexuality
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and artistic vision. For Ruskin claimed to have ‘re-discovered’ Filippo Lippi independently of Browning, in Pisa on 1 July 1870, when he told Mrs Cowper (later Lady Mount-Temple) – an intermediary in his tortured relationship with Rose: I have learned much on this journey, and hope to tell things in the autumn at Oxford that will be of great use, having found a Master of the religious schools at Florence, Filippo Lippi, new to me, though often seen by me, without seeing, in old times ... Lippi has brought me into a new world, being a complete monk, yet an entirely noble painter. Luini is lovely, but not monkish. Lippi is an Angelico with Luini’s strength, or perhaps more, only of earlier date, and with less knowledge.28 After 1870 when he became Oxford University’s first Slade Professor of Fine Art, Ruskin disseminated his new appreciation of the ‘complete monk’s’ libertine art. For in his Slade lectures Ruskin quietly reversed the negative opinion of the Renaissance with which he had become synonymous in the 1840s and 50s, and canonized his latest ‘discoveries’, such as: Filippo Lippi; Carpaccio; Botticelli; the Milanese painter, Bernardo Luini; and his last Pre-Raphaelite protégé, Edward BurneJones. In a definition of Burne-Jones’ aesthetic that linked the secondgeneration Pre-Raphaelite to these Italian masters, Ruskin claimed that his new favourite recaptured ‘the repose of the Constant Schools’, because he emulated ‘their purity and seeking for good and virtue as the life of all things and creatures’.29 To a significant extent therefore, Ruskin’s promotion of these ‘Constant’ artists because of their tranquil – and therefore reassuringly chaste-looking – depiction of the female form, constituted a programmatic attempt to negotiate, and publicly validate, his own sexual desire, whilst counteracting what Buchanan would brand the decadent Fleshliness of the iconic ‘Rossetti Woman’. However the absolute distinction that Ruskin wished to establish between Constant and Fleshly art was difficult to sustain, as we find in December 1872, in the last of his Ariadne Florentina lectures, when he told his students that ‘Lippi and Perugino’ were great artists who: had so much pleasure in their own pictorial faculty, that they strove to keep ... out of harm’s way, – involuntarily manifesting themselves sometimes, however; and not in the wisest manner. Lippi’s running away with a novice was not likely to be understood as a step in Church reformation correspondent to Luther’s marriage.30
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
In a note added for the publication of his lectures, Ruskin elaborated: Lippi did, openly and bravely, what the highest prelates in the Church did basely and in secret; also he loved, where they only lusted; and he has been proclaimed therefore by them – and too foolishly believed by us – to have been a shameful person.31 In ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ Browning had discreetly implied that his protagonist was no more incontinent than his superiors, since the ‘niece’ (l. 170) who nursed the Prior’s ‘asthma’ was presumably his mistress. Ruskin elaborates Browning’s hint about the Prior’s womanizing into an exercise in special pleading in which Lippi’s incontinence is characterized as a species of personal integrity, and consequently the basis of his artistic authenticity. This extrapolation from ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ can be interpreted as an attempt to rationalize and legitimize his own related, illicit desire for Rose. Ruskin’s hopeful imputation to Lippi of two redeeming virtues that distinguished him from ‘the highest prelates’ – an absence of hypocrisy, and genuine feelings of love – may also be symptomatic of a need to differentiate Lippi from Browning’s ‘Bishop’; so that Ruskin’s censorship of that monologue would remain justified. But Ruskin’s suggestion that Lippi was monogamous since he ‘loved’ only ‘the novice’, Lucrezia Buti (the mother of his son, Filippino) flies in the face of the extensive biographical evidence given by Vasari, and repeated in English by Browning in 1855. For this reason, in 1872 in Ariadne Florentina Ruskin declares that he had ‘hoped to be able to lay before’ the public, ‘some better biography of’ Lippi ‘than the traditions of Vasari’ (Cook and Wedderburn, eds., Works of Ruskin, vol. 22, p. 425) – but had been unable to do so. In this way Ruskin uneasily draws attention to his failure to trace a more flattering account of Lippi, one which might counter scandalous Vasarian ‘traditions’ that had culminated in Browning’s titillating monologue. Unable to find any testimony that might underwrite his rehabilitation of Lippi, in 1875 – without acknowledging his debt to Browning – Ruskin gave the Ruskin Drawing School that he had founded at Oxford a photograph of Lippi’s Coronation of the Virgin (Figure 4.1). 32 This painting is central to ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ because Browning engagingly interprets it as a self-portrait of Lippi falling under the spell of ‘the prior’s niece, who appears as St Lucy in the Coronation of the Virgin, the saint on the right of the central group and a figure usually associated with Lucrezia Buti.’33
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Figure 4.1 Photograph of Filippo Lippi’s ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ (‘The Maringhi Coronation’). Presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875. WA.RS.REF.101. Lippi, Filippo (painter of original), 1439–1447. Unidentified photographer, before 1871. Albumen print: 272 x 394 mm. Reproduced by permission of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
Having imported photographic evidence of Lippi’s covert portrait of himself and his young mistress into his Oxford University Drawing School, Ruskin was finally compelled to check his facts about the friar again – with Browning. Browning duly collated Vasari’s numerous examples of Lippi’s libertinism, transcribing for Ruskin another incriminating passage not incorporated into his monologue. In this extract Lippi rejects the Pope’s suggestion that he marry Lucrezia, because he wishes to continue womanizing. Ruskin had reverted to Browning in 1879 in the hope that the poet could provide him with evidence of Lippi’s monogamy, testimony that could serve as a Renaissance precedent for erotic feelings that had surfaced in him since the mid-1850s when he had declared ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ incomprehensible, and bowdlerized ‘The Bishop’. But instead Browning could only provide yet more proof of Lippi’s unrelenting promiscuity, and perhaps because of this Ruskin never published or lectured on Lippi again.
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
Appendix: Browning’s Last Letter to Ruskin My Dear Mr Ruskin I have to beg your pardon for some delay in fulfilling my promise concerning certain points in the life and character of Lippo Lippi: it came of my being unable to get at my books. But I find that, out of Vasari, I can produce the authority you require. I shall abridge, annotate, and transcribe the various passages to save you the trouble of reference. Fra Filippo di Tomasso Lippi per la morte di suo padre restò povero fanciullino d’anni due senza alcuna custodia, essendosi ancora morta la madre non molto dopo averlo partorito. Rimaso dunque costui in governo d’una mona Lapaccia sua zia, poi che l’ebbe allevato con suo diagio grandissimo, quando non potette più sostentarlo, essendo egli già di ott’anni, ni lo fece frate nel convento del Carmine, (at the back of which, in the “Canto alla Cuculia della Contrada detta Ardiglione,” he was born—probably in 1412.) [Translation: On the death of his father, Fra Filippo di Tomasso Lippi was left in great poverty at the age of two and with no one to care for him as his mother had died shortly after his birth. Accordingly he remained in the custody of his Aunt Lapaccia, who raised him with great difficulty until he was eight years old, could no longer maintain and made him a friar in the Carmine monastery]34 Animosamente si cavò l’abito d’età d’anni diciassette [he boldly discarded his habit at the age of 17] (This is a mistake: in the Picture for Sant’Ambogio, painted in 1447,- he retains not only ‘l’abito’ but the shaved head: and there is other evidence that he called himself a monk all his life.) Dicesi che era tanto venereo che, vedendo donne che gli piacessero, se le poteva avera ogni sua facultà donato l’arebbe. Et era tanto perduto dietro a questo appetito, che all’opere prese de lui quando era in questo umore poco o nulla attenedeva. Onde una volta far l’altre Cosimo de’ Medici, faccendoli fare una opera, in casa sua lo rinchiuse perché fuori a perder tempo non andasse; ma egli statoci già due giorni, spinto da furore amoroso, anzi bestiale, una sera con un paio di forbici fece alcune liste de’lenzuoli del letto, e da una finestra calatosi attese per molti giorni a’ suoi piaceri.
[He is said to have been so amorous that when he saw a woman who pleased him he would have given all his possessions to have her. His appetite so took possession of him that while the humour lasted he paid little or no attention to his work. Thus on one occasion when Cosimo de’ Medici was employing him he shut him up in the house so that he might not go out and waste time. He remained so for two days, but overcome by his bestial and amorous desires, he cut up his sheet with a pair of scissors and letting himself down out of the window, devoted many days to his pleasures.] (Two pictures from the Medici Palace (now Riccardo) are now in our own Gallery: one (The Annunciation) contains the device of Cosimo and Lorenzo,- three feathers within a Ring) Essendogli poi dalle Monache di Santa Margherita (in Prato) data a fare la tavola dell’altar maggiore, gli venne veduta una figliuola di Francesco Buti la quale o in serbanza o per monaca era quivi condotta. Filippo dato d’occhio all Lucrezia, tanto operò che ottenne di farne un ritratto per metterlo in una figura di Nostra Donna e fece poi tanto che egli svio la Lucrezia dalla monache, e la menò via. [After this the nuns of St Margherita employed him to do a picture of the high altar, there he chanced to see a daughter of Francesco Buti, who was there either a ward or as a nun. Filippo cast his eyes upon Lucrezia, and in many works he used her portrait as the Virgin: later he sneaked her away from the convent] (In a letter by Giovanni de Medici to Bartolemeo Serragli, May 1458, he says “he laughed a bit at the prank of Brother Philip.”) Di che le monache molto per tal caso furono svergognate, e suo padre non fu mai più allegro, e fece ogni opera per riaverla, ma ella non volle mai ritornare, anzi starsi con Filippo il quale n’ebbe un figliuol maschio— Filippino [By this mishap the nuns were humiliated, while a perpetual gloom settled upon her father, who made every effort to recover her. But she would never return, and remained with Filippo who had a boy by her—Filippino] Fu tanto per le sue buone qualità stimato, che molto cose, che di biasimo erano ella vita sua, furono ricoperta mediante il grado di tanto virtù [He was so highly esteemed for his abilities that many blameworthy things in his life were covered over by his excellencies]
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
Fu Fra Filippo molto amico delle persone allegre, e sempre lietamente visse. Delle fatiche sue visse onoratamente: e straordinariamente spese nelle cose d’amore, della quali del continuo, mentre che visse, fino a la morte si dilettò. Perchio che dicono che essendo egli tanto inclinato a questi suoi beati amori, alcuni parenti della donna da lui amata lo fecero avvelenare. (October 8 1469)(i.e. “the lady he was then attached to”, not necessarily Lucrezia.) [Fra Filippo lived in honour on his labours and incurred expenses on his amours in which he continued to indulge until his death. It is said that in one of his endless intrigues the parents of the lady he was then attached to had poisoned him] Dolse la morte sua a molti amici e particolarmente a Cosimo de’ Medici ed a Papa Eugenio, il quale in vita sua volle dispensarlo che potesse avere per sua donna legitima la Lucrezia di F. Buti; la quale, per potere far di sé e dell’appetito suo come gli paresse, non si volse curare d’avere. (Both these were dead—the Pope five years before Fra Filippo: the story may be true no less) [His death caused great sorrow to his friends, particularly Cosimo de’ Medici and Pope Eugenius, who had endeavoured to legitimize the union between Filippo and Lucrezia of F. Buti, but the former refused, because he wished to be able to give full rein to his appetite] There, Dear Mr Ruskin, you have, I hope, my justification for what my little poem alleges of Brother Philip,-who in the midst of his irregular rites, was decorous enough in his picture preachments. In the Convent of St Domenic, in Prato, Saint Vincent is painted reading from the book he holds—“Te Deum quia venit hora judic ejus!” From a passage, however in Vasari, I conclude he was the first on record to treat sacred subjects indecorously: for having painted a picture of the Coronation of the Virgin for a church in Arezzo, “dal messer Carlo Marsupinni (who had ordered the work) gli fu detto che egli avvertisse alle mani che dipigneva, perché molto le sue cose erano biasimente:- per il che Fra Filippo nel dipignere da indi innanzi, la maggior parte o con panni o con altra invemzione ricoperse, per fuggire il predetto biasimo. [M. Carlo Marsupinni warned him to take care what he painted because many of his things were blameworthy. For this reason Fra Filippo painted
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nearly all his figures from that time forwards either covered with draperies or other inventions to escape such censure.] I may have tired you—but the tiresomeness of referring to Vasari, Baldinucci and the rest is spared perhaps: and I gladly seize the occasion of saying how happy I was to see you again, the other day, after an absence too prolonged by far. Ever truly yours Robert Browning
Notes 1. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn eds., Complete Works of John Ruskin (London: George Allen, 1903–12), vol. 6, p. 449. 2. The poem was first entitled ‘The Tomb at Saint Praxed’s’. 3. Browning is credited with publishing some of the first dramatic monologues in 1836: ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘Johannes Agricola in Meditation’. The term ‘dramatic monologue’ was not Browning’s coinage but ‘was first used by a poet, George Thornbury, in 1857’. E. Warwick Slinn, ‘Dramatic Monologue’, in Richard Cronin, Alison Chapman, and Anthony Harrison, eds., A Companion to Victorian Poetry (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), p. 80. 4. L83 in the Ruskin Library, Lancaster University. I am grateful to Rebecca Patterson of the Ruskin Library for kindly facilitating my research, and to the National University of Singapore for funding it. I cannot trace Ruskin’s prior letter to Browning, and this appears to be Browning’s last surviving letter to Ruskin, although he may have written to Ruskin subsequently. 5. Rossetti had first met Browning in 1851, but they had corresponded since 1847 when Rossetti sent him a rare fan letter about his discovery of ‘Pauline’ in the British Museum. Ruskin also first met Browning in 1851 at the home of the poet Coventry Patmore. 6. William Fredeman, ed., The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2002-), vol. 2, p. 75. 7. Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, vol. 2, p. 75. 8. Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, vol. 2, p. 81. 9. David DeLaura, ‘Ruskin and the Brownings: Twenty-Five Unpublished Letters’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 54 (1971–1972), p. 324, pp. 326–327. 10. Boyd Litzinger and Donald Smalley, eds., Browning: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, 1970), pp. 14–15. 11. Virginia Surtees, ed., Sublime and Instructive: Letters from John Ruskin to Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford, Anna Blunden and Ellen Heaton (London: Michael Joseph, 1972), p. 177. 12. Litzinger and Smalley, eds., Browning: The Critical Heritage, pp. 155–157. 13. John Pettigrew, ed. (supplemented and completed by Thomas J. Collins), Robert Browning The Poems. 2 volumes (London: Penguin, 1981), vol. 1, p. 347.
Re-interpreting Ruskin and Browning’s Dramatic ‘Art-poems’
14. Sharon Aronofksy Weltman, Performing the Victorian: John Ruskin and Identity in Theater, Science and Education (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2007), p. 2. 15. Pippa Passes: A Drama (1841) was an art-play recently illustrated by both Rossetti (‘Hist!’ Said Kate to the Queen, 1851) and his fiancée, Elizabeth Sidall (Pippa Passes, 1854). 16. Cook and Wedderburn, eds., Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 36, p. 342. 17. John Pettigrew, ed., Robert Browning The Poems, vol. 1, p. 1093. John Woolford and Daniel Karlin, eds., The Poems of Robert Browning (London: Longman, 1991, vol. 2, pp. 263–264). The Ohio University Press edition glosses Ruskin’s comments as ‘the most famous appreciation of the poem’ (Roma King, ed., The Complete Works of Robert Browning (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1973), vol. 4, p. 382), while Oxford’s World’s Classics selection includes Ruskin’s first two sentences, after making an equivocal initial claim that ‘the poem was highly regarded in its own day and subsequently as a representation of the renaissance mindset; Ruskin’s comments are famous’ (Adam Roberts, ed., Robert Browning The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 748, note 147). Perhaps the most notable testimony to the capacity of Ruskin’s words to induce the collective suspension of scholarly disbelief, is the way in which, in an article about Browning’s historicism – ‘Wanted Dead or Alive: Browning’s Historicism’, Victorian Studies 38 (1994), p. 26 – Herbert Tucker’s usually exemplary sense of history temporarily deserts him when he refers enthusiastically to Ruskin’s ‘noisily public... handsome tribute’ to ‘The Bishop’ made ‘in 1856 on the strength of a decade’s acquaintance with the poem’. But although ‘The Bishop’ had indeed been published in 1845, Ruskin had no knowledge of it until December 1855, when Rossetti showed it to him. Presumably Tucker mistakenly infers that Ruskin had known ‘The Bishop’ from its first appearance, because Modern Painters 4 states that the poem is ‘antecedent’ to his condemnation of the Renaissance in 1853, in The Stones of Venice. Yet Tucker’s unquestioning assumption that Ruskin was a precocious Browning enthusiast also betrays the common tendency among Browning scholars to idealize their relationship. 18. William Clyde de Vane and Kenneth L. Knickerbocker, eds., New Letters of Robert Browning (London: John Murray, 1951), p. 93, note 2. 19. DeLaura, ‘Ruskin and the Brownings: Twenty-Five Unpublished Letters’, p. 334. 20. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 6, p. 447. 21. 25 April 1856, Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, vol. 2, p. 119. 22. Robert Buchanan (‘Thomas Maitland’), ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr D.G. Rossetti’, The Contemporary Review 18 (1871) (Jerome McGann’s The Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Hypermedia Research Archive Hypertext (University of Virginia, 2000), p. 344. See also www.rossettiarchive.org). 23. DeLaura, ‘Ruskin and the Brownings: Twenty-Five Unpublished Letters’, pp. 347–348. 24. Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 193. Nead cites Lord
28. 29. 30. 31. 32.
Andrew Leng Campbell’s comments from Hansard, 3rd series, vol. 146 (25 June 1857), p. 329. On 30 January 1865 Browning replied to Ruskin: ‘I don’t expose jugglery, but anatomize the mood of the juggler, – all morbidness of the soul is worth the soul’s study’. Unappeased, Ruskin responded a day later: ‘but to think of the things that need poets to say them – and of you – studying morbid psychology’. De Laura, ‘Ruskin and the Brownings: Twenty-Five Unpublished Letters’, p. 349. Robert Hewison, ‘John Ruskin and the Argument of the Eye’, in Susan P. Casteras, ed., John Ruskin and the Victorian Eye (New York: Harry H. Abrams and Phoenix Art Museum, 1993), p. 49. Ruskin was responsible for the Victorian rediscovery of Carpaccio. Roger Sharrock notes that in ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ Browning expands Vasari’s account of the painter, ‘by developing a suggestion in Baldinucci’s Notizie ... that Lippi was one of the first to break with the ecclesiastical convention for painting the figures of sacred history and to strike out towards a more naturalistic style.’ (‘Browning and History’, in Isobel Armstrong, ed., Writers and their Background: Robert Browning (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1974), pp. 83–84). Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 20, p. lii. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 19, pp. 206–207. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 22, p. 424. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 22, pp. 424–425 A virtual version of the ‘teaching collection and catalogues assembled by’ Ruskin ‘for his Oxford drawing schools’ – called, ‘The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s Teaching Collection’ – has now been made available online by the Ashmolean Museum. This website can be accessed at http://ruskin. ashmus.ox.ac.uk/. Leonee Ormond, ‘Browning and Painting’, in Isobel Armstrong, ed., Writers and their Background: Robert Browning, p. 207. This translation is taken from Georgio Vasari, The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, transl. A. B. Hinds (London: J.M. Dent, 1927), vol. 2, pp. 1–8.
5 Ruskin and the National Theatre1 Anselm Heinrich
The movement to build a National Theatre in Britain took shape when, in the late 1840s, Effingham Wilson, an eminent London publisher, proposed a national playhouse concerned with popularising ‘good drama’ (particularly Shakespeare) and educating the public through ‘the standardization of the best’.2 Wilson, like John Ruskin, believed in popular education and the moral function of theatre. Alfred Lyttelton, the great campaigner for a National Theatre in the late nineteenth century, was a friend and admirer of Ruskin and introduced by him to Thomas Carlyle.3 And Henry Irving, the leading Victorian actor under whose management the Lyceum became ‘a national theatre [...] without a subsidy’,4 was not only an ardent supporter of the National Theatre idea but also influenced by Ruskin’s work. Although Ruskin did not publish widely on the theatre he was clearly seen by his contemporaries as an important theatre critic. Regarding this influence William Archer puts Ruskin on a par with Matthew Arnold and Lord Lytton – both well known to Victorians for their support of a National Theatre.5 Today, however, Ruskin’s crucial influence in this area is almost entirely overlooked. This essay, therefore, intends to highlight Ruskin’s theoretical ideas about the function of theatre in society as well as his suggestions to put them into practice. In doing so it is hoped that we will be able to appreciate more fully Ruskin’s role in the National Theatre movement not only concerning the discourse in Victorian times but also during the twentieth century, and in particular concerning the crucial period before the official decision to build the National Theatre in 1949, its opening at the Old Vic in 1963 and its eventual move into the new building on the South Bank in 1976. This essay derives its title from a motion put forward by John Ruskin in his function as a committee member of the Oxford Union 97
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on 25 October 1838. Ruskin moved that ‘Theatrical Representations are upon the whole highly beneficial to the character of a nation’. A Mr F. W. Robertson fundamentally opposed Ruskin in a paper on ‘the moral tendency, or otherwise, of the theatre’. A Mr Davies, a friend of Robertson, recorded that the tenor of Robertson’s observations was opposed to the idea that theatrical representations could legitimately be made the channel of conveying any really good moral influence or instruction. Robertson was answered by Mr. Ruskin in a very ingenious and somewhat sarcastic speech, which excited much laughter in the room. With considerable circumlocution and innuendo he was describing a certain personage to whose influence he probably thought Robertson had, in his observations, given too much consideration, when Robertson said in my ear, ‘Why, the man is describing the devil!’6 We do not know what became of Ruskin’s motion but it certainly set the stage not only for Ruskin’s love of the theatre in general but also for his belief in its educational, moral and national mission. Throughout Ruskin’s life both moral purpose and sheer entertainment supplied adequate justification for the theatre. He frequently attended performances of all kinds ranging from opera, ballet and Shakespeare to farces and pantomimes, and often saw as many as two or three shows a week. This does not mean, however, that Ruskin was unclear about what he expected theatre to be. He applied his concern for compositional harmony in art – as expressed in Modern Painters III – to theatrical representations, and claimed that all good art was didactic and should develop man’s moral sense. Ruskin had precise ideas concerning which plays should be produced, how they should be produced and what the educational role of theatre in society was.
Ruskinian Shakespeare Ruskin’s love for Shakespeare is especially revealing in this context. All through his life Ruskin acknowledged the decisive influence of Shakespeare on the world and displayed a comprehensive knowledge of his work – he seems to have been familiar with virtually all Shakespearean plays and often quoted from them. In his lecture ‘Of Queens’ Gardens’, for example, Ruskin discussed in detail the protagonists of Shakespearean drama and concluded that ‘Shakespeare has no heroes; – he has only heroines’.7 He even claimed that the ‘educated classes’ who take upon themselves ‘to be the better and upper part of the world, cannot possibly understand our relations to the rest better than we may where actual life may be seen in front of its Shakespearean
Ruskin and the National Theatre
image, from the stalls of a theatre’.8 Ruskin had been introduced to Shakespeare’s works by his parents, we know that he visited Stratford at the age of ten and wrote a poem dedicated to Shakespeare. In Praeterita he remembered listening to Shakespeare read out by his father – ‘thus I heard all the Shakespeare comedies and historical plays again and again’.9 Ruskin researched the origins of the character of Othello and claimed that Shakespeare wrote on ‘definite historical grounds’ as Othello ‘may be in many points identified with Christopher Moro, the lieutenant of the republic at Cyprus in 1508’.10 Ruskin was especially interested in Shakespeare’s aesthetic ideas, and repeatedly related to them in Modern Painters. In a lecture to members of the London Working Men’s College on the subject of ‘Reform’ Ruskin recommended studying the works of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Molière to an audience ‘anxious for a few words of guidance touching the course of reading to be adopted by men wishing to study standard authors, but whose time for so desirable a pursuit was naturally extremely limited’.11 In terms of their ‘beneficial’ character, however, Ruskin stressed the importance of the moral message of some Shakespearean plays more than others. He admired Shakespeare’s ‘King love’, for example, which he associated with the contemporary monarchy in Victorian Britain. Ruskin was particularly interested in The Merchant of Venice, whose ultimate lesson was that ‘all is lost’ when commerce hardens the heart.12 Ruskin asserted that the true and incorrupt merchant, – kind and free, beyond every other Shakspearian [sic] conception of men, – is opposed to the corrupted merchant, or usurer; the lesson being deepened by the expression of the strange hatred which the corrupted merchant bears to the pure one, mixed with intense scorn.13 To Ruskin the relationship between ‘national’ and ‘domestic’ (or ‘public’ and ‘private’) explained the intent of The Merchant of Venice ‘whose kind merchant, Antonio, acts publicly and religiously, and whose moneylender, Shylock, acts privately and for temporal gain’ – as David EverettBlythe puts it.14 But Ruskin was not only interested in reading Shakespearean drama he wanted to see the plays performed as well. And he was happy to offer his views on particular productions. He wrote to Wilson Barrett, one of the leading actor-managers in late Victorian Britain, after the first night of his production of Hamlet and congratulated him,15 and after a visit to Irving’s The Merchant of Venice Ruskin made his views known not only
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privately in correspondence with Irving but also publicly in The Theatre, one of the leading theatre journals of the time: he admired Irving’s acting of Shylock but ‘I entirely dissent [...] from his general reading and treatment of the play’.16 This incident is significant not only because it was obviously regarded as perfectly fitting that Ruskin should comment on a theatre production, but also because his comments were deemed so important that they were printed for a national readership.
‘Toga Plays’ It is fascinating to see that Ruskin’s ideal of educational theatre did not entirely rely on ‘high art’ but related to popular culture, too. His fascination with the pantomimes is one example, his admiration of the ‘Toga Plays’ another. Here Ruskin’s ideas about the purpose of theatre turned into concrete plans after having witnessed Wilson Barrett’s performance in Claudian. This production was one of the so-called ‘Toga Plays’ of the 1880s and 1890s – ‘educational’ melodramas set in Ancient Rome and the Roman World, characterized by their claim to archaeological accuracy and faithful reconstruction of the buildings, costumes and manners and, in their stressing of the moral values of Christianity, also a powerful ideological tool in late Victorian Britain (e.g. in relation to the role of women in society).17 Ruskin was fascinated not only by the beauty of these productions but also by their moral message. To the critic M. H. Spielmann he remarked that I was immensely pleased with Claudian and Mr. Wilson Barrett’s acting of it: indeed, I admired it so much that I went to it three times from pure enjoyment of it, although as a rule I cannot sit out a tragic play. It is not only that it is the most beautifully mounted piece I ever saw, but it is that every feeling that is expressed in the play, and every law of morality that is taught in it, is entirely right.18 For Ruskin the ‘Toga Plays’ exemplified what theatre could and should be: a means of moral education. In a letter to Barrett from 16 February 1884 Ruskin did not only praise his production as a ‘possession in memory of very great value’ but also suggested that Barrett institute a series of classic-style dramas in order not only to introduce to the public the beauties of fine scene painting and historically accurate settings but also to offer them art education. Ruskin claimed that ‘with scene painting like that the Princess’s Theatre might do more for art teaching than all the galleries and professors of Christendom’.19 Barrett took
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this advice on board and during the following years produced Junius (1885), Clito (1886) and the immensely successful The Sign of the Cross (1895)20 – a series of plays, which almost certainly would have featured in a National Theatre run according to Ruskin’s ideas. Ruskin’s friendship with the actor-manager Barrett is fascinating and unusual, and merits closer investigation. In the present context it probably suffices to acknowledge the close relationship between Barrett’s dramatic theory and Ruskin’s thoughts on the theatre, in particular in relation to its educational role in society. In a letter to Barrett from 5 November 1884 Ruskin stated that ‘you truly sympathize with me and understand me in all matters of daily life.’21 And Barrett’s claim that ‘the stage ought to promote all that is healthiest, as well as that which is inspiring to the intellect, and pleasurable to the imagination’22 would almost certainly have been subscribed to by Ruskin as well. Ruskin was by no means alone in his praise of the beauty and moral message of the ‘Toga Plays’. In its review of Claudian The Times praised the production as finally putting in practice Henry Morley’s demand for the theatre as ‘one of the strongest of all secular aids towards the intellectual refinement of the people’. The commentator went on to assert that ‘praise, and high praise, are assuredly due to authors and managers who in these days may justly inscribe upon the portals of their theatre the words of the Greek philosopher – “enter boldly, for here too there are gods”.’23 It is interesting to note in this context that Ruskin was acutely aware of his input in and influence on the ‘Toga Plays’.24 After having witnessed a production of W.S. Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea, which starred and was produced by Mary Anderson, Ruskin remarked to Charles Eliot Norton that ‘I’m beginning to reform the drama – with the help of Miss Anderson’ – suggesting that he saw Anderson’s production and her acting in it as putting his principles into action on the stage, much as he saw Claudian doing this.25 And this claim does not seem to be too far-fetched either. William Archer asserted that the production of Claudian called for a more thorough investigation not only because it was so successful but also (and perhaps more important) because its ‘philosophy has been declared, by a critic so widely revered as Mr. Ruskin, to be “entirely right”.’26 And E.W. Godwin, a key figure in the ‘Toga Play’ movement and responsible for the historical and archaeological accuracy of Claudian and other plays, is known to have been a keen Ruskinian.27 Even more important is the fact that Ruskin’s fascination with the theatre was highly publicized. It was not seen as a mere personal hobby
of a weird eccentric but closely monitored by the public, extensively reported and appreciated. Ruskin was seen going to the theatre, his presence on first nights would be reported in the press and his dramatic interests were publicly scrutinized. Spielmann’s article on ‘A Conversation with Mr. Ruskin at Brantwood’ was widely read and Ruskin’s verdict on Claudian entered the public discourse.28 William Archer, for example, constructed his chapter on W.G. Wills and Claudian entirely around Ruskin’s remark regarding the philosophy/morality of the play being ‘entirely right’.29 It is no surprise, then, that the presence of such a highly regarded public figure at certain productions was used for advertising these shows and recorded for posterity. Freeman Wills, the brother of the playwright W.G. Wills who wrote some of the most successful poetic drama of the late nineteenth century such as Olivia, Juana, Faust and Claudian proudly remarked that Ruskin went to see Claudian three times.30
Changed perceptions of theatre and drama Ruskin, however, did not only have strong opinions on questions of repertoire, production and scene design, he also had clear ideas regarding the governing principles of a theatre run on his ideas. In a letter to John Stuart Bogg, the Secretary of the Dramatic Reform Association in Manchester from July 1880, Ruskin promised to write more extensively on the subject of the moral and educational function of theatre in society. He felt the need, however, to make it absolutely clear at this stage that the one thing I have to say mainly is that the idea of making money by a theatre, and making it educational at the same time, is utterly to be got out of people’s heads. You don’t make money out of a Ship of the Line, nor should you out of a Church, nor should you out of a College, nor should you out of a Theatre. Pay your Ship’s officers, your Church officers, your College tutors, and your Stage tutors, what will honourably maintain them. Let there be no starring on the Stage boards, more than on the deck, but the Broadside well delivered.31 In effect Ruskin is not only advocating the idea of state subsidized theatres here he also neatly sums up some of the cardinal principles put forward by the advocates of a National Theatre, like Edward Bulwer Lytton, who chaired the 1832 Select Committee on Dramatic Literature: its non-profit making, educational mission and moral role,
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its egalitarianism and professionalism. Given the fact that theatre subsidies in Britain were not paid until 60 years later Ruskin’s demands were truly revolutionary. It is certainly no coincidence that Ruskin’s engagement with the ‘Toga Plays’ and his interest in the function of theatre in society came at a time of renewed interest in the National Theatre idea and growing respectability for the dramatic profession as a whole. After contemporary commentators had criticized London theatres in the first half of the nineteenth century as being set in dodgy neighbourhoods and playing host to rowdy audiences who had allegedly alienated sophisticated playgoers, managers in the second half of the century increasingly tried to present their theatres as ‘respectable’ and financed lavish renovation programmes.32 In effect, a new type of playhouse seemed to emerge, the quintessence of which was exemplified by Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s Her Majesty’s and George Alexander’s St James’ Theatre in the 1890s.33 Henry Irving, too, aimed for a wider recognition of the theatre and his knighthood in 1895 clearly indicated his success. With these changes in aspiration came a renewed call for a National Theatre.34 In 1880 Matthew Arnold on his return from a visit to the Comédie Française demanded a Comédie Anglaise,35 Irving began voicing his support36 as did Tree, and even the Prime Minister William Gladstone – admirer and keen reader of Ruskin’s works37 – supported the idea of a subsidized National Theatre.38 Command performances before Queen Victoria during that time were increasingly commented upon in the press with reference to the monarchy’s responsibility towards fostering the national drama. When the Prince of Wales commanded a performance of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry and their Lyceum cast in Leopold Lewis’s melodrama The Bells and the trial scene of The Merchant of Venice at Sandringham in 1889, the Era criticized the choice of bill for the ‘lighter forms of dramatic entertainment’ asked for by the court was not representative and royalty should patronize ‘the more solid and elevated forms of dramatic art’ instead.39
The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre movement Just after the turn of the century the increased interest in the National Theatre idea was mirrored in the foundation of a high-powered committee for a Shakespeare Memorial.40 The idea emerged that the remembrance of the Bard was probably best served not by a statue but by the establishment of a National Theatre, which was to open in 1916 – the
tercentenary of his death.41 A public subscription was announced and immediately received £70,000 from an anonymous donor.42 In 1904 Harley Granville-Barker and William Archer presented their Scheme for a National Theatre, which attracted much popular support, most notably from Bernard Shaw, Henry Arthur Jones and Beerbohm Tree,43 but also from Winston Churchill. Even the government was now forced to take an interest and in 1903 sent a circular to all British embassies worldwide to find out what other countries spent on the performing arts out of public funds. The result was shocking as apart from the US and Britain nearly every other nation paid some kind of subsidies. The social implications, too, became apparent as it was noted that in Britain opera ‘was purely the amusement of the rich’.44 The professional man who loves music may be excused for making bitter contrasts between Covent Garden, where he pays at least a guinea for a stall, and the Dresden Opera-house, where he can get as good a seat, and sometimes better music, for four shillings.45 The government, however, saw no reason to act. When Walter Stephens wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask whether he would be prepared to recommend the government to pay an annual subsidy of £50,000 to a National Repertory Theatre in London this enquiry was flatly denied. Because of ‘the large number of objects of much more pressing national importance for which funds are required, the Government would not, in the opinion of Mr. Asquith, be justified in asking Parliament to subsidise a scheme for a National Repertory Theatre at the expense of the taxpayer’.46 In 1913 Parliament eventually voted on a motion for a ‘state-aided’ national theatre, which was only narrowly defeated. This was indeed the first and only full parliamentary debate on the subject – despite the mounting public pressure. Mr Mackinder MP brought forward his ‘motion in favour of the establishment in London of a national theatre, to be vested in trustees and assisted by the State, for the performance of plays of Shakespeare and other dramas of recognized merit’. Mackinder elaborated that he was asking for a lump sum plus an annual subsidy to be paid by the Treasury. After three and a half hours of debate 96 MPs voted for the motion and only 32 against it, ‘but as the votes given for it were under 100 the motion failed, and the debate adjourned’.47 In spite of this defeat the Shakespeare National Memorial Theatre (SMNT) committee pushed forward and eventually purchased a site in Bloomsbury on Gower Street in a ‘commanding position’ for £60,000 48
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and inaugurated an architectural competition with the chosen design receiving 500 guineas.49 Interestingly, the link to John Ruskin in all these endeavours was always evident. Henry Arthur Jones, for example, theatre critic, playwright and one of the most ardent supporters of the National Theatre idea, in a talk on ‘Our Modern Drama: Is it an Art or an Amusement?’ backed up his call for a ‘thoughtful and cultivated delight in works of art’ by relating to Ruskin’s dictum that ‘The end of art is not to amuse. All art which proposes amusement as its end, or which is sought for that end, must be of an inferior and is probably of a harmful class’.50 And in an article on ‘The Dramatic Outlook’ Jones urged his readers to study Ruskin’s rules of art as laid down in Modern Painters as ‘you will find that much of what he has said there may be as usefully applied to the criticism of the drama’.51
The development of the National Theatre post-Ruskin The influential 1904 Granville Barker/William Archer report was on similar Ruskinian lines regarding the proposed repertoire of the future National Theatre. Apart from Shakespeare they were happy to add classics such as Molière’s Don Juan but made it clear that they purposely excluded from their specimen repertory all ‘disputable’ plays, so Tolstoy, Gorki, Ibsen, Hauptmann, D’Annunzio and Shaw did not figure on their list of authors.52 And the idea to run the National on non-profit making lines equally and directly relates to Ruskin’s demands formulated in his letter to the Secretary of the Dramatic Reform Association some 25 years earlier. The deadline for the architectural designs for the National Theatre was intended to be 15 September 191453 – but by then Britain had been at war for nearly six weeks and the project was abandoned. It was not before the mid-1920s that the topic resurfaced but it took another ten years for the next decisive step.54 In 1937 a site, on which the National Theatre was going to be built, was bought in Cromwell Gardens opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum. The appeal, however, had to be closed down again two years later; the site was leased to London County Council and excavated to fill sandbags, ‘which is the most useful function it can now perform’, as one commentator put it.55 At the outbreak of the Second World War, the National Theatre movement did not only seem dead it was also inconceivable that public and government alike would focus their attention on the theatre in another devastating second world conflict which brought Britain to the brink of defeat. To the astonishment of most, however, this is exactly what happened.
During the war theatre took on a new lease of life not only with actors, theatres and companies playing their part in the war effort by touring the provinces and the Empire on ENSA tours (Entertainment National Services Association), but also through a new understanding of the function of theatre, which increasingly stressed its educational mission.56 Sybil Thorndike, for example, did not tour just any play to any theatrically deprived area in wartime Britain, but she performed Shakespeare in Welsh mining villages for several consecutive seasons.57 Similarly the Old Vic company was sent out to play classical drama in the provinces, and ballet companies such as Sadler’s Wells’, Ballet Rambert and Ballet Jooss were sent out to tour factories, garrisons and hostels.58 After having been seen as a rather un-English exercise with marginal audiences entirely concentrated in London for decades, ballet during the war took the country by storm and played to capacity houses. The second major effect of the war – and again a phenomenon Ruskin not only would almost certainly have welcomed but also something his thinking pre-empted – was the foundation of CEMA (the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts) and the introduction of state subsidies.59 This financial backing meant that the state for the first time in British history realized the national and educational importance of the performing arts and committed substantial sums not only to selected projects (like Basil Dean’s nationalistic pageant Cathedral Steps performed on the steps of St Paul’s in September 1942 and announced as a ‘service in praise of Britain’60) but also for permanent investment in ventures such as the acquisition and running of Bristol’s Theatre Royal as the first true state theatre.61 Commentators made it clear that the fact that CEMA received Treasury money and the government ‘recognised the drama as one of the sinews of the national soul [...] was the most important thing that had happened to the British theatre since the birth of Shakespeare’.62 The educational aspect in particular was praised by commentators who expressed enthusiasm not only for what they saw as a new kind of adult education, but also for the new quality of repertoires.63 They proudly remarked that wartime escapism had not resulted in ‘farce and swing’ but Shakespeare and Elgar.64 In connection with this educational approach demands for a National Theatre, too, gathered new momentum. The British Drama League, which incorporated the growing amateur movement, together with leading actors such as Laurence Olivier and commentators such as Peter Noble, vigorously supported the idea.65 In 1942 the London County Council offered the SMNT committee a large site on the South Bank. CEMA, however, did not want to wait until work on the new
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building began and was keen to establish an interim National Theatre at the Old Vic with its own repertory company presenting a programme of classics.66 CEMA was not only prepared to meet the ‘bold and generous expenditure’67 but also wanted to secure the services of a starstudded company headed by two of Britain’s most celebrated actors, Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson – although they were both on active service. Lord Lytton, the chairman of the governors of the Old Vic, therefore, wrote to the First Lord of the Admiralty asking for their release from military service as the ‘importance need hardly be stressed of having such a company in existence while the war is in progress’ as it was ‘highly desirable that British drama, and particularly the Classics, should be presented in the best possible manner’.68 The fact that the two actors were indeed duly released to become joint directors of the Old Vic indicates the new role theatre had acquired. The institution of a National Theatre had come to be seen as part of Britain’s war effort – and met with immediate popular success.69 The government, however, was not content with the present status of the Old Vic as a quasi National Theatre, although the company had already been sent out to tour war torn Europe as cultural ambassadors for Britain immediately after the war – it wanted to go further: In a generous gesture Parliament in 1949 agreed to pay £1m to erect a purpose built National Theatre. In circumstances the protagonists of the National Theatre movement could only have dreamt of at the turn of the century commentators noted that ‘in spite of the financial difficulties in which the country found itself, no one demurred to the proposed expenditure by the State of a million pounds on a project which a few years before would have been the subject of bitter controversy’.70 On the contrary, when the National Theatre Bill was presented to the House of Commons, MPs from all sides clamoured to praise it – and the reception was equally enthusiastic in the House of Lords.71 In a statement which is not without Ruskinian resonance the Lord Chancellor, William Jowett, argued that despite Britain having produced the best dramatists in the world ‘we [have never] used our national heritage to the advantage’ because since the eighteenth century audiences had been confined to the ruling class. Jowett argued that because the people were now better educated, they were able to reclaim their heritage: Britain can now show, with the coming of age of her working-classes, that they can emulate the standards given them by their guardians ... By the building of a national theatre we shall, I hope, make a real contribution to the idea of a people’s civilisation.72
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When the National Theatre eventually opened in 1963 Laurence Olivier became its first director. Much as Henry Irving at the end of the nineteenth century Olivier in the mid twentieth century was not only the greatest living actor of the time but also one of the most prominent supporters of the National Theatre. And as much as Ruskin adored Irving’s dramatic sense and vitality he would have delighted in Olivier, who in his acting combined ‘the vitality and virility of the old with all the sense and subtlety of the new’ as Bernard Miles put it.73 Although Ruskin’s idea of a National Theatre certainly differed from that of people like Bernard Shaw or William Archer who regarded such an institution as a powerful tool to stage avant-garde plays and it is difficult to imagine Ruskin ever having supported Ibsen and Hauptmann – he certainly would not have approved of the theatre’s 1970s concrete architecture – his ideal of the theatre as a place for edification and education certainly rang true for the protagonists of such an institution, and especially so during and immediately after the Second World War.74 Comments like Bernard Miles’ lament that ‘London was still without a theatre or a band of players devoted exclusively to presenting the great classics of the English drama’ (1948) or Peter Noble’s criticism that ‘If little Eire can support the Abbey Theatre, then surely England, centre of a huge Empire, should be able to support at least one National Theatre’ (1943) did not only sum up the general feeling but would have almost certainly been subscribed to by Ruskin as well.75 Especially, however, Noble’s argument that a National Theatre would break ‘the stranglehold of commercialism’ and free actors of the ‘casual labour which is [their] constant lot’ is reminiscent of Ruskin’s own social criticism – even his diction.76 The way commentators stated the noticeable change in public feeling ‘in regard to the place of the drama in the life of the nation’77 strikingly reminds us of Ruskin’s own formulation of the ‘beneficial character’ of theatre for the nation. In my opinion, therefore, we can justifiably include the National Theatre idea in Ruskin’s legacy – alongside the National Trust, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the Labour Movement.78
Notes 1. Motion by John Ruskin as a committee member of Oxford University Union on 25 October 1838 (E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., Library Edition. The Complete Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols (London: George Allen, 1903–1912), vol. 1, pp. xxxiv–xxxv). 2. Qtd. in John Elsom and Nicholas Tomalin, The History of the National Theatre (London: Cape, 1978), p. 7.
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3. See Edith Lyttelton, Alfred Lyttelton. An Account of his Life (London: Longmans, 1917), pp. 70–73. 4. Austin Brereton, The Life of Henry Irving (London, 1908), vol. 1 p. 297. 5. See William Archer, About the Theatre (London: Fisher Unwin, 1886), p. 6. 6. Stopford A. Brooke, ed., Life and Letters of Frederick W. Robertson (1874), p. 18 (as quoted in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 1, pp. xxxiv–xxxv). 7. Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 18), p. 112. 8. Ruskin, Fors Clavigera (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 28), pp. 489–490 (letter 61). 9. Ruskin, Praeterita (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 35), p. 61. Francis O’Gorman even claims that Ruskin had become so familiar with Shakespeare in his childhood that as soon as he was able to write himself ‘Shakespeare was in his blood’ (see Francis O’Gorman, ‘ “The Clue of Shakespearian Power Over Me”: Ruskin, Shakespeare, and Influence’. Gail Marshall and Adrian Poole, eds., Victorian Shakespeare, Vol. 2. Literature and Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003), p. 203. 10. Ruskin, Orto – Paternian (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 11), p. 397. 11. Daily Telegraph, 1 December 1862. Also quoted in Ruskin, Time and Tide (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 17), p. 325. 12. See Ruskin, Munera Pulveris (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 17), p. 222. 13. See Ruskin, Munera Pulveris (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 17), p. 223. 14. David-Everett Blythe, ‘A Stone of Ruskin’s Venice’, Robert Hewison, ed., New Approaches to Ruskin. Thirteen Essays (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 159. 15. Ruskin had been at the first night of Barrett’s Hamlet on 16 October 1884 (see The Letters of John Ruskin. 1870 – 1889 (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 37), p. 498). 16. Letter from 6 February 1880 (see Ruskin, Arrows of the Chase (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 34), p. 545). See also The Theatre, January 1880, p. 63, March 1880, p. 169, and April 1880, p. 249. 17. Others have claimed that ‘this attention to “art” education and “picturesqueness” was nothing more than the popular interest in seeing exotic and spectacular settings on the stage’ (James Michael Thomas, Wilson Barrett: Actor – Manager – Playwright (University of Texas Ph.D., 1975), p. 104). The most significant successes of this vogue were Tennyson’s The Cup (produced by Irving in 1881), W. G. Wills’ Claudian (produced by Barrett in 1883), The Sign of the Cross (Barrett, 1895) and W. S. Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea (produced several times throughout the period first starring Madge Kendal and then Mary Anderson). See also David Mayer, ed., Playing out the Empire. Ben Hur and Other Toga Plays and Films, 1883–1908. A Critical Anthology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 1–20. 18. M. H. Spielmann, ‘A Conversation with Mr. Ruskin at Brantwood’ (Pall Mall Gazette, 21 April 1884).
19. Quotes from letter dated 16 February 1884, as quoted in Thomas, Wilson Barrett, p. 86. See also Letters of John Ruskin 1870–1889 (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 37), p. 474. 20. The Sign of the Cross became an instant hit, was revived again and again over the following decades, turned into a film and even used for anti-Nazi propaganda in 1944, when the 1930s film version received a new introduction. 21. Letter quoted in Thomas, Wilson Barrett, p. 264. 22. Wilson Barrett, ‘The Moral Influence of the Drama’, speech delivered at St Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin, New Zealand, 12 January 1902 (see Wilson Barrett Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin). This is the only extant source on Barrett’s dramatic theory. 23. The Times, 7 December 1883, p. 6. For original quote see Henry Morley, The Journal of a London Playgoer. From 1851 to 1866 (London: Routledge, 1866), pp. 5, 11. 24. See also Jeffrey Richards, Sir Henry Irving. A Victorian Actor and his World (London: Hambledon & London, 2005), pp. 200–202. 25. J.L. Bradley and Ian Ousby, eds., The Correspondence of John Ruskin and Charles Eliot Norton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 472. 26. Archer, About the Theatre, pp. 86–87. 27. For a comprehensive overview of E. W. Godwin’s work see Susan Weber Soros, ed., E. W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement, Architect and Designer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000). 28. Pall Mall Gazette, 21 April 1884. 29. See Archer, About the Theatre, pp. 86–96. 30. Freeman Wills, W.G. Wills. Dramatist and Painter (London: Longmans, 1898), p. 221. 31. Ruskin, Arrows of the Chace (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 34), pp. 549–550. 32. These claims, however, are difficult to substantiate as audience composition had been far more diverse (see Jim Davis and Victor Emeljanow, Reflecting the Audience: London Theatregoing, 1840–1880 (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2001)). 33. See, for example, Hesketh Pearson, Beerbohm Tree. His Life and Laughter (London: Methuen, 1956), pp. 101–104. 34. See Kristen Guest, ‘Culture, Class, and Colonialism: The Struggle for an English National Theatre, 1879-1913’, Journal of Victorian Culture 11.2 (2006): 281–300. See also the spate of correspondence which a letter-to-the-editor by a Mrs Pfeiffer and a leading article on the matter caused in The Times in October 1879 (for leader see 8 October 1879). 35. Qtd. in Peter Lewis, The National. A Dream Made Concrete (London: Methuen, 1990), p. 11. See also Arnold’s essay ‘The French Theatre’ as published in his Irish Essays in 1880, from which Whitworth quotes at length (see Geoffrey Whitworth, The Making of a National Theatre (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), pp. 33–36), and his article ‘The French Play in London’, The Nineteenth Century 30 (August 1879): 228–243. See also Tracy C. Davis, ‘The Show Business Economy, and its Discontents’ in Kerry Powell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 40–48.
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36. See, for example, in an article on the banquet afforded to Irving before his US tour (The Times, 5 July 1883). Five years earlier Irving had composed a remarkable and widely recognized manifesto calling for a National Theatre (read at the Social Science Congress held in October 1878, qtd. in Whitworth, National Theatre, pp. 31–33). 37. In 1892 Gladstone wanted Ruskin to succeed Tennyson as Poet Laureate (see The Gladstone Diaries. With Cabinet Minutes and Prime-Ministerial Correspondence, 1824–1896. M. R. D. Foot and H. C. G. Matthew, eds. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968–1994, vol. 13, diary entries 7 and 17 October 1892). In the end, however, Gladstone was sad to find that Ruskin was ‘physically well but incapable of mental exertion’. Gladstone was so keen to show some kind of official appreciation that he – failing the Poet Laureate idea – wanted to make Ruskin a Peer. However, to H. W. Acland Gladstone remarked with regard to Ruskin [...] there are difficulties. I imagine from your letter that he is unproducible. Now 1. How [to] make a man a Peer who never can take his seat? [...] 2. Privy Council. Requires attendance & swearing in. 3. Bath. Requires services to State, or Royal Family. 4. A Baronetcy – is not open to any of these difficulties. 5. I suppose him to be well off. A Pension, if agreeable to him, would be quite warrantable & right. (Gladstone Diaries, vol.13, 15 August 1893) 38. See his influential endorsement of a National Theatre claiming ‘the Drama requires, in order to its prosperity, some great centre of attraction and of elevation’ (The Theatre, 13 March 1878, p. 103). Already much earlier Gladstone had shown an interest in the topic when he ‘had long conversation’ with Charles Kean on ‘the question of Government subvention to the Drama’ (Gladstone Diaries, vol.5, 12 May 1857). 39. See The Era, 4 May 1889. See also Richard W. Schoch, Queen Victoria and the Theatre of her Age (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2004), p. 95. Other commentators asserted that no one expected the Sovereign of these realms to subsidize a Court theatre, but he possessed a greater influence than any of his subjects over the devious course of the modern Pactolus. What had the Crown done in the last 100 years to raise the standard of the National Theatre? (‘Mr Stead on the Theatre’, The Times, 14 January 1905) 40. For a summary of the movement’s history see ‘National Theatre. A Site on the Bedford Estate. The Shakespeare Memorial’, The Times, 19 December 1913. See also Whitworth, National Theatre, pp. 38–63. 41. Arguably the most decisive early meeting took place at the Lyceum Theatre on 19 May 1908 (see ‘Shakespeare Memorial. Meeting to Advocate a National Theatre’, The Times, 20 May 1908). See also Richard Foulkes, The Shakespeare Tercentenary of 1864 (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1984). 42. See The Times, 4 July 1910. A lavish handbook published in 1909 appealed for funds to the public (see also ‘Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre’, Letterto-the-editor, The Times, 23 October 1909). The committee wanted to raise £500,000, estimating ‘that the site (in a commanding position) is likely to cost some £100,000, the building and equipment £150,000, and that an endowment fund will be required amounting to £250,000’ (see The Times 4 July 1910). 43. The report was published three years later with some changes (William Archer and Harley Granville-Barker, A National Theatre. Scheme and Estimates
44. 45. 46. 47. 48.
Anselm Heinrich (London: Duckworth, 1907)). See also Harley Granville-Barker, A National Theatre (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1930). See The Times, 28 December 1903. The Times, 28 December 1903. The Times, 14 March 1906. See also The Times, 28 December 1903., 21 March 1906. See different articles on the subject in The Times on 24 April 1913. See ‘National Theatre. A Site on the Bedford Estate. The Shakespeare Memorial’, The Times, 19 December 1913, ‘Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The Bloomsbury Site’, The Times 20 December 1913, and ‘The Bedford Estate in Bloomsbury. Changes in Recent Years’, The Times 23 December 1913. See ‘Designs for Shakespeare Theatre’, The Times, 24 July 1914. ‘Mr H. A. Jones on the Drama’, The Times, 7 November 1892. Jones, therefore, saw the need and the possibility to educate ‘the English play-going public to a very high level’ (‘A National Theatre. Debate at the Oxford Union’, The Times, 3 June 1910). Henry Arthur Jones, The Renascence of the English Drama (London: Macmillan, 1895), p. 184. However, they later changed this policy in the preface to the 1907 publication and stated that they now wanted to include plays by these dramatists (see Archer and Barker, National Theatre, p. xi). Ruskin’s admiration for Molière was well known among contemporaries. Molière ‘manifests through all his writings an exquisite natural wisdom; a capacity for the most simple enjoyment; a high sense of all nobleness, honour, and purity, variously marked throughout his slighter word, but distinctly made the theme of his two perfect plays – the Tartuffe and Misanthrope’ (Ruskin, Modern Painters III (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 5), p. 375). See ‘Designs for Shakespeare Theatre’, The Times, 24 July 1914. Interestingly one of the recurring features of the debate is an eager look to Germany and comparisons to Munich, for example, are drawn to show the necessity of state subsidies (see Whitworth, National Theatre, pp. 125–127). Ashley Dukes, Theatre Arts 23 (1939): 784. See, for example, Anselm Heinrich, Entertainment, Education, Propaganda. Regional Theatres in Germany and Britain Between 1918 and 1945 (London: University of Hertfordshire Press/Society for Theatre Research, 2007). See Norman Marshall, The Other Theatre (London: Lehmann, 1947), pp. 133–136. See also Charles Landstone, Off- Stage. A Personal Record of the First Twelve Years of State Sponsored Drama in Great Britain (London: Elek, 1953). Regarding Thorndike’s celebrated war work and especially her Welsh tours see Sheridan Morley, Sybil Thorndike. A Life in the Theatre (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), pp. 111–120. For pictures of this tour see Theatre Arts 26 (1942): 241–244. For a contemporary account see Arnold L. Haskell, ‘Ballet Since 1939’, Arnold L. Haskell, Dilys Powell, Rollo Myers and Robin Ironside, eds., Since 1939. Ballet – Films – Music – Painting (London: Readers Union, 1948), pp. 9–56. For a comprehensive discussion of CEMA see Jörn Weingärtner, The Arts as a Weapon of War. Britain and the Shaping of National Morale in the Second World War (London: I B Tauris, 2006).
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60. Basil Dean, The Theatre at War (London: Harrap, 1956), p. 298. 61. CEMA saved the Theatre Royal in Bristol from demolition, restored it, placed it in working order and ran the theatre on a lease under its direct management (see CEMA, The Arts in War Time. A Report on the Work of C.E.M.A. 1942 and 1943 (London: Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, n.d. ), p. 10). 62. Bernard Miles, The British Theatre (London: Collins, 1948), p. 44. 63. See H. C. Dent, Education in Transition. A Sociological Study of the Impact of War on English Education 1939–1943 (London: Kegan Paul, 1944), p. 58. 64. Since 1939 ‘symphonic music, opera and plays of Shakespeare have all enjoyed an outstanding success, greater by far than the temporary rubbish compounded of farce and swing that is the true product of escapism’ (Haskell, Ballet Since 1939, p. 23). See also Peter Noble, British Theatre (London: Knapp & Drewett, 1946), pp. 180–186. 65. For Laurence Olivier’s thoughts see, for example, his foreword to Noble, British Theatre, pp. 3–4. 66. See Noble, British Theatre, pp. 130–135. 67. See Landstone, Off- Stage, pp. 148, 151. Landstone is obviously quoting Lord Keynes’ here. 68. Letter dated 15 March 1944, Theatre Museum, Charles Landstone Archive THM/201, box 4. 69. Commentators claimed that these Old Vic seasons were the best in British theatre for decades and quickly became an ‘emblem of national consciousness second only to Shakespeare’ (Dominic Shellard, British Theatre Since the War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 4). See also Harold Hobson, Theatre in Britain. A Personal View (Oxford: Phaidon, 1984), pp. 134–139; Frances Stephens, ‘Over the Footlights’, Theatre World (October 1944): 5. 70. Whitworth, National Theatre, p. 15, who also reprints the crucial parliamentary debates. 71. See Richard Weight, Patriots. National Identity in Britain 1940–2000 (London: Pan, 2003), pp. 164–165. 72. Parliamentary Debates (Lords), vol. 160, pp. 987–988 (17 February 1949). 73. Miles, British Theatre, p. 46. 74. See Hans Schmid, The Dramatic Criticism of William Archer (Bern: Francke, 1964), pp. 32–42. 75. Miles, British Theatre, p. 42; Noble, British Theatre, p. 31. 76. Noble, British Theatre, p. 63. 77. As noted by Whitworth, National Theatre, p. 15. 78. At the first meeting of the parliamentary group of the Labour Party members were ‘asked what had been the determining influence on their lives, [and] almost every one answered “the works of Ruskin”‘ (Kenneth Clark, Ruskin Today (London: Penguin, 1967), pp. xi–xii).
6 The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière Andrew Tate
‘Molière, always’ – John Ruskin, ‘Books Which Have Influenced Me’, – British Weekly (1887).1 In a letter published in the British Weekly under the title ‘Books which have influenced Me’, written from his Coniston home, Brantwood, on 14 May 1887, Ruskin cites a personal canon that includes, unsurprisingly, the works of Dante Alighieri, specific poems by Lord Byron and the fiction of Sir Walter Scott. The list is idiosyncratic, chiefly for those books and writers that it omits: neither William Wordsworth nor Thomas Carlyle, such potent literary forefathers of this by now distinguished man of letters, is referred to, and the Bible and Shakespeare are similarly missing. However, amongst an exalted body of Classical figures, Catholic visionaries and Romantic poets are, less predictably, a number of French volumes: Ruskin confesses a predilection for ‘[a]ll good’ modern French comedy, Sensation novels, theology and science. The brightly Francophile tone of the letter suggests that France had come to represent an intellectual sanctuary for a writer more commonly associated with the defence of his own national heritage. However, always conscious of aesthetic hierarchy, Ruskin distinguishes one specific writer from the ranks of this diverse company. Whereas two of the major English Romantics, Coleridge and Keats were, he suggests, influential in his ‘youth’ and the Scottish poet Robert Burns became important as he grew ‘older and wiser’, Molière is the single figure he claims to have valued ‘always’.2 Molière, the stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622–1673), the great French actor, director and playwright, is a strange and beguiling spectre in Ruskin studies; he is a shadowy presence who haunts Ruskin’s twentieth and twenty-first-century readers primarily 114
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by his conspicuous absence, a critical gap that echoes the odd omissions from the impromptu reading list of 1887. Allusions to such moral-comic plays by Molière as Le Misanthrope (1666) and Le Tartuffe (1667) appear in Ruskin’s oeuvre from his earliest work to the end of his creative life. Indeed, Ruskin’s first major published work, The Poetry of Architecture, pseudonymously serialized in the Architectural Magazine (1837–1838), ends with a (mis)quotation from Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1660), apparently recited from memory.3 Later work, including Modern Painters III (1856) and Fors Clavigera (1871–1884) engages in more detail with Molière’s moral comedies. Ruskin also attended productions of Molière’s work in France and even suggested that its author was a true precursor of Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics. In his notes on the Royal Academy exhibition of 1875, for example, Ruskin specifically connected Molière with the practice of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his own ‘art literature’ in the suggestion that, alongside Goldsmith, the Frenchman gave ‘the first general statements’ of ‘the great distinctive principle of [the Pre-Raphaelite] school’: things should be painted as they probably did look and happen, and not as, by rules of art developed under Raphael, Correggio, and Michael Angelo, they might be supposed gracefully, deliciously, or sublimely to have happened.4 To connect a seventeenth-century dramatist with a nineteenthcentury debate about the visual arts seems, in superficial terms at least, rather eccentric. The correlation is all the more surprising because it is not immediately clear that Molière’s work is characterized by the kind of passionate fidelity to nature which Ruskin celebrated in the early work of Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. However, Ruskin noted in Molière a distinctive boldness in avoiding the kind of inauthentic, idealized reality that was widely expected in the culture of his historical moment. Given the defining importance of Pre-Raphaelite practice for this specific advocate of ‘Modern Painters’, any perceived precursor of the movement ought to be of interest to those invested in Ruskin studies and the wider field of Victorian aesthetics. Yet Ruskin scholars have, on the whole, ignored the significance of this French writer. Major biographies – including John Batchelor’s No Wealth But Life (2000) and Tim Hilton’s two volume life (1985–2000) – do not have a single index entry between them on Molière. More recently, Sharon Aronofsky Weltman’s energetically theorized exploration of Ruskin and identity makes only brief reference to the Frenchman, despite the
study’s emphasis on theatre and performance.5 Although Ruskin is one of the most vividly and generously allusive of nineteenth-century writers, with references to the Bible, Classical mythology, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and contemporary fiction vying for precedence in his work, it is surprising that his tendency to quote a seventeenth-century French comic playwright has not been explored more widely. This chapter addresses a gap in scholarship on Ruskin as it explores his long-term enthusiasm for this comic playwright of the early modern stage. Why did Ruskin venerate Le Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope so highly? How does seventeenth-century French comedy correspond with the aesthetics of a writer famed for his intense moral seriousness? What is the link between Molière and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood? Any discussion of Ruskin’s enthusiasm for Molière, however, also needs to address the wider question of his relationship with French culture. The lack of criticism on Ruskin and Molière is part of the general absence of scholarship on his relationship with the theatre but it also typifies another evasion in Ruskin studies: Molière’s comedy has been underestimated by critics who also overlook the significance of Ruskin’s regard for French culture.
France, Molière and ‘The Moral of Landscape’ ‘I cannot find words to express the intense pleasure I have always in first finding myself, after some prolonged stay in England, at the foot of the old tower of Calais church,’ writes Ruskin in Modern Painters IV (1856). The passage conflates the writer’s numerous encounters with the historic French landscape into a narrative of epiphany: The large neglect, the noble unsightliness of it; the record of its years written so visibly, yet without sign of weakness or decay ... it is the epitome of all that makes the Continent of Europe interesting, as opposed to new countries; and, above all, it completely expresses that agedness in the midst of active life which binds the old and the new into harmony ... on the Continent, the links are unbroken between the past and present, and, in such use as they can serve for, the grey-headed wrecks are suffered to stay with men; while, in unbroken line, the generations of spared buildings are seen succeeding each in its place.6 This use of an architectural motif to denote the abiding presence of ancient narratives amidst the anxious world of the present is typically
The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière
Ruskinian. For this man of, what Robert Hewison has described as the Victorian ‘visual economy’, the unrestored church tower is a powerful, visible challenge to the emphatically polluted vision of the contemporary English spectator: its decay is organic, its ‘noble unsightliness’ a curious sign of holiness.7 France, for Ruskin, remains a country whose present is sweetened by an acknowledgement of its past; England, by contrast, is rapidly losing its historical consciousness and sense of origin. In this poetic passage, France acts as a gateway to the dynamic world of European history. This act of reading, in which the church is figured as a liminal space between the hostile, aggressive industrialism of England and the rich cultural heritage of Europe, foreshadows a moment from Marcel Proust’s introductory essay, ‘Sur la lecture’, to his translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies (1865), Sesame et les lys (1906): ‘La lecture est au seuil de la vie spirituelle; elle peut nous y introduire: elle ne la constitue pas.’8 Proust, celebrated as Ruskin’s greatest inheritor, identifies a crucial element of his teacher’s aesthetic theory, and a potential problem: interpretation or critical reading is only a gateway to the spiritual life, not its substitute.9 The image of the church tower in Calais, for all of its poignant praise of French aesthetic sensibility, suggests the ambivalence of Ruskin toward European culture: implicitly the Continent becomes an historical playground for the intellectual English traveller, a space of sentimental instruction rather than a living, modern world subject to the same kind of progress as Great Britain. A contemporary reader of Ruskin might consider whether the writer managed to cross the intellectual ‘seuil’ of Europe, abandoning the limitations of English prejudice, and to engage with the inner landscape of Continental life. Ruskin’s ambiguous relationship with France informs much of his writing. From his earliest adolescent accounts of travel in Europe to the late architectural studies of Amiens Cathedral, the polymathic English art critic, social reformer and commentator, interpreted the French cultural landscape and its unfamiliar contours. For a Tory monarchist, raised in the strict traditions of evangelical Protestantism, a country whose history was both revolutionary and Roman Catholic represented a disturbing and animating otherness. His public exploration of French culture is diverse and sometimes openly hostile: for example, he notoriously denigrated the French master of ideal landscape, Claude Lorrain, as a conventional painter who failed to represent the truth of nature. Ruskin’s censure of Claude Lorrain, alongside that of other seventeenth-century ‘French’ and Italian masters, was, he admitted,
partly a rhetorical device to emphasize the genius of his countryman and hero, J. M. W. Turner.10 French Gothic architecture, however, the subject of a study tour of 1848 in preparation for The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), was far more enthusiastically received by Ruskin: the cathedrals of Rouen, Abbeville and, later, Amiens became places of pilgrimage for this Protestant traveller. Contemporary criticism on Ruskin’s relationship with Europe often focuses on the legacies of the writer. The fact that Marcel Proust is Ruskin’s most famous Continental translator and, indeed, inheritor, is well established, for example: the continuities between the two writers in their engagement with the pleasures and limitations of memory, perception and beauty, have been carefully explored by a number of critics. Ruskin’s journeys in France have been documented in many biographies, but the ways in which French thinking impacted on this English man of letters, have been given limited coverage.11 Ruskin’s view of French revolutionary culture from 1789 to his own historical moment is problematic: he was not a Republican by any standard definition and could not, despite his associations with the birth of English socialism, embrace the notion of égalité, liberté, fraternité. Yet neither did he have a simple, uncritical Monarchist’s contempt for the revolution as inspired by the ungodly ambitions of the mob. In an 1851 letter to his father, John James, Ruskin considered the origins of the revolution: The French Revolution was a frenzy begun in a necessary reform of vicious government, but the principles which that frenzy reached at its wildest, becomes now the subject of the after-dinner declamation of our respectable London citizens. There is assuredly a root for all this – desperate abuses going on in governments, and real ground for movement among the lower classes, which of course they are little likely to guide by any very just or rational principle ... However, I must mind and not get too sympathising with the Radicals.12 Molière, who worked within a system of regal patronage, may have been attractive to Ruskin precisely because he represented a prerevolutionary France; his work offers no disturbing visions of a Republic stripped of Monarchy by bloody revolution. The dramatist certainly helped Ruskin to conceptualize French culture in a positive fashion without sacrificing his belief in just monarchy as fundamental to the divine order of things. There is evidence that the playwright informed Ruskin’s writing from the very beginning of his vast defence of Turner
The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière
and arguments for the superiority of modern painting. A brief, and rather oblique, reference is made to Le Misanthrope in Modern Painters I (1843) when Ruskin sympathetically quotes Alceste, the play’s titular protagonist, in ‘Of Ideas of Power’ without naming either the play or its author.13 Later work, however, is more explicitly energized by Molière’s comedy. In his lecture ‘Turner and His Works’, delivered in Edinburgh in November 1853 and later collected in Lectures on Architecture and Painting (1854), Ruskin observed that ‘the comedies of Molière’ like ‘the novels of Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne ... and the writings of Johnson and Addison’ do not have ‘a single expression of true delight in sublime nature in any one of them’. This absence, however, is not figured by Ruskin as a failing but as evidence of ‘the general spirit of the age’ and as preferable to the excessive and insincere pastoralism of lesser writers.14 ‘The Moral of Landscape’, the penultimate chapter of Modern Painters III, published two years after Lectures on Architecture and Painting, gives a more nuanced account of Molière, when Ruskin turns to the French writer as a man untypical of the moral decay of his times. In a characteristically counterintuitive move, the critic chooses this dramatist of human manners, court gossip and refined culture to illuminate his argument regarding the sublimities of nature. Indeed, the chapter is distinctively literary in its focus on the varying degrees to which the great Western canon of poets, novelists and philosophers has appreciated natural beauty. Molière does not fit into Ruskin’s categories of those writers for whom natural beauty is subordinate to ‘hard work or watching of human nature’ (including Francis Bacon, John Milton and Blaise Pascal) or those for whom it is ‘intense’ (Lord Byron, John Keats and Mrs. Radcliffe, amongst others).15 Instead, the playwright is tentatively allied to the more ambiguous love of nature displayed by Cervantes and Pope. Yet Ruskin is keen to distinguish Molière even from such esteemed canonical company: where the celebrated creator of Don Quixote and the great poet are accused of moral pessimism, the Frenchman is regarded ‘very differently’. Living in the blindest period of the world’s history, in the most luxurious city, and the most corrupted court, of the time, he yet manifests through all his writings an exquisite natural wisdom; a capacity for the most simple enjoyment; a high sense of all nobleness, honour, and purity, variously marked throughout his slighter work, but distinctly made the theme of his two perfect plays – the Tartuffe and Misanthrope; and in all that he says of art or science he has an
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unerring instinct for what is useful and sincere, and uses his whole power to defend it, with as keen a hatred of everything affected and vain.16 The moral rhetoric of this passage is replete with Ruskin’s Puritan inheritance (the antipathy for Parisian luxury, for example) but this is tempered by a Romantic appreciation for intuitive ‘natural wisdom’. Ruskin not only identifies Molière as a fearless moralist whose work contradicted the dissolute tendencies of his era, but unpredictably he also locates the dramatist as a precursor to the English Romantic tradition: And, singular as it may seem, the first definite lesson read to Europe in that school of simplicity of which Wordsworth was the supposed originator among the mountains of Westmorland, was, in fact, given in the midst of the court of Louis XIV., and by Molière. The little canzonet ‘J’aime mieux ma mie,’ is, I believe, the first Wordsworthian poem brought forward on philosophical principles, to oppose the schools of art and affectation.17 This audacious connection of a quietly subversive dramatist from ‘the court of Louis XIV’ and a Lake poet whose early work was inspired by his encounter with the French revolution encodes the complexities of Ruskin’s aesthetics. He even anticipates criticism of this fragile, unpredictable correlation (‘I do not know if, by a careful analysis, I could point out any evidences of a capacity for the love of natural scenery in Molière’) but insists on the ‘exceptional’ quality of a writer who united ‘Wordsworth’s philosophy with Le Sage’s wit’ who was necessarily ‘turned by circumstances from the observance of natural beauty to that of human frailty’.18 Ruskin’s association of Wordsworth and Molière is facilitated by his willingness to ignore their historical and political disparity in order to emphasize a more important continuity. Both writers, in Ruskin’s analysis, belong to a tradition that champions fidelity to truth against an escalating cultural proclivity for artifice in all forms of artistic representation. Indeed, this belief in a living tradition of realist aesthetics – a sense of beauty that transcends all convention, affectation and social mannerism – allowed Ruskin to see a direct connection between a dramatist of the seventeenth-century French stage, English Romanticism and the daring, initially maligned aesthetics of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The famous exhortation at the end of Modern Painters for artists to follow Turner’s example and ‘go to Nature in all singleness of heart ... rejecting
The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière
nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing; believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth’ was later cited by Ruskin in his defence of the PRB.19 Yet, for all its Wordsworthian mystic-naturalism, this homiletic ending might also owe a major debt to the more caustic worldview of Molière’s comedy. The next section of this chapter will explore the aesthetic implications of Le Misanthrope for Ruskin, the play he celebrates for its inclusion of what he improbably describes as ‘the first Wordsworthian poem’.20
Le Misanthrope, Pre-Raphaelitism and Marmontel Alceste, Molière’s irritable, titular misanthropist, a man of wealthy society who mocks affectation, intemperately dismisses bad art and who eventually shuns the city for pastoral seclusion, might be an uncanny role model for Ruskin in his later years. Le Misanthrope, regarded by Boileau as the greatest comedy of its age, dramatizes the conflict between integrity and civility, truth-telling and flattery amongst competitive aristocrats.21 In one of his Oxford lectures on sculpture collected as Aratra Pentelici (1872), Ruskin described this dialectical drama as ‘Molière’s most perfect work’, one that ‘none of us can read with too much attention’.22 It is a play that mocks pretension but one that is also pessimistic about the consequences of transgressing social codes, even in the interests of truth. For Ruskin, it was also a treasury of wit and a model of aesthetic sense. The quotation in Aratra Pentelici, from the play’s final scene, is a relatively late example of Ruskin’s penchant for quoting incidents from Le Misanthrope to illuminate contemporary manners and social attitudes: Those of you who have read with attention [...] The Misanthrope, must remember Célimène’s description of her lovers, and her excellent reason for being unable to regard with any favour, ‘notre grand flandrin de vicomte, – depuis que je l’ai vu, trois quarts d’heure durant, cracher dans un puits pour faire des ronds.’ That sentence is worth noting, both in contrast to the reverence paid by the ancients to wells and springs, and as one of the most interesting traces of the extension of the loathsome habit among the upper classes of Europe and America, which now renders all external grace, dignity, and decency impossible in the thoroughfares of their principal cities.23 Although Le Misanthrope relies on traditional comic tropes of romantic misadventure and unrequited love, the play’s most famous clash
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arises from a literary disagreement. Alceste – who admits that he is ‘[i] nclined to be unfashionably sincere’ [‘J’ai le défaut/ D’Être un peu plus sincère en cela qu’il ne faut’] – reluctantly agrees to assess the merit of a sonnet, written by his rival, Oronte, who disingenuously insists that he wants nothing more than an honest evaluation from a man he respects.24 Alceste’s inability to varnish his contempt for the astonishingly poor poem (‘I might, by chance, write something just as shoddy;/ But then I wouldn’t show it to everybody’) elicits a legal intervention from the monarch for defamation by the vain poet.25 Early in Ruskin’s career, similar questions of aesthetic protocol might have resonated with the young critic who was inspired to defend the reputation of a greatly misunderstood and undervalued painter. This defence also required, however, the kind of boldness and critical verve displayed by Alceste who confesses that he lacks the ‘art of telling pleasant lies’, in critiquing the conventions of a powerful artistic establishment.26 Indeed, Ruskin specifically draws on Alceste’s sincere (but perhaps intemperate) language in Modern Painters I when he cites the protagonist’s refusal to accept lack of time spent in producing a piece of art as an adequate justification for its failure. In ‘Of Ideas of Power, as they are dependent upon execution’, Ruskin argues that ‘to those artists who wish to excuse their ignorance and inaccuracy by a species of execution which is a perpetual proclamation, “qu’ils n’ont demeuré qu’un quart d’heure à le faire,” we may reply with the truthful Alceste, “Monsieur, le temps ne fait rien à l’affaire”.’27 The allusion is linguistically deft – Ruskin reconstructs the French verb to accommodate a group of painters rather than an individual poet-speaker – but it is also unexplained and unreferenced. This suggests Ruskin’s familiarity with the source and a certain expectation that his readers also ought to know the work of one of the vital figures in French literary and theatrical history. Oronte’s aesthetically inspired legal revenge against the dangerously honest Alceste, in a play that Ruskin knew well enough to quote, must, however, have taken on a whole new significance following the case of Whistler versus Ruskin in 1878. The absurd episode from Le Misanthrope oddly prefigures the nineteenth-century art establishment’s most notorious piece of litigation, when James Abbot McNeill Whistler sued Ruskin for libel. Whistler’s argument against Ruskin – in a case that infamously ended with a rather bitter victory for the American painter since he was awarded only a farthing and ordered to pay legal costs – was based on scathing comments made about his work in Fors Clavigera, in the Summer of 1877.28 Significantly, however, Ruskin’s first hostile
The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière
critique of Whistler, included in one of his 1873 Oxford lectures, is haunted by the language of Le Misanthrope: I never saw anything so impudent on the walls of any exhibition, in any country, as last year in London. It was a daub professing to be a ‘harmony in pink and white’ (or some such nonsense); absolute rubbish, and which had taken about a quarter of an hour to scrawl or daub – it had no pretence to be called painting. The price asked for it was two hundred and fifty guineas.29 The trope of rushed (and, by implication, poor) work is invoked by Ruskin, consciously or otherwise, in the precise formulation used in Molière’s play – ‘about a quarter of an hour’ or ‘un quart d’heure à le faire’ is the time that Oronte claims he spent on his much derided sonnet. Le Misanthrope is, however, not simply connected to Ruskin’s life and work by virtue of a few allusions and the coincidence of an injudicious aesthetic libel. The play’s central thematic concerns – the cost of candour, the human tendency for dishonesty and the moral compromises required by modern urban life – all foreshadow vital elements of Ruskin’s project. The moment from the play that he cites as most influential is Alceste’s alternative to the affected poetics of Oronte. The fastidious listener, appalled by the absurdities of this overstated and artificial but trivial verse, offers ‘une vieille chanson’ that celebrates the virtues of a modest life in a simple, unaffected style. ‘J’aime mieux m’a mie,’ the poem’s last line – translated by Wilbur as ‘My darling is more fair’ but literally expressing preference for an unadorned, simple life – is regarded by Ruskin as ‘the first Wordsworthian poem’. 30 This idea persisted and in The Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism (1878), Ruskin returned to the idea that Molière’s protagonist foreshadowed a tradition that would gain aesthetic momentum more than a century later: The central branch of the school [of Pre-Raphaelitism] ... was essentially and vitally an uneducated one. It was headed, in literary power, by Wordsworth; but the first pure example of its mind and manner of Art, as opposed to the erudite and artificial schools, will be found, so far as I know, in Molière’s song: jaime mieux ma mie. 31 Le Misanthrope ends with its protagonist recognizing elements of his own romantic folly and, convinced that he cannot be happy in a society
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based around deception and flattery, he flees this aristocratic sphere: Je vais sortir d’un gouffre où triomphent les vices, Et chercher sur la terre un endroit écarté Où d’être home d’honneur on ait la liberté.32 The exile from the perceived centre of civilization to a quiet periphery chosen by Alceste must have resonated with Ruskin who, in the early 1870s, moved to the remote village of Coniston in the English lakes, from his native London. Although Ruskin’s self-imposed exile was considerably less definitive than that of his theatrical hero, he regarded Brantwood, his new home, as a sanctuary set apart from the pressures of capitalist, industrialized life. Significantly, it was during his Brantwood years, as he composed the letters of Fors Clavigera, that he returned to the figure of Molière’s unhappiest of men. In Letter 17 of Fors (May 1872), Ruskin drew on the work of another French writer who he greatly admired, Jean François Marmontel (1723–1799). Marmontel, ‘a Frenchman of the old school, before the Revolution’, and a leading figure of the country’s literary establishment wrote a ‘sequel’ to Molière’s Misanthrope in his Contes Moraux (1755–1765).33 The short story that appears in Fors 17 is the product of not one but two forms of translation: Marmontel, writing almost a century after Molière, re-imagined the despairing, tragi-comic hero as a man burdened by a quasi-spiritual quest; Ruskin, who translated this portion of the sequel, interprets the misanthrope as a kind of French forerunner of the Guild of St. George.34 The title of Fors 17, ‘The Sword of St George’, with its mythic resonance, is symptomatic of Ruskin’s utopian commitment to the transformation of England and the letter details the writer’s plans for the St George’s fund, ‘which shall be of persons still following their own business, wherever they are, but who will give the tenth of what they have, or make, for the purchase of land in England, to be cultivated by hand’.35 This paradise, achieved by a return to the land and a recuperation of agricultural craftsmanship, was informed by the JudaeoChristian commitment to give a tenth of personal income to the work of God and Romantic distaste for the corruption of the English landscape. However, the working title for the letter was ‘Marmontel’ and it is significant that Ruskin chose to use a French writer in his attempt to reclaim an England of selfless heroism and justice. Marmontel’s continuation of the story of Alceste, Molière’s cynic philosopher of the salons, narrates a pastoral France free from the aggressive individualism
The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière
of modern Britain. This iteration of Le Misanthrope – translated as ‘The Misanthrope Corrected’ – is considerably more sentimental than its parent text, and Marmontel’s version of the hero is far more palatable to a polite middle-class readership than his irritable former self. The converted Alceste, perhaps importantly for Ruskin, is not simply a petulant eccentric, but a man who loves the world and is delighted by his encounter with rural people: One of the pleasures of his retreat was to see the cultivated and fertile ground all about him nourishing a peasantry, which appeared to him happy. For a misanthrope who has become so by his virtue, only thinks that he hates men, because he loves them. Alceste felt a strange softening of the heart mingled with joy at the sight of his fellow-creatures rich by the labour of their hand.36 This idealistic version of rural French life necessarily ignores political realities of hunger, struggle and the absence of democracy. The society that Marmontel’s rendering of Alceste encounters in his flight from the corruptions of modern life is personified in a poor labourer who celebrates the diligent, hard-working but blissfully unburdened life of the rural community. The labourer is content to work hard for his family and to serve the noble men of his country. In return, the patrician landowner rules with mercy, justice and wisdom. The explicitly feudal nature of this rural idyll appealed to Ruskin who maintained an anti-egalitarian creed throughout his creative life: the community work hard and are rewarded but they desire neither to ascend the social ladder nor to revolt against their wealthy rulers. This model of co-operation was one which Ruskin desired to perpetuate in the Guild of St George; his antipathy for competition which he believed led to avarice and starvation, is assuaged by Marmontel’s narrative. The letter ends with a challenge to the reader – ‘discern which state is best for you – modern “civilization,” or Marmontel’s rusticity, and mine’ – that emphasizes the extent to which Ruskin idealized prerevolutionary France.37 Molière’s comedy, and its disenchanted hero, has an afterlife both in French culture and in Ruskin’s intellectual life. 38 The play resonates not only with his aesthetic emphasis on truth to nature and authenticity above artifice, but its political implications regarding the excesses of aristocratic society, developed by Marmontel in his eighteenthcentury sequel, prefigure some of the major tenets of Ruskinian social teaching.
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Le Tartuffe and religious disenchantment: Amiens, 1880 Although Le Misanthrope was Ruskin’s favourite, and most frequently quoted, work by the playwright, he was also enthusiastic about Le Tartuffe (1667), Molière’s celebrated satire of religious hypocrisy. Indeed, he attended at least two separate productions of the play in France. Ruskin’s diary makes a brief reference to a Parisian production in October 1868.39 However, he gave a much more detailed account of a performance of the play that he saw in October 1880, when he was working in Amiens, Northern France, on the project that was to become The Bible of Amiens (1880–1885). Ruskin seems to have received the production itself rather coolly (‘Orgon vilely played; the brother, well; the Lover damnably; the girl, beautiful and right; the bonne, atrocious’) but was fascinated, and troubled, by a lecture that accompanied the play. This address, given by a dignitary of Amiens, was full of national pride, asserting that ‘with Tartufe alone, the French nation could challenge the world – “et même Shakespire”.’ The focus of his lecture, however, appears to have been an anti-Christian interpretation of the play: Tartufe essentially represented the clergy. He conceived him as really religious, observe, and went on to display and declare the horrors of ‘religion’, as eternally represented by Tartufe. There were exceptions; there were great and honest men, sometimes, in the horrid lot, but as a body – that Tartufe was Religion.40 Ruskin later described this experience, drawing on material in his diary, for a short, polemical piece of writing on the weakening influence of the Roman Catholic clergy in Europe (‘Notes on the Priest’s Office’, included in Roadside Songs of Tuscany): The play was preceded by a lecture on Molière, admirably and pleasantly given by a well-to-do Amiens citizen – presumably one of their leading wool-manufacturers, who had interested himself in matters of taste. He told the audience that in the honours of literature, with the Tartuffe alone, the French could challenge the world, ‘et même Shakspire,’ whose greatest work, Mac-Beth (he did the ‘th’ with ease) was greatly inferior to this greatest of Molière’s; that all the other characters in Molière had passed away from present life; but the Tartuffe was immortal, representing human nature in its entirety, and, above all, the horrors of religion; on which text he enlarged,
The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière
with accusations of the existing priesthood, which I will not record, but which the audience heard with an under-murmur of eager satisfaction.41 Significantly, Ruskin connects the anti-religious arguments of this ‘Amiens citizen’ with the tradition of authentic Christian practice that he recognized in one of France’s great architectural achievements: The sight of that pit, full of unanimous blasphemy, foaming out its own shame within a few hundred yards of the altar of the cathedral which records the first Christianity of France, was a sign to me of many things.42 The essay is indicative of Ruskin’s lifelong enthusiasm for Molière – and particularly for Le Tartuffe – and a sign of his own disappointments with the visible Church. An anti-clerical reading of this celebrated seventeenth-century play might have been expected in a staunchly Republican France. The play is a comedy of naivety, greed, lust and religious deception and its titular villain – who one critic names ‘the most famous faux dévot in seventeenth-century French theater’ – has become synonymous with fake piety.43 Le Tartuffe deploys such popular comic devices as sexual jealousy, stolen inheritance and the frustrated love plot in order to explore bigger philosophical issues of blind faith and reason. Tartuffe persuades Orgon, a naïve, spiritually proud noble that he is a man of rare piety, committed to a life free from material interests, much persecuted for his devotion, whilst secretly attempting to seduce his patron’s wife. The production history of Le Tartuffe, from its initial performance in 1664, was highly controversial and Molière was censored and accused of impiety by some powerful members of the establishment.44 Yet, whatever the anxieties of the Church or the strident anti-religious interpretation of the lecturer in Amiens, the play offers a more balanced view of religion. Cléante, Orgon’s judicious and morally fair brother-in-law both castigates the devious impostor (‘Vous nous payez ici d’excuses colorées,/ Et toutes vos raisons, monsieur, sont trop tirées;/ Des intérêts du ciel pourquoi vous chargez-vous?’) and admonishes atheism (‘Laissez aux libertins ces sottes conséquences’).45 The religious tenor of Ruskin’s late work – including The Bible of Amiens – echoes this scrupulous, careful distinction between modestly authentic belief and the extremes of absolute, unquestioning trust and belligerent scepticism. Molière’s holy fraud was evidently much on Ruskin’s mind after watching the play in the autumn of 1880. In November, he wrote an
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essay on Byron and Wordsworth as part of his Fiction, Fair and Foul series (1880–1881), that draws on Tartuffe to reflect on contemporary religious scepticism. ‘Hypocrisy,’ notes Ruskin ‘is too good a word’ for those against whom it is routinely used in the modern world, and that it is ‘justly applied (as always in the New Testament), only to men whose false religion has become earnest, and a part of their being’. There is no relation between minds of this order and those of common rogues. Neither Tartuffe nor Joseph Surface are hypocrites – they are simply impostors: but many of the most earnest preachers in all existing churches are hypocrites in the highest; and the TartuffeSquiredom and Joseph Surface-Masterhood of our virtuous England which build churches and pay priests to keep their peasants and hands peaceable, so that rents and per cents may be spent, unnoticed, in the debaucheries of the metropolis, are darker forms of imposture than either heaven or earth have yet been compassed by; and what they are to end in, heaven and earth only know.46 Le Tartuffe not only helped Ruskin address issues of religious practice but, like Le Misanthrope, it also resonates with other aspects of Ruskin’s thought. For example, the play uses a language of eye-witness account and testimony that anticipates Ruskin’s own distinctive concern with ways of looking at the world and, chiefly, the idea of a failed spiritual vision. Rather than a Romantic ‘innocence of the eye’, Molière’s play is shaped by a need for hard facts. In Act 5, Scene 3, for example, Orgon, attempts to persuade his zealous mother that Tartuffe has betrayed him by recounting what he saw with his own eyes: ‘Je l’ai vu, dis-je, de mes propres yeux vu,/ Ce qu’on appelle vu’.47 Elements of Le Tartuffe would have been congenial to Ruskin’s social teaching. The Deus Ex Machina of the play’s ending, for example, in which Tartuffe is exposed as a criminal, Orgon’s estates are restored and clemency is granted for his political misdemeanour, is the product of an apparently divinely-gifted and merciful king. This idealized or miraculous solution, notes H. Gaston Hall, has been traditionally regarded with scepticism by Molière’s critics, since it clashes with the quasi-realist tone of the action of the play that precedes it.48 The sovereign is figured as wholly just, wise and magnanimous: ‘Nous vivons sous un prince ennemi de la fraude,/ Un prince dont les yeux se font jour dans les coeurs,/ Et que ne peut tromper tout l’art des imposteurs’ (Act 5, Scene 7).49 Are these words of l’exempt, the king’s emissary, Molière’s clumsy theatrical attempt at regal sycophancy or an allusion
The First Theatrical Pre-Raphaelite? Ruskin’s Molière
to a specific royal tradition? Hall suggests that neither of these models adequately explains the extraordinary ending and proposes instead that it constitutes ‘a celebration of kingship ... as kingship ought to be’. ‘It does not merely flatter,’ he argues, ‘because the ideal which it expresses is an admonishment also to kings’.50 This myth of just Kingship was vital for Ruskin whose fierce belief in an ideal Monarchy gave him an imaginative alternative to Capitalism and the value-free strictures of the market. Molière, then, is both a vital aesthetic touchstone for Ruskin and a writer whose work also complicates the writer’s relationship with French literature and culture. Ambivalence about French literature, philosophy and politics is not simply an anxiety of Ruskin’s and his fellow monarchists in nineteenth-century England. There is a profound and largely unconscious anxiety about French culture in the contemporary Anglophone imagination. This is partly a failure to come to terms with the influence of French culture on Britain. The significance of this great figure of the early modern stage – a writer who the secular patriot in an Amiens theatre in 1880 described as a rival even to ‘Shakspire’ – suggests that a reappraisal of Ruskin’s relationship with France and its rich history is overdue.
Notes 1. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., The Library Edition of The Works of Ruskin, 39 vols (London: George Allen, 1903–1912), vol. xxxiv, p. 506. 2. Cook and Wedderburn, Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 34, pp. 605–606. 3. See Cook and Wedderburn, Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 1, p. 118. The imperfectly remembered quotation is deployed to mock the absurdity of fashion and artifice as the basis of aesthetic, and specifically architectural, design. 4. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 14, p. 267. 5. Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Performing the Victorian: John Ruskin and Identity in Theater, Science and Education (Columbus: Ohio State University, 2007), p. 73. 6. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 6, pp. 11–12. 7. Robert Hewison, Ruskin’s Artists: Studies in the Victorian Visual Economy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000). 8. ‘Reading is on the threshold to the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it’ (my translation). Quotation cited in Richard Mackey, ‘Introduction’, Marcel Proust: On Reading Ruskin, translated and edited by Jean Autret, William Burford and Phillip J. Wolfe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), p. xvii. 9. For a detailed exploration of Proust’s hermeneutic approach to Ruskin see Cynthia J. Gamble, Proust as Interpreter of Ruskin: The Seven Lamps of Translation (Birmingham: Al: Summa, 2002).
130 Andrew Tate 10. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 3, p. 53. 11. See, for example, J. G. Links, The Ruskins in Normandy: A Tour of 1848 with Murray’s Hand-book (London: Murray, 1968). 12. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 12, p. lxxix. 13. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 3, p. 122. Indeed, Cook and Wedderburn indicate that the same quotation, discussed in more detail later in this chapter, was excised from another section in an early draft of Modern Painters I (1843) (see Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 3, p. 94). 14. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 12, p. 119. 15. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 5, pp. 359–360. 16. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 5, pp. 374–375. 17. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 5, pp. 374–375. 18. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 5, p. 376. 19. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 3, p. 624. 20. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 5, p. 375. 21. For more detail on Boileau and the reception of the play see James F. Gaines, ed., The Molière Encyclopedia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002), p. 321. 22. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 20, p. 260. For a discussion of the play’s dialectical style see Albert Bermel, Molière’s Theatrical Bounty: a New View of the Plays (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990), p. 236. 23. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 20, p. 260. Richard Wilbur translates the quoted lines as ‘Our big bumbling friend the Viscount ... ever since the day I watched him spend three-quarters of an hour spitting into a well, so as to make circles in the water’ (Molière, The Misanthrope, translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur, in Molière: Five Plays, introduced by Donald Roy (London: Methuen, 2000), p. 263). 24. Molière, The Misanthrope, Act 1, Scene 2 (Molière: Five Plays, p. 212). All subsequent quotations from Molière in English translation are from this edition. Quotation from the French text, Le Misanthrope (Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1986), p. 30. 25. The French text reads: ‘J’en pourrais, par malheur, faire d’aussi méchants;/ Mais je me garderais de les montrer aux gens’ (Le Misanthrope (Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1986), p. 35). 26. The original line, a response to Oronte’s claim that others have praised his poetry, reads ‘C’est qu’ils ont l’art de feindre; et moi, je ne l’ai pas’ (acte 1, scène 2) (Le Misanthrope (Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1986), p. 35). 27. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 3, p. 122. Richard Wilbur translates the exchange between Oronte and Alceste as ‘Perhaps I ought to add/That it took me only a quarter-hour to write it’ with the response ‘The time’s irrelevant, Sir: kindly recite it’ (Molière: Five Plays, p. 213). 28. see Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 29, p. 160. For a detailed discussion of the case see John Batchelor, John Ruskin: No Wealth But Life (London: Chatto, 2000), pp. 277–280. Batchelor also cites Whistler’s own account of the case given in a pamphlet and later in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (London: Heinemann, 1890). 29. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 23, p. 49.
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30. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 5, p. 375. 31. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 34, pp. 166–167. 32. Wilbur translates Alceste’s concluding lines as ‘I’ll flee this bitter world where vice is king,/ And seek some spot unpeopled and apart/ Where I’ll be free to have an honest heart’ (Molière: Five Plays, p. 268). 33. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 27, p. 303. 34. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, p. 300. 35. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, p. 296. 36. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, p. 301. 37. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, p. 303. 38. Ruskin returned to ‘The Misanthrope Corrected’ in Letter 40 of Fors (April 1874) and he included another episode, again in his own translation (Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 27, pp. 62–65). 39. The Diaries of John Ruskin, edited by Joan Evans, and John Howard Whitehouse, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), vol. II, p. 658. This is also cited by Cook and Wedderburn in a footnote (see Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 19, p. 251). 40. Evans and Whitehouse, Diaries of John Ruskin, vol. III, p. 988. 41. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 32, p. 117. 42. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 32, p. 117. 43. Michael S. Koppisch, ‘Tartuffe’, in The Molière Encyclopedia, p. 448. 44. Virginia Scott gives a detailed exploration of the controversy provoked by the play and its reception in Molière: A Theatrical Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 158–166. See also Koppisch, The Molière Encylopedia, pp. 450–456. 45. These exchanges take place in Act 4, Scene 1 and Act 5, scene 1 respectively, pp. 101, 120. Richard Wilbur translates these two quotations as ‘Your reasoning is badly warped and stretched,/ And these excuses, Sir, are most far-fetched./ Why put yourself in charge of Heaven’s cause? Does Heaven need our help to defend our laws’ (Molière: Five Plays, p. 171) and ‘Let atheists make that foolish inference’ (Molière: Five Plays, p. 187). 46. Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 34, pp. 361–362. 47. This is translated by Wilbur as ‘I saw it; saw it; saw it with my eyes’ (Molière: Five Plays, p. 189). 48. H. Gaston Hall, Comedy in Context: Essays on Molière (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984), p. 157. 49. Wilbur translates these lines as ‘We serve a Prince to whom all sham is hateful,/ A Prince who sees into our inmost hearts,/ And can’t be fooled by any trickster’s arts’ (Molière: Five Plays, p. 199). 50. Gaston Hall, Comedy in Context, pp. 157–158.
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Part II The Theatre and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century
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7 The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and the Repertoire of a Popular Theatre Janice Norwood
The influence of high art on theatrical productions at the prestigious top end of the Victorian theatrical scene has been well documented, in studies of Henry Irving and Herbert Beerbohm Tree in particular.1 The interaction between the minor, or non-West End, popular theatres and other forms of visual culture has received less attention. The Britannia Theatre in Hoxton makes a useful case study to explore the dynamics of this relationship. The Britannia (popularly nicknamed the Brit) was a large East End theatre whose audience was predominantly drawn from the working- and lower-middle classes living in the neighbourhood.2 It began life as a saloon theatre in 1840 and had established itself as a popular community amenity by 1850. Under the management first of Samuel Lane and then his actress widow, Sara Lane, the Britannia consistently drew large audiences until the end of the nineteenth century. It also attracted favourable attention, especially during the run of its pantomimes, from prominent visitors from outside the vicinity, such as Charles Dickens and George Bernard Shaw. This essay reveals how visual culture influenced the form of the theatre’s mid-century productions and contrasts this with its output at the fin de siècle. It also highlights two aspects of the Britannia’s entertainments where its visual aesthetics were very different from its West End counterparts – its incidentals and its pantomimes. At the middle of the nineteenth century melodrama accounted for the vast majority of the Britannia’s productions, but it was supplemented by a mixture of burlesques, farces, performances of Shakespearean drama and, most importantly, the annual pantomime. By far and away the most prolific playwright was Colin Hazlewood: a staggering 201 of his plays were first performed at the Britannia. The first of his dramas to be performed at the Britannia Saloon had appeared in November 1855 135
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and he quickly became established as the theatre’s single most important dramatist.3 Between 1855 and his death 20 years later, he supplied an average of ten new plays a year. Hazlewood was adept at recognizing subjects that would interest his audience and took the inspiration for his dramas from a range of contemporary events and issues. Table 7.1 lists Hazlewood melodramas written for the Brit during the 1860s that have obvious connections with other forms of literary Table 7.1
Hazlewood melodramas of the 1860s with links to popular culture
The Three Lives Eily O’Connor A Life for a Life
Serial fiction (Everybody’s Journal) Play (Dion Boucicault) Novel
A Message from the Sea
Short story (Charles Dickens)
The Old Maid in a Winding Sheet Some Bells that Rang the Old Year Out Mary Edmonstone
Legend in periodical Short story (Charles Dickens) Newgate calendar
Jeannie Deans Aurora Floyd Lady Audley’s Secret The Chimes The Jewess of the Temple
Novel (Walter Scott) Novel (Mary Braddon) Novel (Mary Braddon) Serial fiction (Bow Bells) French play
Kate Kearney The Workgirls of London Twenty Straws
Serial fiction (Bow Bells) Serial fiction Serial fiction (Bow Bells)
The Hebrew Diamond Jessie, the Mormon’s Daughter
Novel (Walter Scott)
The Casual Ward Rich and Poor The Dustman’s Treasure Jolly Dogs of London
Newspaper article Serial fiction (London Miscellany) Novel (Charles Dickens) Serial fiction
The Gray Lady of Fernlea Alone in the Pirate’s Lair Wild Charley Who Did It?
Serial fiction (Bow Bells) Serial fiction (Boys of England) Serial fiction (Boys of England) Serial fiction (Bow Bells)
The Young Apprentice He Would Be a Sailor Wait Till I’m a Man The Headless Horseman
Serial fiction Serial fiction (Boys of England) Serial fiction (Boys of England) Serial fiction
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
culture. The second column indicates the primary source of the drama, which was often, though not always, acknowledged in advertisements and playbills. Many of Hazlewood’s plays were adaptations of the work of well-known novelists including Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, Victor Hugo and Elizabeth Gaskell.4 To cite just two examples, The Dustman’s Treasure, subtitled ‘Wegg and the Boffins’, was based on Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, while Lady Audley’s Secret was a dramatic treatment of Braddon’s sensation fiction of the same name. In addition, a great many dramas originated as serialized or short stories in penny journals, such as Bow Bells, the London Journal, the Penny Miscellany and Household Words. Several plays were based on stories published in weekly instalments in the Boys of England, ‘a Magazine of Sport, Sensation, Fun, and Instruction’ aimed at a juvenile, male readership. One of these, Alone in the Pirate’s Lair, which was first staged in September 1867, is particularly interesting because it appeared as a juvenile drama for acting in toy theatres prior to Hazlewood’s adaptation. Given this level of borrowing from other literary forms, it is not surprising that the Britannia’s productions during this period also incorporated direct references to visual art forms. Hazlewood’s melodrama Rich and Poor: A Story of the Four Seasons, which was produced in May 1866, was based on a story serialized in the London Miscellany from 10 February of the same year. Playbills promoting the Britannia’s dramatic version reproduced in black and white some of the coloured pictures that had been distributed with the first instalment of the fiction. Not only were these images appropriated for advertising purposes, but, more significantly, they were physically recreated on stage as part of the drama. The playbill for Whit-Monday, 31 May 1866 refers to ‘Realisation of Plate 1. – ‘Playing at Charity!’, and reproduces that illustration.5 This was not an isolated example. Jolly Dogs of London, which was based on a popular novel published in 1866, includes realizations of the pictures ‘The Street Row’, ‘Jolly Dog Out’ and ‘The Death of a Jolly Dog’.6 Similarly, George Dibdin Pitt’s The Drunkard’s Child, which was revived in September 1866, was based on George Cruikshank’s famous series of drawings illustrating a temperance theme. Once again, the Britannia’s playbills draw attention to the exact plate number.7 This suggests that the audience had a high level of familiarity with Cruikshank’s work. If Jolly Dogs may be seen to exploit the audience’s acquaintance with cheap publications, some of Hazlewood’s other melodramas drew upon ‘higher’ culture by staging realizations of famous paintings as dramatic tableaux. An interesting example is Break But Not Bend, which was first staged in 1867. The playbill highlights its three realizations
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and identifies them as William Collins’s ‘The Sale of the Pet Lamb’, ‘The Dishonoured Bill’ by an unspecified artist and J. Phillip’s ‘The Prison Window’. The scant stage directions in the manuscript sent to the Lord Chamberlain’s office for licensing do not make the realizations explicit.8 However, the prompt copy in the Pettingell Collection at the University of Kent gives specific instructions.9 For example, the opening directions read, ‘A built out cottage, the residence of Philip Raymond, set so as to realize the picture’ (1.1). Collins’s popular painting had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1813 and had been engraved many times. In a biography of his father, Wilkie Collins estimates that ‘from fourteen to fifteen thousand impressions of the smaller print alone were dispersed among the many who recollected it with admiration and delight.’10 Over 50 years after it was painted, the Illustrated Times gave away an engraving of the picture with its 3 March 1866 issue and commented on its lasting popularity, attributing it in part to its ‘homely pathos’. The text accompanying this engraving by A. L. Dick reveals the artist’s sentimental approach to his subject: The mother, baby in arms, is being paid the price of the favourite, by the butcher; the eldest child, old enough to comprehend the inevitable necessity of the sacrifice, stands by with the corner of her apron in her eyes; and the sympathetic attitude of the butcher’s dog bespeaks an understanding and pity which we feel can hardly be accidental. In the foreground is the lamb surrounded by his affectionate playmates, who, grief-stricken at the impending separation, demonstrate in a despairing manner their solicitude. One offers the poor pet a drink of milk, his last drink in the house of friends; another clasps his arms around its neck, and another bravely goes forth to battle with the butcher’s boy, unequal though the battle must appear.11 Directions in the promptbook refer to many of the painting’s features. For example, it lists the non-speaking children’s parts, such as ‘Child with arm round lamb’s neck’, and the foreground items ‘Profile dog, wheelbarrow and group of props’ (1.1). Yet despite the care lavished on bringing Collins’s image to the stage, the incident it depicts is not, in fact, that important to the plot of the drama. (In the Lord Chamberlain’s script the lamb is picked up off stage.)12 It is only one of a string of events that make up a complicated story played out in England and France. The fact that this realization
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
appears and is flagged up on the playbill suggests that in this case the Britannia’s management rated visual spectacle above dramatic import. A copy of an engraving of the second picture, showing the interior of a family home, is pasted into the promptbook with a couple of costume alterations written on it. The original painting by Thomas Brooks was entitled ‘Early Struggles’ and depicted a distressed poet. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858 and an engraving appeared in the Penny Illustrated Weekly News in March 1865.13 The picture shows the intrusion of harsh reality into domestic life. In place of the rural idyll offered in Collins’s picture, this is clearly an urban home, an attic room in a multi-storey building, suggested by the rooftop skyline visible through the broken windowpane. Instead of offering the consolation of the cosy hearth with its symbolic warmth and comfort, the main figure (a poet) sits dejectedly.14 In the play, he is Philip Raymond, an artist, who is unable to keep his family from sliding further into poverty. A woman standing in the doorway holding a letter brings news that will avert the financial crisis, as one of his paintings has been sold. The third tableau is represented in the promptbook with a line drawing of John Phillip’s painting, which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857 and engraved by Thomas Oldham Barlow in 1860.15 A review in the Art Journal described the work as a ‘direct appeal to our humanities’.16 It depicts the exterior of a prison in Seville. A mother holds her child up against the iron bars of the window opening so that the father, a prisoner, may kiss it. In the drama, the tableau occurs in France when Raymond, now a rich artist, finds himself imprisoned and sentenced to be guillotined during the Revolution for speaking against the friends of liberty. These three examples from Break But Not Bend demonstrate how tableaux were typically used in melodrama for expressing a particular moment of the action in a static, heightened encapsulation of emotion. There would seem to be no point in going to the trouble of copying the exact details of the paintings unless a significant proportion of the audience could recognize the original images. While it is unlikely that the Britannia’s patrons would have attended Royal Academy exhibitions, they would know popular paintings from displays in print shop windows and reproductions in penny publications.17 In the case of Phillip’s painting, the artist died in February 1867 so there may well have been a revival of interest in his most famous pictures shortly before the play was written. Hazlewood’s skill in identifying the sensibilities and frames of reference of the audience must have been a
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significant factor in why his plays proved so popular, a point conceded in a review in the Era: Mr C.H. Hazlewood, a gentleman who has had abundant opportunities of learning what kind of pieces suit the people here, and who never fails to bring forward that which is well adapted for the place.18 Break But Not Bend was in fact the last melodrama at the Brit to feature realizations (although it and several other earlier examples were later seen in revivals), which prompts the question why did realizations of paintings disappear from the dramas written in the 1880s and 1890s? The answer can be explained as the result of a mixture of circumstances, one of which being the death of Hazlewood in 1875. Another reason may have been a change in the artworks themselves, including a decline in genre painting. This type of painting, popular since the 1830s, exhibited a homely sentimentality that had a clear affinity with rural melodrama. It is immediately obvious how the emotive narrative paintings of the 1850s could be adapted for the stage. For example, Henry Nelson O’Neil’s painting Return of the Wanderer, which was exhibited at the 87th Royal Academy Exhibition in 1855, depicts a young woman, with her baby sleeping beside her, slumped against the gravestone of her mother as her aged father and sister approach, unaware of the presence of the runaway. The image was exploited for Hazlewood’s 1856 drama Jessy Vere, or the Return of the Wanderer and the printed edition of the play gives the stage directions for Act 2 Scene 5 as ‘Churchyard. Wall at back, &c., as in picture.’19 Although it does not specify the picture, the action and dialogue exactly match O’Neil’s painting. Similarly, Paul Delaroche’s Young Christian Martyr, painted in 1855 and showing the drowned body of a young woman, was realized in another successful Hazlewood melodrama The Mother’s Dying Child (1864). It was not just the subject matter that was easily translated to the stage. Martin Meisel, writing about Abraham Solomon’s Waiting for the Verdict, which inspired Hazlewood’s 1859 play of the same name for the City of London Theatre, notes that the painting ‘is arranged in the planes, groupings, and physical perspective of the stage’, thereby making it work particularly well as a tableau.20 The same cannot be said for many later paintings. Take for example those shown at the fine art exhibition mounted by the Reverend Samuel Barnett and his wife Henrietta at St Jude’s School in Whitechapel every Easter from 1881 to 1898.21 The Barnetts’ stated aim was to enable
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
working-class people to see the sort of paintings displayed in the Royal Academy’s annual summer exhibition. Whitechapel was within easy reach of the Britannia, so it is probable that at least some of its audience attended the events. The first exhibition in 1881 showed pieces by Frederic Leighton, G. F. Watts, Walter Crane and Edward Burne-Jones. It is hard to see how Leighton’s classically inspired nudes or the mythological work of Burne-Jones could be translated to the type of dramas offered at the Brit. Such paintings seemed to have little connection with the lives of the increasingly impoverished residents of Hoxton. Nevertheless, there were social realist paintings by artists such as Frank Holl, Luke Fildes and Hubert von Herkomer that could have had the Hazlewood-type treatment.22 Just as the artworks changed over the decades, so too did the nature of melodramas themselves. From the mid 1860s, many of the Britannia’s productions were so-called ‘sensation dramas’ featuring at least one climactic scene of heightened tension and physical excitement. Mechanical effects replaced the emotional intensity of the old tableaux as one form of pictorial realism supplanted another. In place of static tableaux, sensation scenes featured movement, whether it was someone plunging into a lake, a train racing across the stage, or buildings consumed by fire. So, a combination of changes in the nature of painting and in the form of the plays as well as the absence of an astute interpreter of contemporary visual culture such as Hazlewood led to the disappearance of artwork-inspired drama from the Britannia’s repertoire by 1880. Table 1.2 lists all the dramas that were played as the first feature in the evening’s entertainment at the Britannia in one typical year, 1897. Only the items shown in bold type were new pieces, never previously played anywhere else, so it is immediately obvious that the majority of the Britannia’s output was no longer original. Moreover, instead of having indigenous drama adapted from a range of popular and literary sources as occurred in the earlier repertoire, now the Britannia was borrowing wholesale from other theatres. As is evidenced by the second column, virtually all the dramas had previously appeared in the West End, particularly at the Adelphi, Surrey and Princess’s Theatres. The Britannia’s adverts flaunted the West End provenance of these plays and sometimes marketed the use of the sets and scenery (and even the star players) from the original productions. For example, in July 1893 the Britannia advertised its enactment of the ‘great Olympic drama’ The Pointsman by R. C. Carton and Cecil Raleigh, stating: ‘By Special Arrangement, Mr A.E. Percival will supply the whole of his Elaborate
142 Janice Norwood Table 7.2 Date
1897 programme at the Britannia Theatre Main drama
4 Jan The Giant and the Dwarf (Addison) 22 Mar For England (Vane) 5 Apr The Golden Ladder (Sims & Barrett) revival 19 Apr In Sight of St Paul’s (Vane) 3 May Cheer, Boys, Cheer (Harris) 17 May The Girl I Left Behind Me (Belasco & Fyles) 24 May Black-Eyed Susan (Jerrold) revival 31 May Siberia (Campbell) revival
Points of interest Pantomime Military drama, Pavilion, 1893 Globe, 1887 Princess’, 1896 Military drama, Drury Lane, 1895 Military drama, Adelphi 1895
Recently revived at Adelphi Romantic drama, Princess’s, 1887 7 Jun The Work Girl (Conquest & Shirley) Sensation drama, Surrey, 1895 14 Jun Shamus O’Brien (O’Connell) Australian-Irish comedian performing in own touring drama 21 Jun The Diver’s Luck revival & Sensation drama (first played at Grand Diamond Jubilee Tableau Britannia in 1895) 28 Jun The Grip of Iron (Shirley) revival Princess’s, 1896 5 Jul The Sorrows of Satan (Dacre) New 19 Jul Proof (Burnand) revival Adelphi, 1878 26 Jul Greed of Gold (Silva) Surrey, 1896; with ‘Real Working Beam Engine’ 2 Aug The King of Crime (Shirley & Landeck) Sensation drama, Surrey, 1892 9 Aug The Broad Arrow (Holcroft) Strand, 1892 16 Aug In the Ranks (Sims & Pettitt) revival Military drama, Adelphi, 1883 23 Aug Drink (Reade) Based on Zola’s novel, Princess’s, 1879 6 Sep It’s Never Too Late to Mend revival Based on Reade’s novel 13 Sep The Sign of the Cross (Barrett) Lyric, 1896 4 Oct Called Back (Carr & Conway) revival Prince of Wales’s, 1884; advertised as ‘original Haymarket version’ 11 Oct Under a Mask (Vane & Shirley) Sensation drama, Surrey, 1894 25 Oct From Scotland Yard Detective drama, played in (Douglass & Bateman) provinces (Accrington and Parkhurst), 1897 1 Nov Light in the Dark (Sidney) Sensation drama, Greenwich, 1867 8 Nov The Derby Winner (Harris) Drury Lane, 1894 22 Nov A Life of Pleasure (Harris & Pettitt) Drury Lane, 1893 6 Dec The Green Bushes (Buckstone) revival 13 Dec The Gunmaker of Moscow (Hazlewood) revival 27 Dec Will o’the Wisp (Addison) Pantomime
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
Scenic and Mechanical Effects (Three Tons of Scenery), including the great Railway Collision Scene’.23 Alfred Lane Crauford, the Brit’s business manager from 1881, discussed the policy of producing successful West End plays in his fictionalized account of the life of his uncle and aunt, Sam and Sara Lane: It became established that the old, crude, domestic and home-made plays were cheap, but not profitable, and that it paid better to expend money in expensive authors’ fees. This was assured when, greatly daring, Wilson Barrett was approached for his Princess’s play, ‘The Romany Rye.’ This West End success was presented to the East-enders with exact replicas of the original scenery and effects. The result was startling. Hoxton had never seen a West End production. A new golden age opened for the Old Brit., its best and brightest and most profitable. Production succeeded production.24 His assertion that it was the ‘best, brightest and most profitable’ era in the theatre’s history is debatable.25 Nevertheless, an examination of the Britannia’s 1897 production of Wilson Barrett’s The Sign of the Cross will highlight the phenomenon in more detail. The first London performances of The Sign of the Cross had been at the Lyric in January 1896. Set in ancient Rome, the story of the religious conversion of a Roman Prefect (Marcus Superbus) after he falls in love with a young Christian woman (Mercia) proved a hit with audiences. The Britannia version opened on 13 September the following year, when Barrett’s production was back at the Lyric for another 73 performances.26 It was not the first East End house to stage the drama – the Standard had produced it in May 1897 and the same month members of the Christ Church Sunday School, Clapton had given what is described as a ‘pantomime performance’ of the play to raise church funds.27 A local newspaper, records that on its opening night at the Britannia ‘from pit to gallery, was then crowded to its utmost capacity and from the rise to the fall of the curtain interest in the piece never once flagged.’28 It proved so popular that its initial two-week run was prolonged by an extra week and it was revived again the following September and again in 1901. In producing this play, the Britannia’s management deliberately drew on the visual aesthetics of the Lyric version. Advertisements mention its ‘Elaborate and entirely New Scenery, Splendid appointments and [significantly] costumes of the period from the Lyric Theatre Designs’.29 The part of Marcus Superbus was taken by the leading Britannia actor
Figure 7.1 Characters of Marcus Superbus and Mercia from Wilson Barrett’s The Sign of the Cross Left Algernon Syms as Marcus in the Britannia’s production of September 1897. Middle and right Wilson Barrett as Marcus Superbus and Maud Jeffries as Mercia in th play’s original production at the Lyric, January 1896.
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
Algernon Syms. H. Chance Newton described Syms as ‘a fine, frank, blue-eyed Devonian, ... an earnest, powerful actor of breezy British Heroes’.30 The Era’s review of his performance in The Sign of the Cross was equivocal: ‘Mr Algernon Syms has elocutionary grace, and is able, therefore, to do justice to the many fine speeches of Marcus Superbus. He looks extremely well in the dress of the proud patrician, but his method savours too much of modernity to quite realise a toga part.’31 The same publication’s critic was more enthusiastic about his portrayal when the production was revived the following year: The nobility of Marcus’s nature is indicated with perfect truth by Mr Algernon Syms, whose voice rings out grandly in the many fine speeches he has to deliver, while the suppressed passion, in his interviews with Mercia, gradually giving way to the whisperings of a higher life, is admirably delineated.32 It is no coincidence that the actor’s pose and expression in his portrait as Marcus (see image 1 of Figure 7.1) almost exactly matches that of Wilson Barrett in the image that was widely circulated in the official souvenir programme and as individual cartes de visite (see image 2 Figure 7.1). An interesting addendum is that in December 1897 Syms had a benefit night at the Britannia at which the first 400 people who entered the theatre were given a portrait of him as Marcus Superbus – presumably this one.33 This appears to have been an unusual occurrence at the Britannia, but shows how at least some actors at minor theatres were harnessing the publicity potential of the photographic arts to further their renown and popularity. Equally revealing is the coloured lithographed poster for the Britannia’s 1901 production of The Sign of the Cross, which portrays the heroine standing, holding a large cross in her right hand and a lighted lantern in the other.34 Her pose, upward gaze, costume, props and loose, long hair are all a clear homage to the widely circulated picture of Maud Jeffries as Mercia in the Lyric’s version (See image 3 of Figure 7.1).35 Similarities with William Holman Hunt’s religious painting ‘The Light of the World’ (painted in 1851–1853, published as an engraving in 1858 and shown at St Jude’s in 1883) suggest it could be an unacknowledged source for the original pose. Mercia herself looks like a Pre-Raphaelite maiden. Whether this is the case or not, it is clear that where once the reference items for the Britannia’s mid-century plays were literary or pictorial, by the 1890s the allusions were to other theatrical productions. It was sound commercial sense for the theatre’s management to
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capitalize on exciting publicity for the play, thereby recognizing the power of visual images in circulation in society. Although the Britannia’s production of The Sign of the Cross may seem to have offered a similar experience to that of the Lyric, there was a major difference. At the Lyric, the drama was performed as the sole item of entertainment. According to a programme for Wednesday 11 March 1896, performances started at 8.15p.m. with carriages at 11p.m.36 At the Britannia, they commenced an hour earlier, and the drama was followed by a number of other musical acts (sadly not listed on the adverts or the reviews) and the evening concluded with a farce called The Boarding School. In the final week, this was changed to an old Britannia standard, Planché’s The Loan of a Lover.
Incidentals at the Britannia The inclusion of incidentals into the programme was standard practice at the Britannia where they were regarded as an essential part of the entertainment, even though they were frequently ignored in newspaper and journal reviews. Thus the experience of being a spectator at the Britannia was radically different from watching substantially the same drama at a West End venue because the character of the whole evening was altered by the presence of the incidentals. In 1886 the social reformer Annie Besant described a visit to the Britannia in which she saw ‘two dramas, some singing, some dancing, and a pantomime’.37 She writes: ‘There is one notable thing which differentiates the drama at the cheap theatres from that at the highest-priced ones, and that is the variety of the entertainment given at the former.’ She then rather unkindly speculates that the reason may be ‘that want of education means lack of the power of attention? That a sustained story would be too great a strain on the untrained mind?’ That is contentious, but the incidentals undoubtedly provided a breathing space for the actors, orchestra and audience by creating a refreshing change of tempo, mood and concentration level, and they enabled stage hands to change flats or move scenery. They also contributed to the sense that the theatre was providing remarkably good value for money and offered all the entertainment local people could desire, thereby reducing their need to patronize other types of establishment. Typically, the Era’s review of The Sign of the Cross does not mention the incidentals. Similarly, the first lines of the Britannia’s advert for the week beginning 24 June 1893 proclaim the ‘Important and Expensive Engagement, for Twelve Nights Only, of Zaeo, the World-famed Aerial
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
Artist, from the Royal Aquarium.’38 After detailing the dramas, the advert again returns to Zaeo’s engagement ‘being her First Appearance at the East-end’. This implies that she is the main attraction, yet the Era’s review of the performance gives a critique of the drama but fails to mention the incidentals.39 Middle-class critics seemed to be out of step with the Britannia’s audience. Incidentals at the Britannia showcased an eclectic mixture of talents including musical acts, acrobats and performers of physical feats, animal shows, topical personalities, and novelties. By putting on acts that appeared at other entertainment venues – pleasure gardens, music halls, fairs, shows and exhibition spaces such as the Egyptian Hall, the Britannia assimilated other forms of popular culture into the repertoire. The incidentals were an essential part of the visual spectacle of an evening at the Britannia. One category of entertainment that is particularly important in outlining the Britannia’s relationship with visual culture comprises the inanimate novelties that showcased the new technologies of photography and moving images. The first of these seems to have been a demonstration of Mason and Titus’ shadowgraph in 1885. In May of the following year an advert announced ‘at great Expense, the Sensation of the Day and Scientific Marvel of the Age, Living Photographs, Exhibited by R. W. Paul, of the Alhambra. All the Popular Animated Pictures of the day, ... ’40 The Era commented that the novelty evoked loud applause and mentioned: ‘Among the scenes presented are a fancy dress ball, the race for the Jubilee Stakes, showing the finish; ship-building on the Clyde, and a railway station with the arrival of a train.’41 The significance of this is that Paul was the dominant force in moving pictures in Britain.42 He began exhibiting his camera and projector in 1896. Thus the Britannia was showing the new technology right at the start of the vogue. In October 1897 the Britannia featured another photographic act, the Rayagraph. This ‘new living photograph exhibition’ reproduced a boxing show and the Jubilee procession.43 Then, in June 1899, a Britannia advert trumpeted ‘The most Wonderful of all Animated Photographs, the Matagraph, with a New Series of Up-to-date Subjects, including the Derby of 1899’.44 This film projector could screen both magic-lantern slides and 35mm film. According to a review it proved popular at the Britannia showing ‘the new scenes of up-to-date subjects including a fire-call and rescue, the Scotch Express crossing the Forth Bridge, the high diving and somersault throwing picture, and Flying Fox winning the Derby of 1899.’45 The following week there were pictures of
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Hoxton Street (where the theatre was situated) and the exterior of the Britannia ‘the photograph having been taken on Saturday, the 24th ult.’46 Whereas the Britannia had previously staged realistic scenes from around Shoreditch in some of its melodramas,47 now for the first time the audience could watch images of the actual streets in their community, and possibly even see themselves on screen. The recently remastered Mitchell and Kenyon films from the early 1900s that were recently shown on television display the excitement that ordinary people felt at seeing themselves in these early films. Not everyone was so impressed. Ruskin objected to the dubious morality of print-shop photographic displays and thought metropolitan photography was an inferior spectacle, not an art form.48 However, the Britannia’s clientèle was not likely to concern itself with such arguments.
The Brit’s pantomimes Just as the Britannia’s multi-stranded programmes created an idiosyncratic style, so too, in its annual pantomimes, it presented a unique spectacle. There are two ways in which the pantomime can lay claim to being a strong visual art form. Firstly, in the elaborate staging, particularly of its transformation and closing scenes, it created spectacle on a grand scale. Secondly, in the harlequinade (known at the Britannia as the comic scenes), it showcased visual humour. Sadly, there are no illustrations for the transformation scenes from the Brit’s end-of-century pantomimes. An earlier one, Hazlewood’s Little Busy Bee, or the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street was depicted in the Penny Illustrated Weekly News on 9 January 1865. The centrepiece was a ‘prismatic cataract of real water’, the first time the Britannia had attempted such a feat. During the 15 minutes that the scene took to develop fully, different coloured lights illuminated the water and coryphées appeared positioned at various angles on moving pieces of scenery. To either side of the waterfall were two towers topped by burnished reflectors shaped as sunflowers with gas jets for petals. Thus such transformation scenes were essentially pictures coming to life before the audience’s eyes. They typically featured fantastic or otherworldly scenes. A reviewer described the Banquet Hall scene in a later example, John Addison’s 1892 pantomime The Man in the Moon: This remarkable ‘set’ has for its central-object a classic temple, between the Corinthian columns of which can be seen the distant sky. These columns shine with silvery radiance, and are raised on
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
shallow steps. In the principal ‘grooves’ are low divisions, finely ornamented, each having a lyre at its extremity. At the sides, nearer the footlights, are entrances with pointed arches. The whole scene is illuminated by groups of pink-tinted gas globes, which shed a mellow radiance over the scene – which shines and glitters with gold, silver, crimson, and green. The general effect of the Banquet Hall is sumptuous and dazzlingly gorgeous.49 Such scenes exploited new developments in lighting and stagecraft to create ever more beautiful pictures. In 1896 George Conquest, who was then working for the Britannia, introduced further excitement with a ‘flying ballet’ in which the fairies seemed to float through the air. The illusion was achieved by strapping the dancers to ‘irons’, which extended below the stage and were attached to platforms that were raised or lowered by a system of levers and counterpoises.50 A similar flying ballet was performed the following year, but the version for the 1898 pantomime, King Klondike, was even more spectacular. A review in the Stage gives details: This scene designed and produced by Mr George Conquest is a beautiful example of scenic and spectacular art and vies with anything ever seen in a Britannia pantomime. The pool is represented by an array of huge mirrors, whose surface is covered by realistic representations of water-lilies. Above the pool the Flying Ballet of Fairies takes place, and the reflection in the mirrors of their graceful aerial flights, and of the many-coloured electric lights with which the scene is lit up makes a brilliant spectacle,51 The appropriate audience response to this kind of dazzling moving tableaux is delight and awe. It is therefore in direct contrast with the comic scenes that followed the pantomime opening, which were intended to provoke uproarious laughter. In place of the slowly developing pictures of transformation scenes, the comic scenes depended on speed, with rapid trick changes created as Harlequin thwacked his magic bat, transforming props and sets into radically different items. Central to the performance was the clown and the humour he provided was potentially dangerous. The anarchic element of the slapstick gags was further enhanced by the fact that the scenes typically depicted realistically drawn contemporary London scenes, frequently with a row of shops, rather than some imaginary world, and by the behaviour of Clown and Pantaloon, who steal and cheat and best the ubiquitous policemen.
This passage from the first comic scene of the 1883 pantomime Queen Dodo (written by Frederick Bowyer) provides a flavour of the action. Clown (played by Tom Lovell, who notched up ten consecutive pantomime performances from 1878) has been stealing things from people as they go off stage, then he: tells Pant [Pantaloon] to keep a sharp look out while he steals some Parcels. Pant says ‘all right’. Clown goes to office and looks in. Man looks Clown in face. Clown, ‘if you please, sir, is this sharp Street?’ Man, ‘yes, it is.’ Pant, ‘is it?’ Clown steals a Parcel, throws it over his head to Pant, who, not seeing it coming, knocks Pant down. – Man comes from office, calls Policeman and, as Clown is taking off things, stops him. Clown throws Bundle at him. Knocks Policeman down. Man makes run at Clown and he falls falls [sic] against old Woman, she falls over Policeman. Lady screams, runs off. Policemen gets in rage, gives Parcels to Man, who gives Policeman money. Clown and Pant shout ‘ah-ah’. Police in rage says, ‘I’ll run you in’ and runs off in opposite direction.52 In a later scene the policeman is actually cut in two. Although there is some speech in these interactions, it is secondary to the action and shows how the comic scenes originally developed from dumb show. The style is not dissimilar to that of early comic movies such as Laurel and Hardy. Thus we can say that the Britannia’s pantomimes exhibited conflicting tendencies. The development of evermore elaborate transformation scenes reflected a movement towards the more spectacular, epitomized in the West End by huge processions and scenes filled with supernumeraries. Yet at the same time, the Britannia bucked the prevalent trend to omit, or at least to reduce substantially, the harlequinade (essentially visual entertainment) in favour of a much longer and more verbal opening. By 1881 Leopold Wagner could write: ‘ ... we have still in existence a people’s theatre, in the East-end of London, whose patrons are annually treated to a Pantomime of the old sort, quite different from anything to be witnessed at the other houses.’53
Conclusion So what conclusions can be drawn about the Britannia’s relationship with visual culture? Gertrude Himmelfarb, considering illustrations in penny journals and editions of the works of Dickens, describes how
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire
they created ‘a common denominator not only between upper and lower classes but between high and low literature’.54 The same might be said of the realizations of paintings on stage. Arguably, the presentation of West End productions is part of the same process, what Himmelfarb terms a ‘democratization’ of culture.55 Hoxton residents were being served the same fare as their superiors in the more respectable West End theatres. It is tempting to view the disappearance of indigenous drama in favour of these imports as evidence of the theatre in decline. Yet the theatre continued to attract large audiences. As a commercial move, it seems to have paid off, so perhaps it is the critical bias in favour of originality that is misguided. On the one hand, the Britannia might be seen to be allying itself with the West End and therefore by implication with ‘high’ culture. Yet its incidentals show its ongoing closeness to lower forms of theatrical entertainment, such as exhibition and music hall. As far as the relationship with contemporary art goes, the Britannia’s repertoire reflects the changes in print-shop window displays. Instead of prints of sentimental paintings à la Collins, by the end of the century they were full of photographs.56 While it was prescient of the theatre’s management to showcase these exciting early photographic and cinematographic developments, there is a sad irony given the fate of the theatre: it became a cinema in 1913.
Notes 1. For example, Jeffrey Richards discusses Henry Irving’s employment of artists such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Edward Burne-Jones; Jeffrey Richards, Sir Henry Irving: A Victorian Actor and his World (London: Hambledon and London, 2005), pp. 234–241; Christine Poulson, ‘Costume Designs by BurneJones for Irving’s Production of “King Arthur”’, The Burlington Magazine 128 (1986), no. 994, pp. 18–25. 2. For a fuller account of the theatre, see Jim Davis, ed., The Britannia Diaries of Frederick Wilton (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1992); Jim Davis and Tracy C. Davis, ‘The People of the “People’s Theatre”: The Social Demography of the Britannia Theatre (Hoxton)’, Theatre Survey 32:2 (1991): 137–165; Jim Davis and Victor Emeljanow, Reflecting the Audience: London Theatregoing, 1840–1880 (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2001); and Janice Norwood, ‘The Britannia Theatre, Hoxton (1841–1899): The Creation and Consumption of Popular Culture in an East End Community’ (University of Leicester, unpublished doctoral thesis, 2006). 3. His first Britannia play was Jenny Foster, the Sailor’s Child, or The Winter Robin, which was later published in Lacy’s Acting Editions. Hazlewood had already written plays for the City of London, Strand and Royal Victoria Theatres.
152 Janice Norwood 4. See Jim Davis, ‘The Gospel of Rags: Melodrama at the Britannia, 1863–74’, New Theatre Quarterly 7:28 (1991): 372373. 5. Britannia playbill 65 for 31 May 1866, Hackney Archives. 6. The novel was published anonymously as Jolly Dogs of London, or The Two Roads of Life by the Newsagents Publishing Company in 1866; see Elizabeth James and Helen R. Smith, Penny Dreadfuls and Boys’ Adventures (London: The British Library, 1998), p. 52. 7. Britannia playbill 79 for 3 September 1866, Hackney Archives. 8. ADD.MS 56061 S, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, British Library. 9. PETT MSS.B.81, Pettingell Collection, University of Kent. 10. Wilkie Collins, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins R.A. (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1848), vol. 1, p. 50. To see an engraving of the painting, visit http://www.wilkiecollins.demon.co.uk/wilkiefamily/petlamb. htm 11. ‘Selling the Pet Lamb’, loose page in author’s collection, possibly from W. Cosmo Monkhouse, Masterpieces of English Art (London, 1869). 12. ADD.MS 56061 S, f.10. 13. There is no evidence that the painting was ever entitled ‘The Discharged Bill’ as indicated by the playbill. I am indebted to Janet McLean of the Royal Academy for information on its exhibition. 14. The depicted scene makes an interesting contrast to the images of returning workmen and artisan interiors described in Brian Maidment, Reading Popular Prints 1790–1870 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), pp. 101–137. 15. The original oil painting is owned by the Tate, London. 16. Art Journal, 1 June 1857, p. 177. 17. See Martin Meisel, Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 93. 18. Era, 13 October 1867, p. 11. 19. C. H. Hazlewood, Jessy Vere, or The Return of the Wanderer, Lacy’s Acting Edition of Plays, vol. 25 (London: Lacy, n.d.), p. 28. 20. Meisel, Realizations, p. 296. 21. See Frances Borzello, ‘Pictures for the People’ in Ira Bruce Nadel and F. S. Schwarzbach, eds., Victorian Artists and the City: A Collection of Critical Essays (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980), pp. 30–40. 22. Fildes’ celebrated Awaiting Admission to the Casual Ward (1874) would be an obvious candidate, following on from the success of Hazlewood’s The Casual Ward (1866), which was based on a newspaper account of a night spent in a London workhouse and played simultaneously at the Marylebone, Sadler’s Wells and Britannia Theatres. 23. Era, 15 July 1893, p. 12. 24. Alfred Lane Crauford, Sam & Sallie: A Romance of the Stage (London: Cranley & Day, 1933), p. 320. 25. Crauford is not always a reliable source. He was too young to know the truth of many of the things he writes about and at times he deliberately tells an untruth or partial truth. He also displays an arrogant tendency to self-aggrandizement and disparages previous managers. 26. For a discussion and full text of the play, see David Mayer, Playing Out The Empire: Ben-Hur and Other Toga Plays and Films, 1883–1908 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 104–188.
The Britannia Theatre: Visual Culture and Repertoire 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47.
49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.
Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 24 May 1897, p. 3. Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 15 September 1897, p. 3. Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 24 September 1897, p. 16. H. Chance Newton, Cues and Curtain Calls (London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1927), p. 210. Era, 18 September 1897, p. 10. Era, 10 September 1898, p. 10. Review in Era, 11 December 1897, p. 10. Britannia Theatre poster, 792.35 Y7238, Hackney Archives. David Mayer has pointed out that they also recall the image on the published novel. Author’s collection. Annie Besant, ‘How London Amuses Itself in the East’, Our Corner, 1 August 1886, vol. 8, p. 110. Era, 24 June 1893, p. 12. Era, 1 July 1893, p. 6. Era, 23 May 1896, p. 14. Era, 30 May 1896, p. 8. See Ian Christie, The Last Machine: Early Cinema and the Birth of the Modern World (London: British Film Institute, 1995), pp. 24–28. Era, 9 October 1897, p. 11. Era, 17 June 1899, p. 16. Era, 1 July 1899, p. 8. Era, 8 July 1899, p. 11. For example, Hazlewood’s The Casual Ward included a realistic portrayal of ‘Shoreditch on a Saturday Night’ complete with street vendors and market stalls (review in Era, 25 February 1866). See Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in NineteenthCentury London (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 152. Era, 18 February 1893, p. 9. Percy Fitzgerald, The World Behind the Scenes (London: Chatto & Windus, 1881), pp. 9091. Stage, 29 December 1898, p. 19. There is an illustration of the scene in the programme to the pantomime; Y9857, Hackney Archives. Punctuation added; ADD.MS 53306 B, f.60, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, British Library. Leopold Wagner, The Pantomimes and All About Them: Their Origin, History, Preparation and Exponents (London: John Heywood, 1881), p. 28. Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (London: faber & faber, 1984), p. 419. Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (London: faber & faber, 1984), p. 419. Nead, p. 153.
8 Supernumeraries: Decorating the Late-Victorian Stage with Lots (& Lots & Lots) of Live Bodies David Mayer
In 1846, in a collection of essays and parodies, the satirist Gilbert Abbott àBeckett described the stage supernumerary, initially reminding his reader that this theatrically necessary character – who was expected to be present in sufficient numbers when required, but to remain anonymous and under no circumstances to draw attention to him or herself – was, for a variety of reasons, disturbingly conspicuous. Supers or extras or walk-ons or ‘guests’ or spear-carriers (as they were variously known) were frequently and disastrously recognisable to theatre audiences. ÀBeckett began, Alas! There is not in the range of dramatic characters a more striking instance of the weakness of human nature, than is presented by the Supernumerary, whose career, from the last bar of the overture to the speaking of the ‘tag’ is one continued course of feeble-minded vacillation, abject subservience, or abominable treachery. He is led away by a bit of bombast from any ranting hero who will ask him if he is a man, or a Briton, or a Roman, or whether the blood of his ancestors runs through his recreant veins; and he will agree, at a moment’s notice, to take part in any desperate enterprise. He will appear at one moment dressed in green baize, pointing a property sword to the sky borders, and joining some twenty others in ridding his country of the tyrant; but he will be found five minutes afterwards rigged out in cotton velvet as a seedy noble in the suite of the very identical tyrant Elsewhere in his brief essay, àBeckett describes the coarseness of the super’s makeup and the shabby and inappropriate costumes in which theatre managements have dressed him, 154
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The face of the Supernumerary generally shows the traces of a long career of crime and burnt cork; nor is there a feature upon which remorse or rouge has not committed ravages. He frequently has his arms and legs bare, but, as if he had shrunk within himself, his skin or fleshing is frequently too large for him, and forms folds of a most extraordinary kind at the joints of his knees or elbows. Sometimes his chest is left bare, and his skin, as far as the neck, appears to be of a rich orange colour; but the throat, which is cut off, as it were, by a distinct line, is of a different shade altogether. Sometimes, when the scene is laid in India, the Supernumerary has his skin tied on him, from which it would seem to be a theatrical theory that the darkness of colour peculiar to the negro race is owing to the use of leggings and waistcoats of black worsted.1 I use àBeckett’s words to describe the bedraggled supernumerary of the early and mid-nineteenth century stage. Two decades before the end of the century, this kind of super was becoming an anachronism and a super-supernumerary was coming into view. My subject is how this abused theatrical function became recognized as an element to take seriously and to use with taste and discretion – and certainly, too, with gusto – as both an aesthetic and narrative feature on the late-Victorian stage. 2 This stage was lavish, even extravagant, in its use of supernumeraries. We cannot look at productions at the Adelphi or Her Majesty’s or the Lyceum or the Gaiety or Drury Lane or to wide-scale touring by these and other companies – and, even beyond these – to other large-scale dramatic events without reference to the phenomenon of huge casts and scenes which brought more than 70 (and sometimes as many as 300) actors on-stage. In the light of Martin Meisel’s ground-breaking study, Realizations, it is important to note that the intricate – and sometimes lavish – effects he describes are impossible without numerous well-trained supernumeraries. But, so too, was the British Empire lavish in its public events. We need only think of state events – coronations and Durbars and jubilee celebrations and investitures – to recall crowds held back and kept in order by other crowds: multitudes of soldiers stationed along processional routes. Naturally, this lavishness with crowds was taken up and echoed by the movies. We are fortunate that a Victorian stage play, John Martin-Harvey’s 1899 production of The Only Way, survives on film and enables us to see Harvey performing before – and with – well-drilled phalanxes of tooth-blackened gurning supers pretending to be Paris rabble and jeering blowsy tricoteuses.
Asked why the super should develop so, I respond that there was – first – a considerable theatrical and artistic aesthetic which drove the creation and intelligent deployment of the super-supernumerary and which similarly lay behind theatrical realizations, but I think it does a disservice to a generation of stage directors and designers to call this aesthetic Ruskinism or to force a linkage with Ruskin. There was – second (but maybe first) – fin de siècle expectation of public events both carried out and witnessed by great crowds of people in jam-packed public spaces, and somewhere in this display lurks an unarticulated aesthetic of size and dimension and colour – tinted perhaps – pace Ruskin – by occasional elements of didacticism and morality. In my mind, the super is correlative to the development of public acts, sometimes on a local or municipal scale, but often as not on a national or even imperial stage. Finally, there was the inescapable fact that supernumeraries were cheap. They cost little to employ and to train. Their hire, however essential to late-Victorian spectacle, was a modest fraction of a theatre’s production expenditure. The need to populate the stage with people who are other than the protagonists – friends, family, fellow diners or race-goers or survivors, an adoring or agitated public, with masses of Romans in revolt, with crowds of mourners or suppliants, with flights of pantomime fairies and tumults of demonettes, with vast armies represented by more than three rusty swords ... fighting York and Lancaster’s long jars, with citizens of all ages, descriptions, and races, has been a feature of the stage since the Athenian chorus. But it has been a hidden history. There are numerous books on the history of stage design which reproduce sets, wing-pieces, drops. But where is the study which, as its central preoccupation, depicts artful groupings of supers and which recognizes groups of actors as a part of the necessary plasticity of the stage? And by ‘plasticity’, I mean both a kind of sculptural depth – at the least, high relief – and also mobility and malleability, the capacity of the mise en scène to periodically reshape itself to new depths and projections. Stage designers prefer to display their handiwork without actors on the set. Actors and supers get in the way of the pristine sets. In contrast to these sets denuded of actors, my topic is people – lots and lots and lots of live bodies: the plastic element of the scenery as well as essential contributors to the dramatic narrative. We have been fortunate in recent years that study of the Victorian stage has included Charles Kean and his archaeological realizations and fortunate, too, that such scholars as Stephen Cockett have looked at Kean’s 1857 production of Shakespeare’s Richard II and drawn our
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attention to Kean’s staging of Henry Bolingbroke’s triumphal procession through London.3 Kean offers a contrast to the kind of plasticity I speak about. There, against a beautifully-painted unfurling diorama of City of London sites festooned with banners and garlands – on which were also painted two-dimensional crowds of onlookers and celebrants – Kean, his cast, his caparisoned horses, and, if John William Cole is to be believed, 500–600 appropriately-clothed supers processed across the stage4: three-dimensional flesh and blood actors sharing a scene with flat paintings – and no contemporary commenting on the obvious disjunction between the palpably solid actors and the painted figures on the canvas surface. At best a kind of Luca della Robia relief, neither painting nor sculpture. Kean is not a villain in this piece but an influential starting point: a pictorial stage, a painterly stage, but not a plastic stage. His archaeological productions, with supers ascending the swelling scene, cast long shadows. Moreover, this practice of mixing the two-and three-dimensional had not totally vanished by the 1890s. It was still in use – and still accepted by audiences – when the diorama moved laterally across the stage, as in The Whip, a Drury Lane racing melodrama of 1909, but by then the foreground was fully peopled with carefully costumed, intelligently grouped, and well-drilled supers. A fuller realization of the super’s theatrical potential owes itself to three more-or-less concurrent phenomena of the late-Victorian era: One: in 1881, the six-week engagement at Drury Lane of the Duke of Saxe Meiningen’s Company, Two: a substantial fall in wages and prices, and Three: in parallel with the expansion of the railroads (and, again, the drop in the cost of fares and baggage transfer), the consequent growth of theatrical touring. Successful London productions were replicated and sent through the provinces in A, B, C, and D companies. The Meiningen Company established a model for the deployment of the super; the fall in wages and prices made it possible to engage and costume the super; while expanded theatrical touring dictated that supers would have to be engaged in sufficient numbers and trained at each venue in preparation for the touring company’s arrival, then kept attentive, sober, and punctual for use nightly during the company’s local visit. The Meiningen Players met different responses from different segments of the press and theatrical profession. Many spectators found their acting florid and excessively gesticulatory. Their colour sense was considered dull. But their use of lighting, and, above all, Meiningen’s handling of crowds were revelations. Well-clothed supers did not
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stare at the audience but intelligently and – apparently, individually – responded to events onstage; they moved in a lifelike, individualistic manner. They did not all move at once, but manoeuvred – again, apparently individually or, fluidly, in small groups – about the stage, adding to the narrative and forming and renewing striking stage pictures.5 The Duke of Saxe Meiningen offered an explanation6 of the principles and practices he employed in working with supers. I rearrange and paraphrase his words, all of which emphasize his realization that the super was to be treated both as a functional element of design and as an element which added excitement and verisimilitude to the narrative. The super was never to become a fully-fledged dramatic character but an individual who, by accident or design, happened on the scene and who, for one reason or another, was drawn into the dramatic action, thereby enhancing its plausibility. Meiningen’s aesthetic and pragmatic practices included preventing supers from lining-up parallel to the stage front, maintaining irregular diagonals, never straight lines, breaking his supers into small groups, the supers differentiated from one another by height and appearance, each group led by an experienced actor – a member of the Meiningen Players – who guided the supers in his or her group and who made his or her responses to the principal actors (if that was called for) and who elicited and controlled responses from the supers under his or her supervision. Meiningen was at pains to forestall postural congruence – no two supers taking the same pose. All of this translated into what has become known in theatrical circles – by oral tradition chiefly, rarely, if ever, in writing – as ‘the rule of five’. Five people (an uneven number which cannot possibly make a symmetrical group), well-controlled, intelligently placed and moved about, made a small crowd. Five more – or, better, two more groups of five making the uneven number of fifteen, multiplied the crowd and added interest to upstage areas. Meiningen’s productions were seen by numerous theatre people, actor-managers who drew immediate lessons from what they had observed. Before examining the fruits of Meiningen’s lessons, a consideration of the cost implications: By the Century’s end, a day-labourer’s wages had fallen to an average of 1s. per day, and prices of raw materials, manufactured goods, and foods had fallen by 72 per cent from the highs of the 1850s.7 At the same time, the cost of admissions to theatres had not fallen. If anything, with the provision of more effective comforts, admission prices had risen. Theatres with popular plays, even popular plays with large casts, made money. In Laurence Irving’s biography, Henry Irving, a double-page illustration of the accounts book
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for the Lyceum Theatre – in the week of 28 January, 1887, when the company was performing Faust – shows a weekly box office take of £1,559.4s.10d against expenses of £1,121.0s.7d for an overall weekly profit of £483.4s.3d on a run which had thus far brought in a profit of £8,541.3s.6d. Company salaries in that week ran to £412.6s.8 Wages for supers, that is walk-ons playing witches, Walpurgis Night demons, students, citizens of Nuremburg, soldiers, maiden friends of Margaret, etc., are listed at a mere £ 27.6s. Lyceum supers were paid at a rate of 1s. per performance,9 Twenty-seven pounds and six shillings (a total of 546 shillings) spread over six performances met the wages for 91 supers at each performance. Pantomimes similarly took advantage of cheap labour. I have elsewhere shown that ‘grand processions’ for Augustus Harris’ 1880s Drury Lane pantomimes, mounted at a cost of around £16,000 but returning more than twice that sum during their runs, were said to employ between 300 and 400 chiefly child and female supers for the transformation scenes alone.10 Charles Wilhelm’s and Comelli’s sumptuous processional costumes clothed many undernourished bodies. Among the poignant engravings to recur in December issues of Victorian periodicals are drawings of the queues of young women and stage mothers pushing their small children forward (foreshadowing Pop Idol) to be gazed at by a theatre’s groupings director in the hope of being cast as fairies, elves, and sprites – and thus earning a super’s pittance – in a forthcoming pantomime. And a pittance their shilling (or less) payments clearly were. George Rowell, in his account of the murder of William Terriss by the supernumerary Richard Prince, enumerates the privations, thwarted hopes, humiliations, and dementia of the unhappy super.11 It is unlikely that one, with any certainty, can describe an instantaneous cause-and-effect relationship between Meiningen’s use of supers and London theatre productions. Nonetheless, Alan Hughes’ study of the Lyceum staff speculates, ‘It may not be a coincidence that Irving seems to have engaged his first Ballet Master and Super Master soon after the Saxe-Meiningen company visited London in 1881; their expert handling of crowd scenes was compared favourably to Irving’s work in Tennyson’s The Cup’.12 Similarly, Wilson Barrett’s staging of George R. Sims’ The Lights o’ London at the Princess’s Theatre in September, 1881, offers two post-Meiningen instances of skilful use of supers. One of these was a scene set in the ‘Boro’ [of Southwark] near the ‘New Cut’ – just beyond the Old Vic – where, on a lively Saturday night, dozens of hawkers and passers-by created a carnival-like environment for the pursuit and apprehension of the play’s criminal villain. The second was
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set outside a London workhouse, as the fugitive hero and heroine face a decision about whether to seek shelter. There was little in the way of setting. The workhouse was indicated by a shadowy wall and doorway, and – enacting Sims’ instructions – supers and a few actors queued up to realize Sir Luke Fildes’ Applicants to a Casual Ward. Such stage directions as these and his exploration of London’s lower classes earned Sims the labels of ‘the English Zola’ or ‘Zola diluted at Aldgate Pump’. As a footnote to The Lights o’ London, D. W. Griffith, in his unsuccessful career as an actor, briefly toured in this play in 1898 and actually appeared in the workhouse scene, as ‘Philosopher Jack’, arguing with the workhouse warden. Then, in 1909, in his Biograph film A Corner in Wheat, Griffith parodied Fildes’ Applicants to a Casual Ward, realizing the grouping, but making the applicants a frozen queue of starving people waiting in a bakery for the chance to buy a loaf of bread. Sims soon moved to the Adelphi, where his productions were noted for their large cast of supers fleshing out sets of dramas of military, London, and seaside life. His In the Ranks (1883 and frequently revived thereafter) regularly drew its supers from off-duty troopers stationed at Chelsea Barracks, whilst other productions employed medical students from St. Thomas’s Hospital.13 As early as 1884, there was a perception that the super was moving forward – in some theatres, at least The Era editorialized that he, the super, was less likely to be a part of ‘ ... a mass of shuffling, blundering mortals sticking out their elbows and treading on each other’s toes or huddling in corners like frightened sheep’14 and more likely to have been coached and rehearsed in his on-stage duties. Others – most – remained sceptical of the supernumerary’s improvement and continued to view him as a figure of derision. W. S. Gilbert reflected these doubts in a duet written for The Grand Duke: Pompous March. Enter the PRINCE and PRINCESS OF MONTE CARLO, attended by six theatrical-looking nobles and the Court Costumier. DUET: – PRINCE and PRINCESS Prince:
We’re rigged out in magnificent array (Our own clothes are rather gloomier) In costumes which we’ve hired by the day From a very well-known costumier Cost (bowing): I am the well-known costumier. Princess: With a brilliant staff a Prince should make a show (It’s a rule that never varies)
Supernumeraries: Decorating the Late-Victorian Stage
So we’ve engaged from the Theatre Monaco Six supernumeraries. We’re the supernumeraries. At a salary immense, Quite regardless of expense, Six supernumeraries! They do not speak, for they break our grammar’s laws, And their language is lamentable – And they never take off their gloves because Their nails are not presentable. Our nails are not presentable! To account for their shortcomings manifest We explain in a whisper bated, They are wealthy members of the brewing interest To the Peerage elevated, To the Peerage elevated. They’re} We’re} very, very rich And accordingly, as sich, To the Peerage elevated.15
Understandably, the expectation that supers would be used more intelligently and to greater aesthetic effect than formerly, placed demands upon theatre managements. It became customary in such theatres as the Adelphi, Her Majesty’s, and the Lyceum to have in place someone whose function it was to recruit, vet, and, importantly, to rehearse supers in their allotted roles. Thus many major theatre companies employed what were variously termed ‘groupings assistants’ or ‘super masters’ whose duties exceeded the previous practice of searching in nearby pubs for a few semi-able-bodied, semi-sober men, guiding them to wardrobe, and hastily dressing them in accordance with whatever play appeared on the evening’s bill. There is no indication of rehearsal pay or of the amount of time allocated to rehearsing supers, although, in some instances, considerable rehearsal time was essential to achieving responses required by the dramatic circumstances. Neither is it clear whether the supers’ training included working with company actors who actually led small squads of supers about the stage, although there is some evidence from Irving’s American tours of The Lyons Mail, Merchant of Venice, and Robespierre that actors rehearsed with supers and moved among them during performances, prompting responses and leading group movements.
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Space constrictions prevent a full inventory of companies and actor-managers whose productions were lavish in their use of supers. Beerbohm Tree’s productions of Stephen Phillips’ plays and his Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra were notable for their numbers of walk-ons, but surely the most consistent, extravagant, and artful theatrical user of supers has to be Irving. Alan Hughes’ Henry Irving, Shakespearean describes a full 19 episodes where Lyceum productions made telling effects with supers. I quote but one, Irving’s 1888 Macbeth. Irving, you will note, added a further element to Meiningen’s aesthetic: that of carefully timing his supers’ appearances, making their entrances irregular rather than rhythmical: The last act was carefully paced to present an accelerating action that paused for a breathless moment at the climax, then plunged into the short, sharp duel ... Crowds of supernumeraries were skilfully manipulated, troops crossing and recrossing the stage at shorter intervals. The scale of the movement can be guessed from the fact that 165 costumes were made for soldiers, 115 Scottish and 50 English16 The effects of this imaginative use of supernumeraries were described by the American playwright and producer Augustus Pitou following a visit to the Lyceum. Pitou marvelled that, when the army of Macbeth appeared, it came on in groups, without order or discipline, a horde of semi-barbarian warriors, with crossgartered leggings, hide-covered shields, battle axes and cross-bows, talking and gesticulating. They kept crossing the stage and disappearing from sight. At the end of the dialogue between Macbeth and his officers, the straggling army was still crossing, and when the scene changed, there seemed to be thousands of warriors yet to come; the audience never saw them all. For the following scene, when Macduff’s army appeared the same effect was produced. In the battle scene the fighting was not all in sight of the audience; it seemed to be raging as fiercely off the stage in the distance. From every angle of sight the audience could see men fighting off the stage as well as on it. The distant clash of arms, the cries and cheers, and the rushing on and off the scene of fighting groups gave the illusion of a great battle in which thousands were engaged. I was greatly impressed. This appeal to the imagination was something new to me in stage management.17
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My own predilection is for Irving’s 1899–1900 tour – mostly in America – of Sardou’s Robespierre. Hughes claims that this production required 69 actors in speaking roles – I counted 59 – and a full 235 supernumeraries. I cannot work out how or in what scenes so many supers might appear, but I acknowledge that this play calls for large active crowds, especially in the Robespierre-inspired Fête of the Supreme Being in the Place de la Revolution (now de la Concorde), in Paris, where the stage is thronged with actors and supers. Processions are formed. Musical groups carrying banners and flowers sing Chenier’s ‘Song of the Departing Warriors’. Robespierre, bouquet of flowers in hand and standing beneath a statue of Liberté, addresses the crowd. We best see Irving’s use of supers in the fourth-act tribunal before the National Assembly where Robespierre, beset by his political enemies, stalked by an assassin, and attempting to defend his son from the guillotine, desperately defends his actions. Drawings depict this scene, but in the only known on-stage photo of Irving to exist, made by Joseph Byron in New York, 78 persons – actors and supers – are visible – and countable. Now to backtrack for a moment: A third factor behind the professionalization of the super is the matter of touring London productions to the provinces, colonies, and North America. There is, I must admit, little available on the economics and practices of touring West End successes except for the constant chatter of schedules, play dates, cast calls and like information in The Era and the photographs of leading performers in local photographers’ windows and kiosks which testify to the volume of this profitable trade. Much that is available comes from the leasing of scripts to managements who wish to replicate the London original or to mount their own variants of these successes. George R. Sims and Henry Pettitt’s Princess’s Theatre and Adelphi promptbooks are marked with instructions to realize effects which, of necessity, require numerous supers. Moreover, if we look at touring schedules, particularly where a company was touring more than a single production, we note a further phenomenon. Those plays requiring the greater number of supers were performed at the beginning of a week’s (or longer) run. Then the sets and costumes for that play, actors who appeared in that play only, and – significantly – the company’s groupings assistant were sent ahead to the next venue, there to recruit (or to vet supers already engaged locally) and to train supers for the following week’s performances. For Irving, responsibility for supers and groupings fell to W. Marion and Carlo Coppi in Britain and to George A. Highland for foreign tours. Highland eventually emigrated to New York and became a successful director in his own right.
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I might have moved from West End theatre to the Imre and Bolossy Kiralfy spectacles at Earl’s Court and Olympia, but, instead, I want to turn away from indoor performance to a different kind of live entertainment which routinely used exceptional numbers of supernumeraries: the pyrodrama – outdoor plays with fireworks. I have written elsewhere about this genre,18 but to remind you, these pieces were customarily offered in or near pleasure parks where customers watched, either from erected grandstands or stood on outdoor dance floors at the edge of a shallow lagoon. Across stood the fireworks island on which a massive set had been constructed. In photographs of BelleVue Gardens, Manchester’s setting for their 1911 The Relief of Lucknow, more than 100 supers are pictured. Apart from the few females, these supers are mostly war veterans, unlikely to be spooked by explosions and fire. Pictured with them and held upright by the supers, are various dummies, intended to burn or be blown up in the course of the pyrodrama’s dramatic action, usually based on news reports from the front. James Pain’s pyrodramas at the Alexandra Palace and at Aston Park, Birmingham, employed 300 supers. Brock’s pyrodramas at Crystal Palace employed similar numbers. I do not believe that these large-cast productions stood in isolation. Britain had learned to think in terms of spectacle where both individuals and massed crowds were distinctive and a part of the occasion. If we consider the newsreel recording of Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee, the first public event to be filmed in its entirety, we observe a crowd of three million spectators, many fluttering flags or waving handkerchiefs, 50,000 British and colonial troops, deliberately variegated in their processional placements and double-lining processional routes in files of scarlet and blue, mounted regiments, and numerous carriages bearing royals and other dignitaries. It is a pictorial attempt, by the event’s organizers and by the cine-camera-people who recorded it, to bring mass and individuality, a gratifyingly aesthetic plasticity, detail and broad motion, into the same spectacle. All but the Queen are, in a sense, supernumeraries to the event. In a larger sense, all the Empire are, for the moment, supernumeraries involved – present on the day or present in the cinema – in the Queen’s celebration. Finally, I want to turn, by way of cinema, back to theatre and to cite Sir John Martin-Harvey’s 1926 film of his stage success, The Only Way. Harvey’s film was directly based on his long-lived 1899 production and was weakened only by bits of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities which the director, Herbert Wilcox, attempted to restore to the narrative long after Harvey had excised them from his stage piece. In this film we see Harvey,
Supernumeraries: Decorating the Late-Victorian Stage
as Sydney Carton, twice before the French tribunal at the Concergerie, defending Charles Darnay (and himself) both to the court and to the Paris mob. In these tribunal sequences, Victorian super work survives: more than a bit over the top in close and medium shots, with too many blacked out teeth and frazzled wigs, too much costumier’s stage or film dirt, too many shaken fists, but orchestrated and shaped theatrical super-work defining the sans culottes’ shifting attitudes to aliens and aristos on-trial and captives of the mob. This was the late-Victorian super as the function was developed and understood by Harvey and Irving and Tree. I also refer to the mob scenes in D. W. Griffith’s 1922 Orphans of the Storm, supernumerary-work learned by Griffith when, as a tyro-actor, he witnessed Irving’s Robespierre on tour at a Louisville, Kentucky, theatre. Shown in London, Orphans of the Storm – based largely on Eugene Corman’s and Adolphe D’Ennery’s The Two Orphans – was advertised as ‘supported by a cast of Twelve Thousand’. Carried into motion pictures and into the Twentieth Century, the supernumerary’s job had gone big-time. Where does John Ruskin figure in this discussion of the supernumerary? In my view, Ruskin was blind to the strong links between stage illusion and industrialization. Rachel Dickinson, in her adjacent essay ‘Ruskinian Moral Authority and Theatre’s Ideal Woman’ depicts Ruskin as fascinated (or aroused) by juvenile – and younger – ‘ballet girls’. She describes him celebrating their girlish innocence and fairy-like qualities as they precariously hover above the stage, supported by iron scaffolding and taut wires. Aroused and in another world, he remained oblivious to the means of achieving such theatrical spectacles and illusions and, equally oblivious, to the realities of Victorian child labour and to the drudgery and poor prospects that such labour entailed. Legislation would, with time, place limits on the exploitation of children,19 but, meanwhile, the adult and child stage supernumerary, unprotected by legislation, had become a recognized, if invariably anonymous, industrial commodity. S/he was pressured to become more skilful in perfecting the illusion of being a member of a crowd, but not too skilful that s/he drew attention away from the professional actors and not so skilful as to actually become an actor. Being a supernumerary was a job without prospects of promotion, isolated from both the means of production and the fruits of the super’s labour. The most that a super might hope for was an extra performance and a further wage and, at a future date, employment in another production. The super’s labour might be hired, but the super had no skills that could be taken elsewhere – unless it was to another theatre and for remuneration at a similarly low
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rate. I increasingly see the employment of the super to make a plastic (as against painterly) stage as an industrial process, especially as theatrical touring of A, B, C, and D companies attempted to replicate London productions and provincial supernumeraries were set to replicate the moves and actions of London supers. Movies, with multiple prints, would shortly produce identical copies, and a movie industry with similar work practices to theatre – theatrical unions divided as to craft, strikes, monopolies, black-lists, and other signs of early twentieth Century industrialization – would shortly appear upon the scene. What Alan Hughes’ study of the Lyceum’s organization implies but never quite states is that Irving had turned his theatre into a factory, with each employee a specialist-worker on a production line. The supernumerary, with his fee of 1s. per performance, may have been the most menial and unskilled worker in this production process, but s/he was not alone. All who worked in the Lyceum became subject to industrial disciplines, to commercial decisions and entrepreneurial dicta. Henry Irving’s ejection from the lessee-ship/management of the Lyceum Theatre and redesignation as a salaried employee of the Lyceum corporation was not necessarily a tragedy by industrial standards. His sacking and re-hiring may be construed merely as a step in introducing modern business methods and modern work practices into a commercial organization – reviving an enterprise that Irving’s spendthrift management had run into the ground. The Lyceum’s 1899–1900 contract with Daniel Frohman, which placed Irving’s North American tour in the hands of the Theatrical Syndicate was a further step in that direction. The subsequent tour was arduous and exhausting and probably contributed to Irving’s failing health, but the Syndicate’s arrangements were relentlessly efficient, and both the Syndicate and the Lyceum Company turned profits for the tour. The weaknesses, ethical shortcomings and sharp practices of both the Lyceum management and the Theatrical Syndicate are well-known, but these reflect turn-of-the-century business methods, just as hiring supers at each play-date for specific productions and discarding them when the company moved on was also accepted and unremarked business practice. French20 and American21 publications describe the late-Victorian theatre as a machine crammed full of special machines created to fulfil specified functions and to create visual illusions and aural effects. Loie Fuller may have been celebrated by her admirers as an aesthetic triumph, as the embodiment and realization of art nouveau,22 but she was also the patroness saint of machine illusion, and the mechanical and electrical appliances which enabled and enhanced her performances anticipate
Supernumeraries: Decorating the Late-Victorian Stage
the new technologies of the twentieth century.23 American theatrical professionals further made visible the industrialization of dramatic processes with their annual purchase of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide (1895–1913)24 which, addressed to theatrical entrepreneurs and company managers, combined in one volume up to-date technical descriptions of theatres with current railway maps and other data essential to touring companies on the road.25 Contemporary British authors also described theatrical machinery26 but then cast their accounts as if they were describing magical events, not the operation of mechanisms. ‘Magic’, of course, chimes with Ruskin’s naïve view of pantomime, where he chose not to see the labour and industry (in both senses of the word) behind the manufacture of pantomime spectacle and his innocent pleasure. Thus Ruskin, to my mind, is a species of Luddite, denying adult realities and ignoring what is under his nose. These questions necessarily arise: if Ruskin were living today, would he continue to use quill pens or typewriters and avoid computers, eschew e-mail in favour of the Royal Mail, and not drive a car? If there is a master-narrative to Ruskin-and the-theatre, it is of John Ruskin and the Ruskinites burying their heads in the sand as industrialization approaches and forms around them. Ignoring the rise of the supernumerary and the enforced anonymity of this unsung underpaid theatre-worker is a part of that ostrich-like behaviour.
Notes 1. Gilbert Abbott àBeckett, ‘The Stage Supernumerary’, The Quizziology of the British Drama (London: Punch Office, 1846), pp. 16–17. 2. Another recent study of the supernumerary is to be found in Jean Chothia’s ‘The Triumph of the Supers: Hauptmann’s The Weavers as Theatrical Event’, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film 34 (2007): 45–68. 3. Stephen Cockett, ‘Music and the Representation of History in Charles Kean’s Revival of Shakespeare’s Henry V’, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film 34 (2007): 1–14, with audio CD. 4. John William Cole, The Life and Theatrical Times of Charles Kean, F.S.A., including a summary of the English Stage for the Last Fifty Years, and a detailed account of the Management of the Princess’s Theatre from 1850–1859 (London: Richard Bentley, 1859), vol. 2, p. 210. 5. Edward Braun, ‘The Meiningen Theatre’, The Director and the Stage: from Naturalism to Grotowski (London: Methuen, 1981), pp. 11–21. 6. George II, Duke of Saxe Meiningen, ‘Pictorial Motion’, Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy, eds., Directing the Play: A Source Book of Stagecraft (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1953), pp. 71–78. 7. W. T. Layton, An Introduction to the Study of Prices, with Special Reference to the History of the Nineteenth Century (London: Macmillan, 1912), pp. 69–70.
168 David Mayer 8. Laurence Irving, Henry Irving, the Actor and his World (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), pp. 464–465. 9. Alan Hughes, ‘The Lyceum Staff: a Victorian Theatrical Organization’, Theatre Notebook, vol. XXVIII, no. 1 (1974), p. 16. 10. David Mayer, Harlequin in His Element: English Pantomime, 1806–1836 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 323–326. 11. George Rowell, William Terriss and Richard Prince: Two Characters in an Adelphi Melodrama (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1987). 12. Alan Hughes, Henry Irving, Shakespearean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 112. 13. Dr. Eric Jones Evans, with whom I collaborated on Henry Irving and ‘The Bells’, underwent his medical training at St. Thomas’ Hospital and reported that he and his fellow students moonlighted as supers. 14. The Era, 19 April 1884. 15. W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, The Grand Duke; or, The Statutory Duel, Act II, Savoy Theatre, 7 March 1896. 16. Hughes, Henry Irving, p. 112. 17. Augustus Pitou, Masters of the Show (New York: Neale Publishing, 1914), pp. 109–110. 18. David Mayer, Playing Out the Empire: Ben-Hur and other Toga Plays and Films, 1882–1908 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), and see also my ‘The World on Fire: Pyrodramatic Entertainments at Belle Vue Gardens’, in John MacKenzie, ed., Popular Imperialism and the Military (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), pp. 179–197. 19. The best source for a discussion of the regulations affecting the employment of children on the stage and in entertainments which might prove dangerous to them is found in A. A. Strong, LLB (London), Solicitor, Dramatic and Musical Law, London (The Era), 1898, revised 1901 and 1910. 20. Georges Moynet, Trucs et Décors: La Machinere Théatrale (Paris: La Librairie Illustrée, 1893). 21. Albert Hopkins, Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography (New York: Munn, 1897). Hopkins’ volume is compiled from numerous entries from the journal Scientific American. 22. As she was in the Royal Academy’s ‘1900; Art at the Crossroads’ exhibition in 2000 and at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Art Nouveau exhibition in the same year. 23. See the numerous patents for illusions and stage effects held by Loie Fuller in Terence Rees and David Wimore, eds., British Theatrical Patents, 1801–1900 (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 1996). 24. Julius Cahn, Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide (New York, 1895–1913), thereafter Julius Cahn’s & Gus Hill Theatrical Guide And Moving Picture Directory, 1914–c.1925. All editions published by Julius Cahn. 25. Such information as passenger agents, scene and baggage transfer, billposting, en route accommodation, and local journals accepting theatrical advertisements. 26. Percy Fitzgerald, The World Behind the Scenes (London: Chatto & Windus, 1881).
9 ‘A truer peep at Old Venice’: The Merchant of Venice on the Victorian Stage Richard Foulkes
In the early summer of 1822 a young English actor ‘went to Ransom’s Bank’ in London where he was ‘introduced to Douglas Kinnaird, who in the kindest manner gave me letters to his brother Lord Kinnaird at Naples, and to Lord Byron, then at Pisa’.1 The actor was William Charles Macready, later known as ‘The Eminent Tragedian’, who during the ensuing three decades transformed the practices of the London stage virtually single-handed. Macready’s purposefulness is apparent from his account of his continental tour. In Verona ‘Shakespeare was ever present to me’ (p. 186) as he visited Juliet’s balcony and ‘the sepulchre of her whom Shakespeare has taught us to picture as one of the fairest and the best, the gentlest and truest, of her sex’ (p. 187). Then on to Vicenza (the Teatro Olimpico), Padua and Venice, where he spent ‘one short week’ (p. 192). Macready being Macready, it was an intensive seven days of sight seeing which gave him ‘a sort of spiritual intoxication’ (p. 192): ‘In Byron’s words, I was “dazzled and drunk with beauty,” and moving as in a dream made up of memories and associations. The creations of Shakespeare rose up before me on the Rialto; and the Hall of Council, indeed, haunted me at every step.’ (pp. 192–193) Venice had of course long been a favoured destination for English travellers notably the privileged few who undertook the grand tour, but as improved transport brought the city within the reach of more modest visitors it was often the association with Shakespeare’s plays that provided the attraction and points of reference, as indeed was the case with other Italian cities in which Shakespeare had set his plays. Of plays in the theatre repertoire set in Venice Macready had already played both leads (Othello and Iago) in Othello, but at Covent Garden on 13 May 1823 in The Merchant of Venice he played Shylock a role to which he returned – often in partnership with Helen Faucit as 169
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Portia – throughout his career; on 29 December 1836 he made the first of several appearances as Pierre to Helen Faucit’s Belvidera in Otway’s Venice Preserved and on 7 April 1838 he boldly staged Lord Byron’s The Two Foscari with himself as Jacopo and Helen Faucit as Marina.2 However Macready’s greatest contribution to the realisation of Venice on stage was the revival of The Merchant of Venice, with which – in a double bill with the new Christmas pantomime Duke Humphrey’s Dinner; or, Jack Cade and London Stone – he inaugurated his management at Drury Lane on 27 December 1841. James Anderson, his stage manager, who also played Bassanio, recorded: ‘It was a grand opening night, and both play and pantomime were received with rapturous applause.’3 As Alan Downer has written in his chapter on Macready as ‘Regisseur’ the play ‘was newly staged from studies of Venetian courts of justice, and with a program directing the attention of the audience to the significance of the settings’.4 Rather surprisingly Macready’s playbill, which listed 13 scenes for the pantomime, did not do the same for The Merchant of Venice, though the programme did. The information in the programme was judged to be sufficiently important for The Times to incorporate it verbatim in its review: Act I Scene 1 – Venice. The Church and Place of St Mark – Marshall. Scene 2 – Interior of Portia’s House on the mainland – Tomkins Act II Scene 1 – Venice. Shylock’s house on the canal, with distant view of Campanile – Marshall. Scene 2 – The interior of Shylock’s House looking on the Lagoon and Dogana – Marshall. Scene 3 – Venice The Church and place of St John and St Paul – Marshall. Act III Scene 3 – Venice. The Gates of the Arsenal – Tomkins. Scene 4 Vestibule of Portia’s House on the mainland – Marshall. Act IV Scene 1 – Venice. A Court of Justice. The arms on the tribunal of Venice and her tributary states, Istria, Candia, Cyprus, Dalmatia etc – Marshall [the tribunal ... The Doge ... attended by particular officers, knight[s], esquires, captains etc]. Act V – The Garden of Portia’s Palace on the mainland – Tomkins5 The scenery was divided between Charles Marshall who produced five sets for Venice and one for Belmont and Charles Tomkins who produced one for Venice and two for Belmont. Several of the Venetian locations became regular features of productions of the play for years to come: ‘The place and Church of St Mark’, used here for I.1; ‘Shylock’s house
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on the canal’ (II.1 & 2) and of course ‘A Court of Justice’ for Act 1V, but without specifying a particular room. The Theatrical Journal commended their efforts: ‘Such a perfect embodiment of Venetian scenery, manners and costume [...] The trial scene was a perfect picture [...] The Rialto was also remarkable [...] In fact every scene carries one back to bygone ages; the dresses were all new, and in perfect character with the times.’6 It was the combination of beauty and historical accuracy that appealed to audiences as they imagined themselves transported back in time to Venice as it was in the late sixteenth-century, but could never be again except, that is, on the stage. The production managed a modest run of 15 performances compared with 42 for the pantomime.7 However in terms of its influence Macready’s production of The Merchant of Venice had an extended run as Charles Shattuck’s The Shakespeare Promptbooks A Descriptive Catalogue indicates, in particular No 17: ‘Excellent transcription of Macready’s Drury Lane promptbook made by George Ellis for Charles Kean in November, 1846’ and No 19 ‘Fine watercolor designs for 9 scenes, probably Charles Marshall’s originals for the Drury Lane production, with identifying notes by George Ellis on facing pages. Sent to Kean with the prompt-book in 1846.’8 Macready’s production can be regarded as the foundation of the play’s popularity over the ensuing decades: 1800s – 3 revivals; 1810s – 2; 1820s – 1; 1830s – 12, 1840s – 6, 1850s – 5, 1860s – 2, 1870s – 4; 1880s – 0, 1890s – 0, 1900s – 6.9 Although Charles Kean did not mount his full-scale revival of The Merchant of Venice until June 1858 towards the end of his distinguished management of the Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, his involvement with the play stretched back to 1838 (5 April at Drury Lane), 1842 (18 May at the Haymarket, hard on the heels of Macready) and in 1848 (28 December) at Windsor Castle to inaugurate the Windsor Theatricals of which he was (to the intense irritation of the republican Macready) director. To begin with plays were performed in The Rubens Room, the intimacy of which Queen Victoria extolled as ‘the beauties of the language were heard and understood as they hardly can be in a large theatre’10 and fortunately she had the resources to pay for the privilege, which for that single court performance amounted to £412 3s 4d.11 The queen did patronize the Princess’s Theatre frequently, but she did not see Kean’s revival of The Merchant of Venice, which ran for some 70 performances from 12 June. Had she done so the Queen of England would have witnessed the stage of her favourite theatre given over to realisations of the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’, as Kean’s biographer J. W. Cole described Venice whither Charles and Ellen Kean had ventured
in the summer of 1857 ‘as the “Merchant of Venice” was intended for a leading feature in the forthcoming season, he determined to verify the authorities by personal examination’.12 Educated at Eton and elected as FSA in 1857 Charles Kean’s passion was the historically correct staging of Shakespeare’s plays, be their setting England or further afield.13 In accordance with his custom Kean published his edition of the play (The Merchant of Venice as at the Princess’s Theatre with Historical and Explanatory Notes by Charles Kean F.S.A. As first performed Saturday June 12 1858) in the preface to which he echoed Macready’s experience 35 years earlier: ‘Who has trod the great public square, with its mosquelike cathedral, has not pictured to himself the forms of the heroic Moor and the gentle Desdemona? Who that has landed from his gondola to pace the Rialto, has not brought before his “mind’s eye,” the scowling brow of Shylock, when proposing the bond of blood to his unsuspecting victim?’14 The subtext and intended inference is of course that Kean knows whereof he speaks: ‘it has been my object to combine with the poet’s art a faithful representation of the picturesque city; to render it again palpable to the traveller who has actually gazed upon the seat of its departed glory’. Since the playbill15 contained the same material as the preface it was clearly part of Kean’s marketing strategy. He was appealing to the educated and better off, the very people who had long shunned theatres as dens of iniquity, but whom Kean was determined to entice into the Princess’s Theatre. Nevertheless, even with improved transport, these travellers were a minority and Kean prudently also pitched his appeal to ‘the student, who has never visited [Venice] once’. The vista of Venice for both the visitor and the student had expanded greatly with the publication of Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice (volume 1 in 1851 and volumes 2 and 3 in 1853). Indeed the appearance of Ruskin’s authoritative work on the city seems to have triggered off a flurry of revivals of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: Olympic (Henry Farren) 10 November 1851, Haymarket (T. C. King) 22 July 1852, Sadler’s Wells (Phelps) 31 October 1857, Princess’s (Kean) 12 June 1858 and Surrey (Vezin) 4 July 1859. Of these Charles Kean’s was by far the most sumptuous and scholarly but though with his recent election as FSA it may be assumed that he was familiar with Ruskin’s writing citations (on the playbill and in his edition of the play) are frustratingly elusive. Ruskin’s recurrent theme was the decline and decay of the city, but this was something that in the theatre (at the Princess’s anyway) could be remedied. Kean was conjuring forth a Venice which no longer existed in the 1850s, a Venice restored to its sixteenth-century glory and furthermore a
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populated, animated city: ‘Venice is re-peopled with the past, affording truth to the eye, and reflection to the mind.’ Whereas Venice in 1859 differed in many respects from the city in the 1590s Kean could transport his audiences not just physically across Europe, but back in time. Kean’s team of designers was made up of ‘Mr Grieve and Mr Telbin [a veteran of Macready] Assisted by Mr. W. Gordon, Mr. F. Lloyds, Mr. Cuthbert, Mr. Dayes etc.’16 and responsibility for individual scenes was handed to them individually or in pairs. Between them they provided seven Venetian scenes and two at Belmont. The play opened in St. Mark’s Place, which the ‘Historical Note’ described as ‘the heart of Venice ... one of the most imposing architectural objects in Europe’17 The distinguishing feature of Telbin’s and Grieve’s set was its architectural quality. As Cole described it: ‘Not represented as of old, by the traditionary pair of flats of Gothic aspect, symbolical alike of every age or country since the style was invented; but we see the actual square of St. Mark with the campanile and clock tower, the cathedral, and the three standards, painted from drawings on the spot; restored, as in 1600, when Shakespeare wrote the play’.18 St Mark’s Place was peopled with nobles, merchants, water-carriers, flower girls etc and the procession of the Doge ‘copied from a print in the British Museum, by Josse Amman, who died in 1591’19; Act I Scene III was ‘The Merchants’ Exchange on the Rialto Island’ by Dayes featuring ‘San Jacopo, the Most Ancient Church in Venice’. Whereas in 1859 Kean reported that the Exchange ‘is now occupied as a vegetable market’20 his audience saw it in its late sixteenth-century state. The entire second act took place by the exterior of Shylock’s house, which was located at ‘the termination of several alleys, leading to a bridge’ beneath which passed gondolas, not just any gondolas, but ones ‘copied from paintings of the same date’ which ‘are, consequently, rather varied in shape from those now seen in Venice’.21 It was aboard one such authentic ‘mode of conveyance’ that Jessica eloped after which ‘masquerading revellers in multitudinous groups’ swarmed onto the stage thereby ‘contributing to the security of the escape of the lovers, whilst [...] present[ing] a gorgeous spectacle, such as brings down the curtain with inevitable and unanimous applause’.22 The key elements of the bridge and the gondolas became standard for years to come, though Irving and Tree both re-introduced Shylock at the end of the scene. Act III incorporated two further Venice settings: for scene 2 ‘The Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal’ and for scene 4 ‘Venice the Columns of St Mark, on the Molo or Quay, near the Doge’s Palace’.23 Obligingly constructed in 1588 – ‘the time of the Grotesque Renaissance’ of which
in Ruskin’s view it was ‘the best building’24 – the Rialto Bridge by Antonio da Ponte was nearly contemporary with the composition of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. There remained the most celebrated scene in the play: the trial. In which part of the Doge’s Palace this took place was a crucial decision requiring the judicious balancing of historical authenticity and stage practicality. As an aide memoir Ruskin equipped his readers with a drawing of the palace (Figure 9.1) and ‘a rough plan and bird’s-eye view, to give him the necessary topographical knowledge ... a rude ground plan of the buildings round St. Mark’s Place’.25 Jonathan Buckley and Hilary Robinson provide an invaluable plan of the first and second floors of the Doge’s Palace26 to which future references will be made (Figure 9.2). Kean chose the Sala dei Pregadi, or Hall of Senators (7 on diagram), one of the larger rooms, which had escaped the great fire of 1479. The attractions of this room were enhanced by Odoardo Fialletti’s painting Doge Leonardo Donato giving Audience to Sir Henry Wotton then as now in
The Ducal Palace from The Stones of Venice.
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Figure 9.2 The Ducal Palace reproduced by kind permission from Venice The Rough Guide.
the royal collection at Hampton Court Palace. The number and position of the senators and officials and their costumes in red and black were based on this source. Cole hailed ‘the stage arrangements’ as ‘exclusively novel’ emanating ‘entirely from Mr. Kean’s profound knowledge of his art and managerial skill’: He has utterly disregarded all conventional precedent, and, confiding in his own genius, has succeeded in embodying the most impressive court of justice that has ever been subjected to the criticism of a theatrical audience.27 Kean’s ‘prodigal liberality’, as the Illustrated London News28 put it, was not yet spent as the action moved to The Foscari Gate of the Ducal Palace Leading to the Giant’s Staircase, the work of two of ‘the best architects of the close of the fifteenth and opening of the sixteenth centuries’ Antonio Ricci and ‘on his absconding with a large sum of the public money ... Pietro Lombardo’.29 Unlike comparable theatres on the continent Kean’s received no public money. Fortunately his heavy investment in these lavish productions met with strong enough public support to at least balance the books, but the precariousness of the theatre was reflected in the fallow years between the conclusion of Kean’s management at the Princess’s in 1859 and the inauguration of Irving’s at the Lyceum in 1878. That was the case in London, but in Manchester thanks to Charles Calvert Shakespeare continued to be staged on if anything an even more lavish scale at the Prince’s Theatre of which he was manager (almost continuously) from 1864 to 1875. The self-styled merchantPrinces of Manchester favoured Italianate architecture as part of a process of identification with their Venetian counterparts. When it came to recreating Venice on the stage, Calvert did not restrict himself to Shakespeare. He revived Byron’s The Two Foscari on 20 November 1865 with which he (as the Doge) and his wife Adelaide (as Marina) won considerable praise.30 The Merchant of Venice opened on 18 August 1871. In May of that year Calvert set off for Venice ‘at the suggestion of the directors, who generously paid all his expenses ... to obtain material for the forthcoming production of The Merchant of Venice’.31 As his wife records Charles Calvert took with him a letter of introduction from Tom Taylor to Rawdon Brown who, as John Julius Norwich records, had been resident in Venice since at least 1838 when ‘he bought the exquisite little late-fifteenth-century Palazzo Dario for £480, leaving it only four years later for the Palazzo Businello, further along the Grand Canal’.32
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Mrs Calvert wrote that Brown ‘entertained him [her husband] with the most delightful hospitality’33 An indication of Rawdon Brown’s appreciation for his theatrical visitor is provided by his letter to A. H. Layard from the Casa della Vida on 10 June 1871: Last week a letter from Tom Taylor arrived recommending the manager of the Prince’s Theatre at Manchester [...] Cheney [Edward?] and I have been most impressed by him [...] Called Calvert. Cheney thinks he is the only theatre manger in England who knows his job [...] We gave him hints on scenes etc. [...] As he dislikes wearing a yellow cap on his head we have dug out an old statute allowing him to wear a yellow badge instead ... Do speak up for him in London [...]34 Brown continued corresponding with Calvert after his return to Manchester. The year of Calvert’s visit saw the publication of the fourth volume (covering 1527-1533) of Brown’s Calendar of state papers and manuscripts, relating to English affairs, existing in the archives and collections of Venice, and in other libraries of Northern Italy, but his absorption in the realisation of that city on a stage in ‘Cottonopolis’ is reflected in his exhortation accompanying ‘a careful tracing’ of ‘a rare old print in St. Mark’s Library’: I think it will make a prodigious effect, (especially if you gild the Doge and his bonnet); and please your audience by letting them have a truer peep at Old Venice, in Manchester, than they could get on the spot.35 In the preface to his published text Calvert acknowledged: ‘I cannot, I feel, over-estimate my obligations to Mr. Rawdon Brown’ in his [Calvert’s] endeavour ‘to show what our author intended – the Venice of the sixteenth century’. 36 Though Calvert also cited Ruskin for him Brown was the primary authority. Calvert equalled Kean with seven (one repeated) Venetian settings and by way of a bonus included ‘The Chapel of Portia’s Palace Designed from the Interior of the Church of SS. Giovanni and Paolo, Venice’,37 for the full appreciation of which Ruskin advised ‘Lazari’s Guide’.38 This set was the work of Walter Hann, who together with William Telbin, Andrew Phillips, Hawes
178 Richard Foulkes
Craven, William Telbin jr and George Gordon made up the design team. The Telbins, father and son, had evidently made the pilgrimage to Venice as each of their scenes bore the validation: ‘from sketches taken on the spot’. The production opened with ‘The Quay of the Prisons at Rialto On the right side of the spectator is the Rialto Bridge’ by Telbin senior with the precise measurements: ‘Chord of the arch, 96 feet 10 inches; height of centre from the water, 21 feet; extreme breadth, 66 feet’ on the playbill. The second scene was ‘The Ancient Church of San Giacomo in the Campo di Rialto’ which Ruskin described as ‘grievously restored’,39 though some at least of those excesses were presumably excised by Phillips. Scene 3 was ‘The Faconon Palace on the Rio Della Fava One of the smaller Canals of Venice [...] A Gondola in attendance’ (playbill). Adelaide Calvert records that Charles purchased the gondola in Venice40 and he went to considerable lengths to stress its provenance and antiquity: ‘It has done much service and is almost an antique.’41 The actual mechanics of its use are obviously intriguing. Calvert has a stage direction stating that it ‘floats from the scene’, but whether that was on water or some ingenious device (whalebone and gauze) is uncertain. There followed Scene 4 ‘The Foscari Gate of the Ducal Palace The Giant’s Staircase seen through the Doorway’, which Kean had featured after the trial, and ‘The Venetian Senate in Procession’ with which Kean had opened his production. Scene 5 ‘The Canaregio’ included Shylock’s house, as Kean had done, without the water feature and the use of a gondola for Jessica’s elopement. Instead the scene was brought to a resounding climax with the Lorenzo Masque specially commissioned by Calvert from Arthur Sullivan, who personally conducted it at the first performance.42 The whole of Act II was given in ‘The Grand Square of St. Mark’, painstakingly reconstructed in the manner of Charles Kean’s Act I Scene I. With all the Belmont scenes (except Act V) compressed into Act 3, there remained a brief return to the Foscari Gate in Act IV Scene I before the Trial Scene (Scene II). Calvert, no doubt advised by Rawdon Brown, set the trial in the Salle delle Quattro Porte (4 on the plan) with its famed symmetrical doors by Palladio, Titian’s The Doge Grimani kneeling before Faith – ‘one of the most striking examples of Titian’s want of feeling and coarseness of conception’ according to Ruskin and roof frescoes by Tintoret: ‘Once magnificent beyond description, now mere wrecks (the plaster crumbling away in large flakes), but yet deserving the most earnest study.’43 This setting was in the hands of George Gordon, who was to be central to a renowned production of the play four years later.
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Calvert’s The Merchant of Venice was a huge success running through the autumn until the preparations for the pantomime began. It was extensively reviewed locally and attracted some national attention (Tom Taylor in Punch, 14 October 1871), but the only surviving visual record is from the cover of Calvert’s edition, suggesting a diagonal staging for the trial. Though outside the scope of this chapter Calvert’s sympathetic interpretation of Shylock should be noted as a precursor of Irving’s. Back in London the next major revival of The Merchant of Venice was by the husband and wife management of Squire and Marie Bancroft. This production at the Prince of Wales’s on 17 April 1875 has taken on legendary status largely because of Ellen Terry’s bewitching Portia and the – somewhat disputed – contribution of the architect E.W. Godwin who was of course the father of her children Edy and Edward. As Tom Taylor wrote to Frank Archer, who played Antonio for both Calvert and Bancroft: ‘The mounting of the play is the best I ever saw – admirable. The Portia perfect.’44 The Bancrofts’ decision to stage The Merchant of Venice was a departure from Tom Robertson’s contemporary comedies with which they had established their reputation, but they clearly intended to apply the same production standards to it. In the summer of 1874 (‘our work was always in advance’) the Bancrofts set off via Ostend to Switzerland, but their ‘ultimate object was to get on to Venice’. Squire Bancroft’s approach to the city was not as idealized as some of his forerunners. He wrote of Ruskin having ‘shattered the romance formerly attached to the “Bridge of Sighs” ’, conceded that ‘the existing Rialto could have nothing in common with old Shylock’ and complained about the mosquitoes, but nonetheless found that there remained ‘more than enough reality to dwell upon and think about’. Waiting for them in Venice was their scene-painter George Gordon, who was already hard at work. They soaked up St Mark’s Square, deliberated about which room in the Doge’s Palace to use for the trial and resolved ‘to show different views of Venice in the form of curtains between the acts of the play’.45 Squire Bancroft arranged the play so that it could be performed in seven scenes: 1. Under the Arches of the Doge’s Palace; 2. Belmont; 3. Lanes in Venice Morning; 4. Lanes in Venice Evening; 5. Belmont; 6. The Sala Della Bussola; 7. A Garden (p. 211) which were interspersed with ‘The views of Venice – comprising the Campanile and column of St. Mark, the Rialto, and a view of the Grand Canal’ (p. 209). Responsible for the execution of these effects were George Gordon and William Harford, who also produced ‘elaborate capitals of enormous weight, absolute reproductions of those which crown the pillars of the
colonnade of the Doge’s Palace ... cast in plaster, causing part of a wall to be cut away to find room for them to be moved, by means of trucks, on and off the tiny stage’.46 This architectural authenticity betokened Godwin’s ideas, which he outlined in articles published in The Architect during 1875 and subsequently reprinted by his son Edward Gordon Craig in The Masque.47 He wrote that: The architectural scenery, divided between Venice and Belmont, may be said to consist, at the most of five scenes, viz.: Venice.- 1. A street or public place / 2. The street before Shylock’s House/ 3. A Court of Justice. Belmont.- 1. A grand hall / 2. A garden. He went even further conceding that the scenes Nos 1 and 2 may be easily made one, and we shall thus have brought the play into the compass of four set scenes. The requirements for the remaining scenes were demanding, for instance the opening scene consisted of : A = Shylock’s house; B = the public place with fountain; C = canals; D = a pent house; E = a narrow street; F = Gothic or late Byzantine houses; G = a Renaissance public building with arcades; H = early Byzantine buildings; M and N were the proscenium. Godwin stipulated that ‘everything may be built out, and so we should avoid the violence too often done to artistic minds by the false perspective that arises in the combination of structural and painted scenery’. Of the architecture he identified three styles: Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance, stressing that ‘in 1590 Venice was neither a city of palaces nor a city of ruins’ and ‘the only difficulty left to the scene-painter is the archaeological one – that of recognising any deductions or additions ... since 1590’. When it came to the trial, Godwin’s preferred location was the large Sala del Maggior Consiglio (17 on diagram) which measures 154 feet by 74 feet, but failing that the Sala dello Scrutinio (19 on plan), pointing out ‘that good photographs ... may be bought at a cheap rate’ and proposing ‘a diagonal set for the scene’. The Bancrofts had concluded that the Salla della Bussola (11 on plan) was ‘the only one within our means to realize’,48 but they seem to have adopted Godwin’s diagonal staging.
The Merchant of Venice on the Victorian Stage 181
As Figure 9.3 shows (with M and N again representing the proscenium) D was ‘the raised area for the Doge, Magnificoes, etc’, B the seat of Bassanio, H Portia, S Shylock and A Antonio. Quite what terms the managers, the set-designers and their architectural adviser parted on is not clear. Writing in 1909 Bancroft was still emphatic: ‘The scenic artists also consulted a great authority, E.W. Godwin, who kindly gave them valuable archaeological help, which was acknowledged, at Gordon’s wish, in all the programmes. To attribute further assistance to Mr Godwin is an error.’49 As Bancroft also recorded the end of this professional partnership came sooner than expected for the production had to be withdrawn after a mere 37 performances, an outcome to which Charles Coghlan’s inadequate performance as Shylock had contributed considerably. The Merchant of Venice is after all a play, not a pretext for architects, antiquarians and scene painters. The play’s popularity was restored four years later by Henry Irving, with Ellen Terry as Portia. She wrote of Irving’s production that it was not ‘so strictly archaeological as the Bancrofts’,50 though Irving’s sets were the work of such Venice veterans as W. Telbin, Hawes Craven and
Figure 9.3 E. W. Godwin’s design for the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice from The Masque.
Hann (all from Calvert’s) together with W. Cuthbert. Like Calvert and the Bancrofts Irving absorbed local colour, in his case during a cruise aboard the Baroness Burdett Coutts’ The Walrus. Bram Stoker recalled Irving telling him: I am going to do The Merchant of Venice [ ... ] I never contemplated doing the piece which did not ever appeal very much to me until when we were down in Morocco and the Levant. You know the Walrus (that was the fine steamer the Baroness Burdett Coutts had chartered for her yachting party) put into all sorts of places. When I saw the Jew in his own dress, Shylock became a different creature. I began to understand him; and now I want to play the part – as soon as I can. I think I shall do it on the first of November!51 The striking points here are that it was seeing the people that excited Irving more than the place and he required very swift action from his designers. The scenery was completed in three weeks at the ‘wonderfully small sum’ of £2,061.52 The opening scene by W. Telbin [jnr] ‘Venice –A Public Place’ abounded in local colour but in the form of painted flats rather than architectural structures and gondoliers more than gondolas. In Act II Scene III Shylock’s house was still ‘by a [practicable] bridge’53 but the highpoint was not Jessica’s elopement by the time-honoured gondola, but her father’s return over the bridge to what the audience, but not he, knew was an empty home. The trial took place in an unspecified Court of Justice, albeit one suitably resplendent with ‘portraits of Doges, a Verrio ceiling, gilt carvings and crimson tapestries [ ... ] all the work of Hawes Craven’s paintbrush’54 It seems clear from Irving’s promptbook55 that the Doge and senators were ranged on the right of the stage (as the audience viewed it) modelled on Paris Bordone’s Fisherman handing the Ring to the Doge Grandenigo (in the Academy Venice, copy at Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire) a reproduction of which is inserted in Ellen Terry’s promptbook of The Merchant of Venice.56 This evidence suggests the use of the diagonal design, which Godwin had advocated and which would have given Irving the maximum scope for his exit, which by common consent was the crowning glory of his performance.57 It was a performance, which he was to repeat many times, beginning with an unbroken run of 250 and exceeding a thousand by his death in 1905. One performance towards the end of November 1879 was attended by John Ruskin, who met Irving briefly afterwards giving rise to an exchange of letters58 and speculation about what he had said,59 but ironically the
The Merchant of Venice on the Victorian Stage 183
one production of The Merchant of Venice which Ruskin is known to have attended was the one that least availed itself of his monumental work. Irving’s enduring success no doubt partly accounted for the dearth of other Shylocks between 1880 and 1905, but in 1908 Herbert Beerbohm Tree assumed the role at His Majesty’s Theatre despite what his Antonio, Leon M. Lion, described as ‘this queer terror of a possible comparison’.60 Even Maud Tree, as doting a wife as she was long-suffering, admitted that ‘I preferred Irving’s Shylock’ and that though her husband ‘made the setting of The Merchant of Venice a dream of loveliness’ it could not ‘have surpassed Sir Henry Irving’s memorable and poetic production’.61 In fact Tree’s own recollections stretched back to the Bancrofts’ ‘remarkable production’ and happily Squire Bancroft was still on hand to provide ‘some valuable suggestions’62 and presumably to attend a performance with the sights of the Rialto Bridge, Shylock’s house (now categorically located in the Ghetto) and the unspecified Court of Justice the work of Joseph Harker (and T. E. Ryan) who ‘happened to be in Venice a few weeks before the piece was produced, and Tree asked me to make my designs for the scenery on the spot’.63 The casualness of Harker’s happening to be in Venice reflects the fact that by 1908 there was nothing remarkable about having visited Venice and with cinema superseding photography as a passport to far off lands the theatre’s function in recreating distant times or places and for preference both was dwindling. That does not diminish its achievement in the preceding decades: capturing and popularizing the scholarship of Ruskin and Rawdon Brown, rekindling memories of Venice for those who had been there, providing an alternative for those who had not (‘ I was never out of England – it’s as if I saw it all.’64) and constructing on London and Manchester stages a vision of the city as it might have been in the late sixteenth century, but as it could never again be in reality, or as Rawdon Brown put it ‘a truer peep at Old Venice’.
Notes 1. Frederick Pollock, ed., Macready’s Reminiscences and Selections from his Diaries and Letters (London: Macmillan, 1876), p. 179. The following quotes are all taken from this volume. 2. Margaret J. Howell, Byron Tonight (Windlesham: Springwood Books, 1982), pp. 121–142. 3. James Anderson, An Actor’s Life (London and Newcastle: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd., 1902), p. 104. 4. Alan S. Downer, The Eminent Tragedian William Charles Macready (Harvard and London: Harvard University Press, 1966), p. 210.
5. The Times, 28 December 1841. Reproduced in J. C. Trewin, Mr Macready A Nineteenth-Century Tragedian and His Theatre (London: Harrap, 1955), p. 181. 6. Theatrical Journal, 1 January 1842. 7. William Archer, William Charles Macready (London: Kegan Paul, 1890), p. 152. 8. Charles H. Shattuck, The Shakespeare Promptbooks (Urbana and London: University of Illinois Press, 1965), p. 279. This and other related material is now in the Folger Shakespeare Library. 9. John Parker, ed., Who’s Who in the Theatre. Tenth Edition (London: Sir Isaac Pitman, 1947), pp. 1673–1674. Irving’s production was seen over several decades. 10. George Rowell, Queen Victoria Goes to the Theatre (London: Paul Elek, 1978), p. 55. 11. Richard W. Schoch, Queen Victoria and the Theatre of Her Age (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 45. 12. John William Cole, The Life and Theatrical Times of Charles Kean, 2 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1859), vol. 2, p. 226. 13. Richard W. Schoch, Shakespeare’s Victorian Stage. Performing History in the Theatre of Charles Kean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 14. Charles Kean, ed., The Merchant of Venice as at the Princess’s Theatre with Historical and Explanatory Notes by Charles Kean F. S. A. As first performed Saturday 12 June 1858 (London: John K. Chapman & Co, 1858), pp. v–vi. 15. Playbill in the Theatre Museum, London. 16. Hilary Norris, ‘A directory of Victorian Scene Painters’, Theatrephile, vol. 1, no. 2, March 1984, pp. 38–52. 17. Charles Kean, ed., The Merchant of Venice, p. 26. 18. Cole, The Life and Times of Charles Kean, vol. 2, p. 264. 19. Charles Kean, ed., The Merchant of Venice, p. 1. 20. Charles Kean, ed., The Merchant of Venice, p. 28. 21. Charles Kean, ed., The Merchant of Venice, p. 41. 22. Illustrated London News, 7 August 1858. 23. Charles Kean, ed., The Merchant of Venice, p. 58. 24. John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), vol. 3, p. 335. 25. John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), vol. 3, p. 280. 26. Jonathan Buckley and Hilary Robinson, Venice The Rough Guide (London: Harrap, 1989), p. 53. 27. Cole, Charles Kean, vol. 2, p. 266. 28. Illustrated London News, 19 June 1858. 29. Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, vol. 2, p. 301. 30. Howell, Byron Tonight, pp. 138–141; and Richard Foulkes, The Calverts Actors of Some Importance (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 1992), pp. 75–76. 31. Mrs Charles Calvert, Sixty-Eight Years on the Stage (London: Mills and Boon, 1911), p. 94. 32. John Julius Norwich, Paradise of Cities: Venice and Its Nineteenth-Century Visitors (London: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 104. 33. Mrs Calvert, Sixty-Eight Years, p. 98.
The Merchant of Venice on the Victorian Stage 185 34. British Library: Layard Papers Add. MSS 3899; Folio 289. I am indebted to Professor John Law for drawing this to my attention. 35. Mrs Calvert, Sixty-Eight Years, p. 104. 36. Charles Calvert, ed., The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare Arranged for Representation at the Princes’s Theatre, Manchester, by Charles Calvert (Manchester: A. Ireland and Co., 1871), p. iii. 37. Playbill in the Central Library, Manchester. The playbill is the source of this and other descriptions of the locations used by Calvert. 38. Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, vol. 3, p. 316. 39. Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, vol. 3, p. 310. 40. Mrs Calvert, Sixty-Eight Years, p. 109. 41. Charles Calvert, ed., The Merchant of Venice, p. 14. 42. Arthur Jacobs, ‘Sullivan and Shakespeare’ in Richard Foulkes ed., Shakespeare and the Victorian Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 198; Arthur Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan A Victorian Musician (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 68; Richard Foulkes, ‘Music in Charles Calvert’s Shakespearean Revivals’ in Holger Klein and Christopher Smith, eds., The Shakespeare Yearbook The Opera and Shakespeare (Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1994), p. 187. 43. Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, vol. 3, p. 304. 44. Frank Archer, An Actor’s Notebooks (London: Stanley Paul and Co., 1912), p. 180. 45. Squire and Marie Bancroft, Mr and Mrs Bancroft On and Off the Stage Written by Themselves (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1889), pp. 200–202. 46. Squire and Marie Bancroft, Mr and Mrs Bancroft On and Off the Stage Written by Themselves, p. 209. 47. ‘The Architecture and Costume of The Merchant of Venice by Edward W. Godwin, FSA with a Note of Introduction by the Author’, The Masque 1 (1908–1909): 75–80 and 91–98. 48. Squire and Marie Bancroft, The Bancrofts Recollections of Sixty Years (London: John Murray), p. 202. 49. Squire and Marie Bancroft, The Bancrofts, p. 206. 50. Ellen Terry, The Story of My Life (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1908), p. 183. 51. Bram Stoker, Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, 2 vols (London: William Heinemann, 1908), vol. 1, p. 86. 52. Austin Brereton, The Life of Henry Irving, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908), vol. 1, p. 302. 53. Programme in the Theatre Museum, London. 54. Alan Hughes, Henry Irving, Shakespearean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 236. 55. Promptbook in the Theatre Museum, London. 56. At Smallhythe Place, Tenterden, Kent. 57. Richard Foulkes, ‘The Staging of the Trial Scene in Irving’s The Merchant of Venice’ in Educational Theatre Journal 28 (1976): 312–317. 58. Laurence Irving, Henry Irving (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), pp. 345–347 and E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., Library Edition. The Complete Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols (London: George Allen, 1903–1912), vol. 37, p. 303.
59. Theatre, 1 January 1880 and 1 March 1880. 60. Leon M. Lion, The Surprise of My Life (London: Hutchinson, n.d.), p. 64. 61. Maud Tree, ‘Herbert and I’, in Max Beerbohm, ed., Herbert Beerbohm Tree (London: Hutchinson, n.d.), pp. 148–149. 62. Programme in the Theatre Museum, London. 63. Joseph Harker, Studio and Stage (New York: Benjamin Bloom, 1972), p. 144. 64. Robert Browning ‘A Toccata at Galuppis’, The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, 2 vols (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1903), vol. 1, p. 266. ‘Ay, because the sea’s the street there; and ‘tis arched by ... what you call ... Shylock’s bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival; I was never out of England – it’s as if I saw it all.’ Browning died in Venice 12 December 1889.
10 The Photographic Portraiture of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry Shearer West
In the late Victorian period, portraits of performers held an uneasy position in the longue durée between the eighteenth century, when portraits of actors were regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, and the late twentieth century, when celebrity head shots became a symptom of the global obsession with famous people. Nearly 200 years separate Reynolds’s portrait of Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1789) from Andy Warhol’s silk screen depictions of Marilyn Monroe of the 1960s. In the meantime, the way that portraits were made, what they signified and how they drew upon the aura that surrounds performers changed exponentially. Reynolds’s portrait of Sarah Siddons is an iconic image, encompassing a range of referents from Aristotle to Michelangelo, and echoing the seated frontal pose favoured in portraits of kings and queens. The production of this portrait drew upon the burgeoning fandom of the late Georgian period: its creation was surrounded with apocryphal tales of the sitting itself – tales that resonated well into the nineteenth century when Henry Irving referred to the portrait in several of his many speeches and William Quiller Orchardson painted an imaginary glimpse of Siddons in Reynolds’s studio.1 Reynolds’s portrait was also copied and reproduced in numerous engravings designed for an elite public eager for an image of their favourite actress. Warhol’s silk screen shares some of these qualities, but by the twentieth century, we see the semiotic legibility of Reynolds’s work collapsing. Warhol’s Marilyn, like Reynolds’ Siddons, is iconic, but Monroe is not defined by her surroundings or by the resonance of artistic convention. Unlike the aloof Siddons with her regal trappings, Monroe’s disembodied head intrudes into our space in a close-up shot through with garish billboard style colours, while she remains a distant object of fantasy in a way that the Siddons image was not. Like Reynolds’ portrait, Warhol’s 187
Marilyn was also reproduced, with each image distinguished by minor changes in colour and technique, but here the portrait itself is a product of reproduction – a silkscreen of a blown up photograph from a publicity shot from the 1953 film Niagara, many times removed from the original source.2 There are no tales of Monroe ‘sitting’ for this photograph and she did not ‘sit’ for Warhol, as he started working on his prints in 1962 after her suicide. Instead the narratives of Monroe’s life that haunt this portrait are those of fractured relationships and untimely death. Finally, both portraits were the product of celebrity cultures, but in Warhol’s case, the ubiquity of Monroe’s face signified the way in which her image had become commodified for a mass audience. The photographic portraits of the Victorian actors, Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, are sited in the middle of the temporal frame represented by these two canonic works of art. From the 1870s, during the early decades of their partnership at the Lyceum Theatre, Terry and Irving appeared to accept photography as a necessary evil which provided cheap mementos for their many fans in both England and the United States. Their tolerance of photography at the height of their fame bore an affinity to the views of Ruskin, who gave photography credit for being a source of ‘legal evidence’ and his own favoured method for documenting the details of church architecture,3 while also expressing contempt for its soulless mechanism – ‘the truth of mere transcript’, the equivalent of ‘Madame Tussaud’s wax-work’.4 As Ruskin wrote in The Stones of Venice: All art is great, and good, and true, only so far as it is distinctively the work of manhood in its entire and highest sense; that is to say, not the work of limbs and fingers, but of the soul ... It is no more art to use the cornea and retina for the reception of an image, than to use a lens and a piece of silvered paper. But the moment that inner part of the man, of which cornea and retina, fingers and hands, pencils and colours, are all the mere servants and instruments; that manhood which has light in itself, though the eyeball be sightless, and can gain in strength when the hand and the foot are hewn off and cast into the fire; the moment this part of the man stands forth with its solemn, ‘Behold, it is I,’ then the work becomes art indeed, perfect in honour, priceless in value, boundless in power.5 Ruskin saw the excessive embodiment involved in taking pictures as lacking the ‘soul’ of art, and unlike other art forms, such as drawing or engraving, photography’s total reliance on apparatus and mechanism
The Photographic Portraiture of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry 189
prevented it from penetrating beyond an accurate but ultimately limited documentation. Ruskin’s view is alien to a modern conception of photography as nostalgic, stimulating what Barthes called punctum, or fetishized as a material trace of an inaccessible past.6 However, while Irving and Terry appeared to share Ruskin’s unsentimental view of photography in the early part of their careers, by the end of the nineteenth century, their relationship with photography had become much more complex, and Terry especially became both actively and unwittingly involved in photography’s transformation from ‘mere transcript’ to a highly charged trace of the performers’ aura. In order to understand the ways photography functioned for this theatrical partnership, it is worth considering how recent scholars have interpreted the impact of photography in nineteenth-century society. Late Victorian photographic portraiture has been examined in a commercial context, as it fuelled a modern celebrity culture based on mass circulation of imagery, and it has also been evaluated visually, as it transformed what people looked at and how they perceived it. In terms of celebrity, Chris Rojek writes that the key characteristic of a celebrity culture is that ‘the general form of interaction between the fan and the celebrity takes the form of the consumer absorbing a mediated image’, and he argues that photography ‘furnished celebrity culture with powerful new ways of staging and extending celebrity.’7 As David Mayer has shown, advances in photographic technology and other forms of mass media circulation were intrinsic to a growing celebrity industry in the latter decades of the nineteenth century.8 However, this vicarious fandom, fuelled by mass media images, coexisted with a more intimate relationship between audiences and celebrities and a society in which celebrities were neither aloof nor inaccessible but operated as middle-class professionals. Rather than take a teleological view, in which nineteenth-century celebrity increasingly operates within a commodified culture of what Debord called ‘pseudo-needs’ (pseudo-besoin),9 I want to build on Rojek’s suggestion that celebrity could be considered ‘as a field of production, representation and consumption.’10 In examining Rojek’s matrix, the key issue is not solely a burgeoning culture of commodity capitalism, but the way in which photography both reflected and redirected how people saw the world around them, as Jonathan Crary, Nancy Armstrong and Lindsay Smith have argued.11 Rather than serving the purpose assigned to it by Ruskin – a documentary record of events – early photography mediated vision, offering a selected, fragmented and bleached version of everyday life. Both Crary
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and Armstrong see this as resulting from a distinction between visibility and visuality. According to Armstrong, ‘the former is a natural process; the latter is the practice of imaging that visualized what could not have been seen without the help of certain technological advances.’12 These authors conceive of photography as implicated more thoroughly in a history of observation than in a history of technology, but there are relationships between them.13 In the midst of this transformation in how the visual world was both represented and seen, Terry and Irving at the Lyceum were the subject of dozens of photographs. These works offer a mediated view of the performer in a transitional period when technological change, consolidation of celebrity culture and mass consumption made the idealism of Reynolds’s portrait of Siddons obsolete, but the blasé commodification of Warhol’s Marilyn was not yet the dominant mode of celebrity representation. To understand Terry and Irving’s multifaceted relationship with the relatively youthful medium of photography, it is necessary to establish their attitudes towards photographs, attitudes no less paradoxical than Ruskin’s. At first glance, their relationship with photography appears to have been negligible at best. Both actors were associated with fine art, and Irving was, by all accounts, a Luddite when it came to novel technologies. There is a great deal of evidence for the first of these propositions. Terry’s liaisons with artists such as G. F. Watts and E. W. Godwin led to her fascination with painting and inspired Graham Robertson’s label, ‘the painter’s actress’.14 While Terry’s early marriage to Watts transformed her from a child actress to an artist’s model, after she returned to the stage, she was perpetually compared to art, from the Elgin Marbles to works by Rembrandt, Leighton, Veronese, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.15 Irving’s collaborations with artists as diverse as Lawrence Alma Tadema and Ford Madox Brown, and his scrupulous attention to scenic design, persuaded numerous critics to equate his stage management with the practice of the painter. In a clearly gendered distinction, Terry became a work of art in the critical imagination, while Irving was perceived to be an artist. Ironically, given his huge theatrical investment in the art of scene painters, Irving was scornful of portraiture and an ‘unwilling and impatient’ sitter.16 He found portraiture to be a tired imitative art, opposed to the more visionary flights of fancy that dominated the theatrical spectacle at the Lyceum. In his speech to the Royal Academy banquet of 2 May 1891, Irving praised the scenic inspiration provided by painters, but referred to portraiture in a cavalier, even disparaging, manner. Speaking of Millais’ portrait of him (evidently his
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favourite),17 Irving joked: I gave him a world of trouble as a sitter – I believe that is the technical term, though I well remember standing the whole time (Laughter) ... It is one of the greatest services which a painter can render to an actor to catch him in his most spiritual moments ... though I am bound to say this impression has been sometimes chastened by the truthful but prosaic apparition which has occasionally adorned these walls (Laughter).18 The dramatic critic Percy Fitzgerald characterized Irving’s animus against the imitative tedium of portraiture; referring to Sargent’s portrait of Irving, which the actor later destroyed, he wrote, ‘Everybody hates Sargent’s head of Henry, Henry also. There sat Henry and there by his side the picture, and I could scarce tell one from t’other. Henry looked white, with tired eyes, and holes in his cheeks and bored to death. And there was the picture with white face, tired eyes, holes in the cheeks and boredom in every line’.19 Reluctant though he was, Irving posed for a number of artists, and the tales that surrounded Siddons’s posing for Reynolds also abound in the Irving hagiography.20 The artist, Mortimer Menpes, wrote an entire book that grew from his observations of Irving while he was sitting for a series of watercolour drawings (Figure 10.1).21 Irving’s private study, and the Beefsteak Room at the Lyceum were both hung with portraits of his predecessors,22 and he used copies of portraits by Van Dyck, Velázquez and Philippe de Champaigne as inspiration for his roles of Charles I, Philip II and Richelieu respectively.23 Like Irving’s well-documented relationships with art and artists, his technophobia is also the subject of a number of commentaries. Laurence Irving, whose biography of his grandfather is prefaced with an account of the only surviving recordings of Irving’s voice, goes on to say, ‘He never rode in a motor car; he never spoke on the telephone; only with difficulty was he persuaded to pose for the camera in any of his characters’.24 Until the last years of Irving’s career, photographers were absent from the Lyceum (due to technical obstacles such as the inauspicious gas lighting), but artists like Bernard Partridge had the free run of the place for sketching.25 One of Irving’s rare public statements about photography, in a lecture delivered to the Edinburgh Philosophical Society, related the photograph to what he saw as the impoverished realm of stage realism: ‘Absolute realism on the stage is not always desirable, any more than the photographic reproduction of nature can claim to rank with the highest art’.26 Irving’s observations carry echoes of Ruskin’s
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Figure 10.1 1906.
Portraits of Henry Irving from Mortimer Menpes, Henry Irving,
warnings about the limitations of photography, and Irving’s strongly held view that the theatre was a place of artistic imagination, rather than photographic reproduction, inspired a number of critical analyses of the theatre, including Percy Fitzgerald’s Art of Acting of 1892. Fitzgerald too equated stage realism with photography, ‘a painter selects, a photographer must put in everything bad and good’, and he advocated an approach akin to the artists he called ‘Impressionalists’, based on essentials and broad visual effects: Acting is popularly supposed by our journeymen to be a faithful, photographic imitation of the figures before us in real life, with all their ways, tones, peculiarities of speech, gesture, dress and the rest. The idea is born of the gross realism of the day. To Fitzgerald, the Impressionists transcended photographic effects because of their ability ‘to record the tone of a scene, not the details’.27 Thus the stories we have of Irving, Terry and the Lyceum ethos privilege the realm of painting while marginalizing both the theory and practice of photography. However, if one looks deeper into the evidence, a more complex picture emerges. First of all, although the
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very best of contemporary fine art was claimed as the inspiration for Lyceum scenic effect, with a handful of notable exceptions, portraits of Irving and Terry are rather undistinguished. Sargent’s portrait of Terry as Lady Macbeth (Figure 10.2) was a tour-de-force, but both Johnston Forbes-Robertson’s (1876) and W. Graham Robertson’s (1922) respective portraits of her, for example, are eminently conventional and forgettable. Bastien-Lepage’s portrait of Irving is strikingly original in its representation of his slightly manic boyishness, but Irving did not like it. Instead, he extended his enthusiastic patronage to Bernard Partridge whose sketches of the leading roles in plays such as Macbeth have an unconvincing artificiality about them (Figure 10.3). Partridge’s collaboration with Hawes Craven for souvenir programmes reduces Irving and Terry to cardboard cut-outs. 28 According to Percy Fitzgerald, who claimed to own ‘thousands of pictures of the Lyceum plays’, these souvenirs were produced quite rapidly once the plays had premiered. 29 The assembly line method of making these sketches was exposed by Irving’s stage manager, Bram Stoker, who said that Craven put in the figures but left the faces ‘vacant’ for Partridge to fill in later. 30 These souvenir programme sketches were monochromatic, mimicking the anaemic vision of photography. Monochromatic drawings and woodcuts appear is other Irving/Terry memorabilia as well. Although Sargent painted the richly coloured Lady Macbeth, he also produced a monochrome copy of a former drawing of Terry as Lady Macbeth for her Jubilee celebration in 1906.31 The souvenir programme of Terry’s Jubilee included a range of sometimes uninspiring work by distinguished artists – Walter Crane’s title page, Sargent’s sketch and half-hearted contributions by William Orpen, John Liston, Byam Shaw and Alma Tadema, among others. However, unlike the Lyceum souvenirs, the Jubilee memento also included photographs, chronicling Terry’s career from her earliest performances to the present day. This photographic album was consigned to the back of the programme, but it offered in a glance an effective presentation of Terry’s major roles throughout her life (Figure 10.4). The monochrome photographs, drawings and engravings represent what Ruskin referred to as the ‘black arts’, which he felt captured the distinct tenor of modern urban life: There is a quantity of living character in our big towns, especially in the girls, who have an energetic and business-like ‘know all about it’ kind of prettiness which is widely independent of colour, and which, with the parallel business characters, engineering and financial, of
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Figure 10.2 John Singer Sargent, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889, copyright Tate, London 2008.
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Figure 10.3 Bernard Partridge, Irving and Terry in Macbeth from Souvenir of Macbeth produced at the Lyceum Theatre, December 29, 1888, and Souvenir of Becket by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, first presented at the Lyceum Theatre, 6 February 1893, Special Collections, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.
the city squiredom, can be vividly set forth by the photograph and the schools of painting developed out of it.32 Terry’s souvenir album offered a flavour of this brand of modernity, and while photography was denied hegemony by being confined to the latter pages, its ‘black art’ aesthetic dominated this commemorative summation of Terry’s career. Despite the privileging of fine art over photography in the Irving/ Terry hagiography, the sheer number of photographs of these two performers attest to the importance photography must have had for their public personas. Terry’s habit of presenting signed photographs to adoring fans is noted by a number of reports on her professional life.33 The demand for autographed photos increased with the supply, and English audiences were especially well known for their avid pursuit of celebrity photographs. One of the ‘Chic Commandments’ presented to Sarah Bernhardt when she visited London was: ‘Photographies, tu signeras’.34 Henry James encapsulated the growing fashion for signed celebrity photographs in his novel, The Tragic Muse, published in 1890 when Terry was at the zenith of her popularity. As James’ budding star,
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Figure 10.4 Photographs of Ellen Terry from Souvenir Programme Given by the Theatrical and Musical Professions as a Tribute to Mrs. Ellen Terry on the Occasion of her Jubilee Tuesday Afternoon June 12th, 1906, Special Collections, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.
Miriam Rooth, tells the artist, Nick Dormer, while he paints her portrait, ‘I’ll bring you a quantity of photographs to-morrow ... it’s so amusing to have them all by the hundred, all for nothing, to give away ... That’s luxury and glory.’35 Like Ruskin, Rooth clearly distinguished between the creative inspiration of a painting and the instrumental nature of the photograph – a separation that also appeared in Terry and Irving’s differential approach to the photographer and the artist. James’s novel probed the tensions between bureaucratic modernity and aesthetic idealism, and Irving and Terry’s apparent ambivalence about the photograph could be considered the same sort of aestheticist snobbery that characterized James’s disillusioned public men. Certainly in the early decades of their careers, the photographic portrait was often dismissed as banal. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake’s 1857 essay on photography states this most clearly: ‘generally speaking, the inspection of a set of faces, subject to the usual conditions of humanity and the camera, leaves us with the impression that a photographic portrait, however valuable to relative or friend, has ceased to remind us of a work of art at all’.36 This sentiment was echoed by biographers of Irving, who felt that
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the flexibility of his face was neutralized by photography. As Joseph Hatton wrote, ‘There is a great individuality in the whole figure, and in the face a rare mobility which photography fails to catch in all the efforts I have yet seen of English artists.’37 Comparing Menpes’ series of ad hoc sketches of Irving with an early photographic series of the actor of 1866 (Figure 10.5), this impression is reinforced. The drawings appear to show a face in constant motion; the photographs reveal a quartet of disdainful stares. At least some of this has to do with the limitations of early photography. Unwieldy apparatus, inexperienced photographers and long exposure time were the plagues of the early photographic profession. In an 1868 photograph of Irving with the cast of Dearer than Life in Manchester, the fatigue and boredom of the company is palpable: the collective group appears like reluctant attendees at a failed costume party, rather than top provincial actors. Irving’s apparent selfconsciousness before the camera led to uncomfortably stiff poses and baleful or long-suffering exchange of glances with the photographer, although despite his uneasiness, the London Stereoscopic Company, for instance, was able to produce a proto-cinematic series of photographs of Irving as Mathias in The Bells in the last throes of his guilt-ridden struggle (Figure 10.6). By contrast, Terry was from the beginning a particularly adept poser, as can be seen in the extraordinarily evocative photograph of the teenage Terry from 1864 by Julia Margaret Cameron, taken in the Tennysons’ bathroom on the Isle of Wight (Figure 10.7). Even despite the artificiality of some cod Pre-Raphaelite poses and costumes that Terry assumed in her various photographs, she appeared to develop an easy relationship with the camera which gave some of her photographic portraits an air of credibility. She gave herself up to the photographer’s gaze, rarely exchanging glances with the camera, and thereby remaining in character or retaining the illusion of self-absorption. David Mayer has recently argued that photographs of actresses in the Victorian period inevitably represented ‘the passive, almost-expressionless actress with no visible agenda apart from presenting an image of an attractive, wellgowned woman’, in contrast to portraits of actors, which were more often devised to reconstruct an actual stage scene. Mayer calls this objectification a ‘portrait mode’, distinguished from the representation of an ‘actor engaged in role’, which he sees as more often characteristic of male performers.38 Although I agree with Mayer that photographs of actresses are more frequently objectified, photographs of actors and actresses – whether contrived or ostensibly natural, whether in role or not – all fall within a contemporary understanding of portraiture. As
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Figure 10.5 Henry Irving in 1866, from Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: The Actor and his World, 1951, with kind permission of John Irving.
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Figure 10.6 Henry Irving as Mathias in The Bells, photograph from London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, 1872, National Portrait Gallery, London.
Figure 10.7 Julia Margaret Cameron, photograph of Ellen Terry at age 17, National Trust, Smallhythe, 1863, copyright NTPL/John Hammond.
Alan Trachtenberg has argued, early photographs corresponded with portraiture both in terms of their emphasis on recognized likeness and in ‘the transference of styles, poses, modes of composition’ from the conventions of painted portraiture.39 What makes these works portraits were the intentions of both the subject and the photographer, as
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well as the ways in which they served as proxies for the individual just as painted portraits did.40 The distinction between beautiful women objectified as objects of male desire, and individualized portraits of professional men was as common in painting as it was in photography. As most portraits, whether of actors or other types of professionals, depicted a public facade, contemporaries did not draw a clear distinction between theatrical portraits and portraits of everyone else. As the Victorian critic, Frederick Wedmore, wrote about Onslow Ford’s sculpture of Irving as Mathias, ‘It may seem strange to speak of a statuette of Mr. Irving as Mathias – not of Mr. Irving in propriâ persona – as “Portraiture,” but the phrase is at least a compliment, a tribute to the actor’s complete realisation of the part that he plays’.41 While gender expectations may have fuelled distinctions between portraits of Terry and Irving, the variations between their photographs also depended on the way they related to the people who controlled the camera, and the decisions that were made by the photographer about what would be omitted and what included. The relationship between the celebrity sitters and the sometimes anonymous photographers is notable. The camera, as recent theorists of photography have argued, represents a kind of prosthesis – an artificial limb that acts as an extension of the body of the photographer.42 Taking a photograph is thus an embodied act, and one – like sitting for a portrait painting – that reminds us of the physical moment of production. It indexes the act of portrayal, as Harry Berger, following C. S. Peirce, puts it.43 The clear awareness of the photographer and his craft in early photographs of Irving and Terry was superseded by their growing ease before the camera and at times resulted in their ignoring the camera entirely, or being unaware of it. With quicker exposure times and more mobile cameras, we see a relaxation of this stiffness and a more subtle engagement with the photographic process. Meanwhile the stalking presence of cameramen and journalists became a reality in Irving and Terry’s life, both at the Lyceum itself (Figure 10.8) and on their various tours to America, where ‘villainous cheap photographs of “actor and manager” were hawked in the street’, according to Hatton.44 In these instances, photography bore less affinity with portraiture, and increasingly became an exercise in voyeurism. Another technological problem for Irving and Terry was the colourlessness of photography. Lyceum productions were, according to Fitzgerald, ‘phantasmagoric’,45 drawing their effects from the use of coloured gas lights, and elaborate costumes. Henry James was distracted
by the ‘blue vapours’ that permeated Irving’s Faust, and another critic evoked the varied palette of Burne-Jones’s set designs in the Lyceum’s 1893 production of King Arthur: the dark blue of the Magic Mere, with that glowing vision of Guinevere, gold against silver, in its midst: the sober brown and grey of the heavy masonry ... the knights with glaive and burnie ... . in their robes of solemn hues, purple and russet and sombre red; white maidens singing through the wood of ash and blossoming ... the orange sunset, dying behind deep blue hills, and sky of pale green, barred with grey clouds and edged with smouldering red.46 Irving and Terry took turns watching rehearsals and intervening if ‘a light is too blue, or too yellow, or too white’ or if it unsettled a delicate balance of hues.47 The spiritual and hypnotic qualities of the kaleidoscopic sets and costumes at the Lyceum were naturally absent from early photographs which had no way of representing the phantasmagoria of Lyceum productions, and therefore photographers had to rely on obvious props and gestural points to achieve their effects.48 A comparison
Figure 10.8 Henry Irving and Bram Stoker at the stage door of the Lyceum, from Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: The Actor and his World, 1951, with kind permission of John Irving.
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between Sargent’s portrait of Terry as Lady Macbeth, wearing her lavish wig and beetle-wing dress, with a photograph of Terry wearing the same dress and performing the same role shows what the absence of colour can do to drain the power from an image (Figures 10.2 and 10.9). Here we see what Laurence Senelick has referred to as the ‘artistic deficit of the theatrical photograph’ – the absence or the lack in what professes to be an exact physical reproduction of the original.49 The photograph provided only monochromatic traces of a colourful stage, and it thus flattened the power of the Lyceum performance.50 The state of technology meant that the majority of photographs of Irving and Terry were in black and white, but it also meant that photographs of these two actors could be just like photographs of everyone else. As Armstrong has noted, the increasing commercialization of photographic practice led to a democratization of the photograph.51 While only a handful of people could afford a painted portrait, the carte-de-visite was within the financial range of the middle class, and there were reportedly over 400 million of these portable photographs sold in England between 1861 and 1867 alone.52 Irving’s many cartesde-visites images of the 1860s and 1870s depict him as a middle-class gentleman, masking the distinctions that set him apart from everyone else. This familiarity both fuelled celebrity and countered it. Everyone could recognize Irving because of the ubiquity of his photographs, and the photographs helped stimulate Irving’s celebrity. But the photographs themselves evinced nothing remarkable. As Terry said about one of Irving’s photographs (Figure 10.10), ‘The portrait showed a very ordinary-looking young man with a moustache, an unwrinkled face, and a sloping forehead – a person without any particular individuality.’53 In cartes-de-visites like this one, Irving’s ordinariness could too easily be aligned with the public mask of other middle-class professionals – a Pooterish conformism, lacking the eccentricity and aesthetic verve that Irving took such pains to cultivate. James claimed that Irving had ‘the face of a sedentary man, a clergyman, a lawyer, an author, an amiable gentleman’, and Graham Robertson more pointedly asserted that Sargent’s hated portrait of Irving depicted ‘a face that might look drearily at us out of a ticket office or haughtily take our order for fancy trouserings; it might bend over a ledger with a pen behind its ear or stare in listless apathy at small children in a Board School.’54 Irving tried to counter this bourgeois blandness on stage through mannered gestures and speech, lurid stage make-up, and an awkward and often exaggerated movement. It is perhaps no surprise that the grotesque Irving was the subject of numerous caricatures and was reportedly the inspiration
Figure 10.9 Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, photograph by William Henry Grove, published by Window and Grove, platinum print, 1888, published 1906, National Portrait Gallery, London.
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Figure 10.10 Henry Irving, photographed by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, 1870, National Portrait Gallery, London.
for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, Irving’s originality, which the critic William Archer claimed ‘not one of his hundred mimics has succeeded in exaggerating’,55 and his carefully cultivated stage grotesque were threatened by the dulling effect of photography.56 Because of the danger of ordinariness, control of portrait photographs became an issue for performers. Rather than offering themselves to any photographer who asked, celebrities began protecting their photographic images and often expected to be paid to sit for their photograph. Thus Window and Grove’s photographs of Irving and Terry in the Lyceum adaptation of the Vicar of Wakefield were the only authorized images of the two actors performing together, and the prints are branded with this claim for their uniqueness. Furthermore, compendia of celebrity photographs often took months to produce because of the complex negotiation processes that were required before the ‘celebrities’ would allow their image to be used.57 This sort of protection of the photographic image meant that its utter banality and familiarity could be cloaked in an aura of singularity. This offers an interesting footnote to the fact that celebrity photographs were being used more and more often for publicity purposes, with actors writing their curriculum vitae on the backs of them, and ensuring that photographs were sold wherever they went on tour.58 However, Irving was wary of the commercialization of the celebrity photograph, and he warned in 1881, ‘the young actor with striking physical advantages must beware of regarding this fortunate endowment as his entire stock-in-trade. That way folly lies, and the result may be too dearly purchased by the fame of a photographer’s window.’59 So far, this essay has concentrated on technology and commercialization – in other words, the public roles of portrait photography in the careers of Terry and Irving. As their careers reached a zenith and they began to topple from unassailable popularity to financial ruin and the status of ‘has beens’, photography increasingly served a more private function for them. Their private engagements with photography give a clue to the emotional impact that even banal, artificial and predictable photographs could have. Despite Irving’s suspicion of the public role of photography, he may have seen its value as gift and memento. According to Laurence Irving, two photographs – of Irving and his first ‘love’ Nellie Moore were found in Irving’s pocket book after he died, offering both a poignant reminder of Moore’s early death from scarlet fever, and an image of the actor before he became a household name.60 Although it has been convincingly argued that the female portrait does not represent Nellie Moore at all,61 the fact that Irving pasted these
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paired photographs in his pocket book hints at a nostalgic or romantic association with the otherwise bland images. Much more is known about Terry’s complex private relationship with photography. She had close friendships with several amateur photographers, and both Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll photographed her when she was in her teens.62 Her approach to photography within her own friendship circle could be described as experimental and playful, as for example, in the extraordinary photograph of Ellen Terry and her sister Kate reflecting each other’s image in a mirror.63 However, there is ample evidence that Terry examined photographs most carefully and that she engaged with them in a highly personal way. A number of photographs that remained at her retirement home at Smallhythe after her death contain inscriptions and notes, possibly intended for posterity, but often seemingly meant for herself. For example on a photograph showing her wearing a dress designed by Alma Tadema and performing in Cymbeline, she wrote, ‘Imogen 1896. Think of me like this. Good-bye everybody, at the farm 192 – ’,64 and in her 1906 Jubilee souvenir album, her sloppily handwritten note to her fans declared, ‘My heart leaps up with joy & wonderment when I realize that the Public has been my loyal friend since I first went on the stage fifty years ago! My gratitude is beyond Expression: Ellen Terry’ (Figure 10.4). Other examples include a self-caricature drawn on the back of a Pre-Raphaelite inspired photograph as Camma in The Cup, and her inscription on a photograph she owned of the actress Eleanora Duse: ‘There is no one like her – none!’65 One of her most revealing engagements with photography appears in the way she and George Bernard Shaw used photographs as proxies in their lengthy and often salacious epistolary romance. Although Shaw and Terry avoided meeting face-to-face for many years, they did exchange photographs, and their letters accept that these obviously contrived and conventional images possessed the aura of the real individuals. When Terry received Frederick Evans’ portrait photograph of Shaw (Figure 10.11) through the post, she spoke to it as if it were the real person, but equally made reference to the materiality of the photograph itself, So this is you, is it G.B.S.? Well, turn your eyes round to me, and dont hide your mouth ... . I dont believe this is like you!...Is that your ear? I dont like it. It’s rather like mine ... A lovely forehead, and top altogether. Two lines between your eyes. And your eyes? Look at me! Nicely cut nose. (The photograph must be defective. No ‘cutting’ in the rest of the face, yet the nose so finely cut. Something wrong in
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Figure 10.11 Photograph of George Bernard Shaw, by Frederick Henry Evans, platinum print, 1896, National Portrait Gallery, London.
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the photograph somewhere.) A jolly chin. A head shaped at the back like my Edy’s. Turn round: I cant see. What is the nostril like? I can see it’s not dull. (... Dont let the barbers shave you round the cheek and ear like this. And you are red!)66 Terry’s bantering engagement with the insignificant details of Shaw’s effigy responds vividly to the combination of familiarity and oddness of the photograph. She struggles to articulate what Barthes has called punctum, or what Lady Eastlake, writing as early as 1857, saw as the ‘strength of identity ... of minor things’ in a photographic image.67 For Shaw, on the other hand, Terry’s photographs operated semipornographically, fuelling his unrequited desire for the actress, as when he spotted a photograph in a shop window of Terry as Mme Sans Gêne wearing a dress that was, according to Shaw, ‘a mere waistband’. In his letter to Terry on this occasion, Shaw was explicit about the nature of his response to the photograph, I am restless; and a man’s restlessness always means a woman ... And your conduct is often shocking. Today I was wandering somewhere, thinking busily about what I supposed to be high human concerns when I glanced at a shop window and there you were – Oh disgraceful and abandoned – in your 3rd Act Sans Gêne dress – a mere waistband, laughing wickedly and saying maliciously: ‘Look here restless one, at what are you really thinking about.’ How can you look Window and Grove’s camera in the face with such thoughts in your head and almost nothing on. You are worse than Lilith, Adam’s first wife.68 And in another letter, Shaw declared, I hereby testify that I, G.B.S., having this day inspected a photograph of Miss E.T., have felt all my nerves spring and my heart glow with the strongest impulse to have that lady in my arms, proving that my regard for her is a complete one, spiritual, intellectual, and physical, on all planes, at all times, under all circumstances, and for ever.69 Shaw’s reference to the inappropriate voyeurism of the photographer – and by implication the photographer’s embodiment – is extended here to the embodied response of the viewer. As Jonathan Crary has argued, ‘Once vision became located in the empirical immediacy of the observer’s body, it belonged to time, to flux, to death. The guarantees of
authority, identity and universality supplied by the camera obscura are of another epic.’70 While Ruskin saw the photograph’s reliance on the body, ‘the cornea and retina, fingers and hands’ as disengaged with the ‘soul’ of art, Terry’s and Shaw’s awareness of their own, and each other’s, bodies in responding to photographs reveal the ways in which the viewer could and did invest emotional power into the documentary banality of Victorian photography. Shaw’s articulation of a desire inspired by a photograph would not have been an isolated example of longing stimulated by the image of the actress, and it is this implicit desire – one that is both sexual and commercial – that haunts these early photographs of both Terry and Irving. This emotional aura, rather than the stark and bland images themselves, give these photographic portraits their resonance and power, and while we cannot fully recover the way in which contemporaries would have viewed these photographs, the evidence of Terry and Irving’s own engagements with them tell us something about what could be milked out of an otherwise ordinary image. Irving’s grandson, Laurence, wrote in a regretful tone of the minimal traces of his grandfather’s stunning career resting solely in ‘brittle cuttings from old newspapers, a hundred or so faded photographs’,71 but Irving, like the majority of later biographers of both Terry and Irving, used the photographs in Ruskin’s documentary way, leaving both nostalgia and desire to the viewer’s imagination.72 As technology developed, the celebrity portrait photograph certainly became a commercial necessity for Victorian actors, but it also became surrounded with nostalgia, eroticism, voyeurism and a longing for the lost art of the performer.
Notes 1. For Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, see Robyn Asleson, ed., A Passion for Performance: Sarah Siddons and her Portraitists (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999), pp. 1–39. For Henry Irving’s comments on this portrait, see his Lecture to the students of Harvard University, 30 March 1885, reprinted in Jeffrey Richards, ed., Sir Henry Irving: Theatre, Culture and Society (Keele: Keele University Press, 1994), p. 47. ‘When Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, and said he had achieved immortality by putting her name on the hem of her garment, he meant something more than a pretty compliment, for her name can never die’. He tells the same story again in his speech to the Royal Academy banquet of 1891 (also in Richards, Sir Henry Irving: Theatre, Culture and Society, pp. 83–84). 2. Cécile Whiting, A Taste for Pop: Pop Art, Gender and Consumer Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), especially pp. 146–186.
The Photographic Portraiture of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry 211 3. See, for example, Lectures on Art, Lecture VI, ‘Light’, in E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., Library Edition. The Works of Ruskin (London: George Allen, 1912), vol. 20, p. 165; and The Seven Lamps of Architecture, in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 8, p. 13. 4. The Cestus of Aglaia, in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 19, pp. 150 and 89. Ruskin’s ambivalent response to many aspects of modernity, and the strong influence of his own work on modernist writers and thinkers, are discussed in Giovanni Cianci and Peter Nicholls, eds., Ruskin and Modernism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); and Dinah Birch, ed., Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). 5. Stones of Venice, in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 3, pp. 201–203. 6. See, for example, Susan Sontag, On Photography (London: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 15; and Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (London: Cape, 1982). 7. Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), pp. 48 and 128. 8. See David Mayer, ‘ ”Quote the Words to Prompt the Attitudes”: The Victorian Performer, the Photographer, and the Photograph’, Theatre Survey, 43:2 (2002): 223–251. 9. Guy Debord, La Société du spectacle (Paris: Gallimard, 1992), p. 63. 10. Rojek, Celebrity, p. 45. 11. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992); Nancy Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography: The Legacy of British Realism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999); and Lindsay Smith, Victorian Photography: Painting and Poetry: The Enigma of Visibility in Ruskin, Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). For another consideration of sight, seeing and looking in the Victorian period, see Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 12. Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography, p. 76. 13. For the different ways in which the early history of photography has been approached in terms of technology, art and perception, see Peter Hamilton and Roger Hargreaves, The Beautiful and the Damned: The Creation of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Photography (Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 2001), p. 4. 14. Graham Robertson, Time Was (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1931), p. 54. Christopher St. John claimed that Terry’s ‘natural taste was for pictorial art, not for histrionics’. Christopher St. John, ed., Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw: A Correspondence (London: Constable and Co., Ltd., 1931), p. xix. 15. For a comprehensive list of these associations, see Jeffrey Richards, Sir Henry Irving: A Victorian Actor and his World (London and New York: Hambledon, 2005), pp. 59–61. On Terry’s relationship with painting and sculpture, see also Nina Auerbach, Ellen Terry: Player in her Time (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1987), p. 194; and Gail Marshall, Actresses on the Victorian Stage: Female Performance and the Galatea Myth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 99–104. 16. Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: The Actor and his World (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), pp. 510–511. 17. Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, ed. Edith Craig and Christopher St. John (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1932), p. 101.
18. Henry Irving, Speech to the Royal Academy Banquet 2 May 1891, reprinted in Richards, Sir Henry Irving: Theatre, Culture and Society, p. 83. 19. Percy Fitzgerald, The Art of Acting (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co.), 1892, p. 234. See also Fitzgerald’s more general reflections on portraiture on pp. 72–75 in which he condemns the slavish taking of likeness practised by some portrait painters. 20. See, for example, Bram Stoker, Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, 2 vols (London: William Heinemann, 1906), vol. 2, pp. 61–62 on Irving’s sittings for Onslow Ford’s sculpture; Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, p. 101 on Irving sitting for Whistler’s portrait of him as Philip in Tennyson’s Queen Mary; Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, p. 246 on Bastien-Lepage sketching Henry at a Beefsteak Room dinner when Sarah Bernhardt was visiting; and Irving, Henry Irving, p. 274 on Irving’s experience of sitting to Whistler. 21. Mortimer Menpes, Henry Irving (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1906). Menpes claimed (p. 9): ‘To paint a portrait of Irving, with Irving before you in the ordinary way, in about an hour’s sitting, was an absolute impossibility. His face provided very many pictures a minute.’ Edward Gordon Craig claimed that none of Menpes’ portraits actually resembled Irving (Henry Irving (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1930), p. 21). Ironically, Menpes was criticized by Sickert for his habit of producing painted portraits from photographs. See Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Van Beers and Menpes’, The Speaker, 22 May 1897, reprinted in Anna Gruetzner Robins, ed., Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 171. 22. For portraits in the Beefsteak Club, see Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, p. 241. Laurence Irving describes Irving’s study as follows: The walls of the study were covered with pictures – an engraving of Maclise’s ‘Play Scene in Hamlet’, Delaroche’s ‘Last Banquet of Girondius’ and ‘Richelieu in his Barge’, a signed photograph of Rossi (a l’Amico Irving), a noble photograph of Dickens taken in New York shortly before his death, medallions of Devrient and Charles Young, and the sketch by Tenniel of the ill-fated Othello costume ... . There were no portraits or photographs of Irving himself. But at the far end of the room was a frame which held sketches of him in all his characters and at every stage of their development. For it surrounded a tall looking-glass which reached to the floor ... It was here, before this mirror, that he created his impersonations. (Henry Irving, p. 321) The artist J. W. H. Bartlett painted a portrait of Irving in his study which emphasized the number of portraits of predecessors that hung on the walls. 23. On Irving’s use of portraits for inspiration see Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, p. 130; Percy Fitzgerald, Henry Irving: A Record of Twenty Years at the Lyceum (London: Chapman and Hull, 1893), p. 241; Laurence Irving, Henry Irving, p. 321; and Joseph Hatton, Henry Irving’s Impressions of America (1884), 2 vols, facsimile edition (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1971), vol. 1, p. 37. Stoker reported that Irving asked the artist Edwin Long to produce a ‘tryptich (sic) of Van Dyck heads, and this used to rest before him on his dressing-table on those nights when he played Charles’ (Stoker, Personal Reminiscences, vol. 1, p. 139). 24. Irving, Henry Irving, p. 18.
The Photographic Portraiture of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry 213 25. See George Taylor, Henry Irving at the Lyceum (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1980), pp. 11, 34. 26. Henry Irving, Lecture to the students of Harvard University, 30 March 1885, reprinted in Richards, Sir Henry Irving: Theatre, Culture and Society, p. 46. 27. For Fitzgerald’s full discussion of photography and theatrical realism, see The Art of Acting, pp. 72–75. For a further discussion of Fitzgerald’s ideas and their relation to art, see Shearer West, ‘Painting and the Theatre in the 1890s’, in Richard Foulkes, ed., British Theatre in the 1890s: Essays on Drama and the Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 132–148. 28. See, for example, Souvenir of Macbeth produced at the Lyceum Theatre, December 29, 1888, and Souvenir of Becket by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, first presented at the Lyceum Theatre, 6 February 1893. Copies of both were consulted at the Shakespeare Institute Library, Stratford-upon-Avon. 29. Fitzgerald, Henry Irving, p. 291. 30. Stoker, Personal Reminiscences, vol. 2, p. 86. 31. See Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Souvenir Programme Given by the Theatrical and Musical Professions as a Tribute to Mrs. Ellen Terry on the Occasion of her Jubilee Tuesday Afternoon June 12th, 1906, copy consulted in Shakespeare Institute Library, Stratford-upon-Avon. 32. ‘The Black Arts: A Reverie in the Strand’ (1887), originally published in Magazine of Art, 11 January 1888, pp. 73–77 (reprinted in Academy Notes in Cook and Wedderburn, Complete Works of Ruskin, vol. 14, pp. 358–359). 33. For example, see Lewis Carroll, The Letters of Lewis Carroll, ed. Morton N. Cohen, 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1979), vol. 2, pp. 943, 959 and 1069; and Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, p. 276. 34. Sandy Lesberg, ed., The Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt (1906) (New York and London: Peebles Press, 1977), p. 77. The poem was written by Bernhardt’s friend, Hortense Damain. Bernhardt’s response to the poem was ‘Alas! My poor friend had hit upon the wrong person for her counsels. I detested paying visits, writing letters, signing photographs, or following anyone’s advice.’ 35. Henry James, The Tragic Muse (1890) (London: Penguin, 1995), p. 264. 36. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, ‘Photography’, London Quarterly Review, 1857, in Alan Trachtenberg, Classic Essays on Photography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), pp. 60–61. 37. Hatton, Henry Irving’s Impressions of America, vol. 1, p. 34. 38. David Mayer, ‘The Actress as Photographic Icon: From Early Photography to Early Film’, forthcoming essay, p. 10. I am grateful to David Mayer for sharing this manuscript with me. 39. Alan Trachtenberg, ‘Likeness as Identity: Reflections on the Daguerrian Mystique’, in Graham Clarke, ed., The Portrait in Photography (London: Reaktion, 1992), p. 178. 40. See Shearer West, Portraiture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 41. Frederick Wedmore, ‘The New Gallery’, Magazine of Art, 1893, pp. 289–293. 42. Marquard Smith and Joanna Morra, eds, The Prosthetic Aesthetic (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2002). See also Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography, p. 81: ‘The invention of photography not only placed the camera on the same terrain as the eye, as something that could see for itself,
43. 44. 45. 46.
53. 54. 55. 56.
57. 58. 59. 60. 61.
63. 64. 65.
Shearer West it also shifted the camera into a position of potential superiority, where it decided that objects would henceforth be seen in the ways in which photographs either had or would picture them.’ Harry Berger, ‘Fictions of the Pose: Facing the Gaze in Early Modern Portraiture’, Representations, 46, Spring 1994, pp. 87–120. Hatton, Henry Irving’s Impressions of America, vol. 1, p. 51. Fitzgerald, Henry Irving, p. 108. Henry James, ‘The Acting in Mr. Irving’s Faust’, Century Magazine, December 1887, in Henry James, The Scenic Art: Notes on Acting and the Drama 1872–1901, ed. Allan Wade (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1949), p. 222; the analysis of King Arthur is quoted in Richards, Henry Irving, p. 240. G. B. Burgin, ‘The Lyceum Rehearsals’, The Idler, undated copy in Shakespeare Institute Library, Stratford-upon-Avon, p. 140. For the associations of colour with spirituality and hypnosis, as well as the foreign, the feminine and the primitive, see David Batchelor, Chromophobia (London: Reaktion Books, 2000), especially pp. 22–23. Laurence Senelick, Theatricality before the Camera: The Earliest Photographs of Actors (Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 2002), p. 329. For problems of colour and Victorian considerations of the photograph’s inaccurate rendering of size and scale, see Smith, Victorian Photography, p. 89. This democratization has also been discussed by Sontag, On Photography, p. 7. For statistics on the circulation of popular photographs, see The Beautiful and the Damned; and Elizabeth Anne McCauley, A.A.E. Disdéri and the Carte de Visite Portrait Photograph (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985). Menpes, Henry Irving, pp. 27–28. Henry James, ‘The London Theatres’ The Galaxy (May 1877) in James The Scenic Art, p. 104; and Robertson, Henry Irving, p. 242. Archer, Henry Irving, p. 59. See also Auerbach, Ellen Terry, p. 199: ‘His triumphant grotesquerie faded to normality in photographs and disappeared altogether in portraits, but it leaped out in caricature’. Hamilton and Hargreaves, The Beautiful and the Damned, pp. 40–50. Mayer, ‘Quote the Words to Prompt the Attitudes’, p. 229. Henry Irving, Lecture to the students of Harvard University, 30 March 1885, in Richards, Sir Henry Irving: Theatre, Culture and Society, p. 43. This photograph is reproduced with this gloss in Irving, Henry Irving, p. 152. See Alex Bisset, ‘The Thalberg Mystery’, First Knight, the journal of the Henry Irving Society (online version at http://www.theirvingsociety.org.uk). I am grateful to Jeffrey Richards for bringing this article to my attention. For Lewis Carroll’s eagerness to photograph the Terry family, see Morton N. Cohen, ed., The Letters of Lewis Carroll, 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1979), vol. I, pp. 78–79. Carroll’s photographs of the Terry family were taken over four days in July 1865. This is eloquently discussed by Auerbach, Ellen Terry, p. 54. See Edith Craig’s note in Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, p. 265. Auerbach, Ellen Terry, pp. 12, 15, 23.
The Photographic Portraiture of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry 215 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72.
St. John, Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw, Letter of October 1896, p. 101. Eastlake, ‘Photography’, p. 65. St. John, Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw, Letter of 14 June 1897, p. 216. St. John, Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw, Letter of 5 November 1896, p. 118. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 24. Irving, Henry Irving, p. 15. I would except here Nina Auerbach, Ellen Terry, whose biography of Ellen Terry contains some subtle and revealing readings of photographs.
11 ‘Auntie, can you do that?’ or ‘Ibsen in Brixton’: Representing the Victorian Stage through Cartoon and Caricature Jim Davis
From the mid to late-eighteenth century English satirical prints and caricatures frequently represented not only the performers and spectators of theatrical events in their own right, but also depicted the world itself as theatre. With the development of the cartoon, in our modern sense of the word, and of book illustration in the nineteenth century, together with the widening circulation of illustrated journals and newspapers, new outlets emerged for the dissemination of comical and satirical representations of theatrical subjects. Although this essay will focus on the Victorian period, the traditions of representation developed by Hogarth, Gillray and Rowlandson and the transitional significance of George Cruikshank inevitably lurk in the background. Recently monographs on George IV and on London have been published, based entirely on satirical representations.1 It would be equally possible to publish an illustrated history of English theatre from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century relying only on cartoons and caricatures, but such a history would be no less skewed than one based purely on photography or commissioned paintings. However accentuated or exaggerated, caricatures and cartoons provide a unique insight into the social and cultural significance of theatre, offering critique rather than descriptive representation. Yet all too often they are subsequently reproduced as illustrations rather than interrogated as contextual documents or examined for their iconographic and iconological significance in our understanding of English theatre during the Victorian era. In an invigorating essay on caricature and theatre in late eighteenth century England Heather Macpherson suggests that modern caricature emerged around the 1780s and that ‘[i]n a strongly visual culture in which theatricality and performance were central metaphors in both 216
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painting and politics, [it] emerged as a powerful vox and imago populi that challenged aesthetic and social hierarchies and moulded popular opinion about public figures from politicians to monarchs to actors.’2 Thus caricature assumed a double function, as both a reflector and shaper of ideas and public opinion. It provided a way of seeing, redefining the nature of visual culture at a time when theatricality was becoming a dominant metaphor in art as well as politics. Whatever changes caricature underwent in the nineteenth century, theatricality continued to be a significant metaphor as well as a popular topic in its own right. Given the evident cultural and theatrical significance of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century caricature, what do cartoons and caricatures tells us about the Victorian theatrical past? Obviously, at one extreme, they again degrade and mock their subjects, and by implication critique the objects of their satire. At the other extreme they may be celebratory or affectionate, demonstrating the iconic or celebrity status achieved by their subjects. They are also performative, using theatre as a metaphor through which to attack broader social and political targets or, alternatively, through their delineations, performing theatre, audiences and actors themselves in a grotesquely delineated dance macabre. And sometimes they are illustrative of text, as in the Punch cartoons where the joke is in the caption rather than in the picture. Surprisingly little has been written about the interpretative potential of cartoons and caricature in our analysis of the Victorian theatre, although many authors have been happy to use such material uncritically, as descriptive illustrations in articles and monographs. Yet such material may characterise or even provide a consensual critique of any given period’s view of its theatre, provided we do not merely extract indiscriminately those images that most appeal to us or merely serve to emphasise our own particular perspective at the expense of the wider picture. The contempt in which melodrama was held so long derives not only from the fact that it was burlesqued frequently on stage, but also through the work of artists and illustrators such as Cruikshank and Bernard Partridge, as in some of the latter’s accompanying illustrations for Jerome K. Jerome’s Stage-Land (1889). Our reception of a study of Charles Kean and his wife in Shakespeare is likely to be far from neutral if it is prefixed by the slightly ludicrous illustrations from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News reproduced here (Figure 11.1). But such illustrations also remind us that caricatures and cartoons often provide more interesting and lively forms of graphic representation than commissioned portraits and posed photographs, in effect creating a form of
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Figure 11.1 ‘Mr and Mrs Charles Kean in Macbeth & Othello’, Supplement to The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 18 September 1875 (Collection of Author).
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
memorial which mediates and interprets its subject independently of the subject’s intervention or influence. From the 1830s and 40s onwards the mediation and representation of the theatre through cartoons and caricature underwent a number of changes. The possibilities for mass production and mass dissemination of images through wood engraving gave rise to many illustrated journals, most famously the Illustrated London News and Punch. There had been numerous attempts to set up comic journals in the early nineteenth century – Gilbert à Beckett’s Figaro in London, Hood’s Magazine or Cruikshank’s Comic Almanack for example – but the creation of Punch in 1843 provided the blueprint for the Victorian comic periodical. Competitors emerged with various degrees of success – the Tomahawk, Fun, Judy, the Hornet – but Punch maintained the prime position, its popularity enhanced over the century through the work of John Leech, Richard Doyle, Sir John Tenniel, Linley Sambourne, Charles Keene, George Du Maurier and many others. Although its genial tone and freedom from scurrility seem to have targeted a largely middle class audience, it was initially quite barbed in its social criticism, especially in some of Douglas Jerrold’s early contributions. Later in the century it became more complacent and its treatment of such issues as the Irish question and female emancipation now seems positively neanderthal, merely re-enforcing prejudice and stereotyping. Any discussion of representations of the nineteenth-century theatre through caricature must inevitably draw on Punch, but it must be remembered that this was still only one of a considerable range of sources. As Peter Bailey warns us in an essay on the comic journal Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, the historian’s use of the vernacular arts of the pictorial and cartoon press in the consideration of popular culture and the mass consumption of leisure in the Victorian period is often ‘reduced to a supplementary parade of cuts from the Illustrated London News or Punch, or self-contained selections from these journals that glorify them as unique and comprehensive mirrors of their age.’3 An important point, but it does not mean we should disregard these sources either. The images contained in the periodicals and newspapers available from news vendors in the mid-nineteenth century achieved a much wider mass circulation than the satirical prints of the late eighteenth century. In the eighteenth century only the wealthier patrons could afford to purchase prints or hire folios of recent prints to devour at home; the majority derived their knowledge and pleasure of new satires through crowding at print shop windows and, like spectators at a theatre, sharing collectively in the enjoyment of the images. Punch
and its competitors created new modes of visual satire, breaking with the old tradition of caricature as part public spectacle and adapting it to new types of dissemination. Cruikshank himself exemplified aspects of this transition in his own career, as he moved from satirical prints in the manner of Gillray to book illustration and Comic Almanacs in the 1820s–1840s and eventually to the later delineation of temperance propaganda and fairy tales. Satire became safe and gentlemanly, cosily humorous; indeed, Louis James maintains that Cruikshank’s later work lacks the bite and outrageousness of preVictorian satire.4 Yet, while admiring the past masters of the genre, William Thackeray welcomed the less abrasive tone of mid-Victorian graphic satire, commenting in an 1854 essay on John Leech in the Quarterly Review: How savage the satire [of the eighteenth century] was – how fierce the assault – what garbage hurled at opponents – what fowl blows hit – what language of Bilingsgate flung! ... While we live, we must laugh, and have folks make us laugh. We cannot afford to lose Satyr with his pipe and dances and gambols. But we have washed, combed clothed and taught the rogue good manners or rather, let us say, he has learned them himself; for he is of nature soft and kindly and he has put aside his mad pranks and tipsy habits; and, frolicsome always, he has become harmless, smitten into shame by the pure presence of our women and the sweet confiding smiles of our children.5 As the century progressed visual satire was modified, although the social status of actors, the social behaviour of spectators and theatre as a metaphor for politics and other facets of contemporary life remained popular topics. The savagery of pre-Victorian satire may have been diluted, but in its place the muted brutality of social snobbery lingers on, particularly in such journals as Punch. Some commentators use the term cartoon to describe both the satirical prints of the late eighteenth century and the captioned cartoons of Punch. E. H. Gombrich and Ernst Kris trace the birth of the cartoon to the introduction of caricatura portraits into political prints in the eighteenth century.6 But the use of the word cartoon as we understand it today only came into circulation in the 1840s, when Tenniel began a series of satires of ‘cartoons’ or ‘designs’ of high art subjects intended to decorate the Houses of Parliament.7 However, the term initially referred only to the big cuts or large illustrations in the comic journals, the
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
smaller pictures were designated as illustrations, the wider application of the term coming into its own in the twentieth century. Alongside these developments written text also became increasingly important. This was certainly true of periodicals such as Punch, in which the cartoons were often illustrations of captions rather than caricatures – the wit was in the words or situation rather than in the representation. Ronald Paulson elaborates on this through reference to serial illustration as it developed in the late 1830s, suggesting that the launch of The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist brought text and image together in a way that created a double perspective in serial publications. But ‘the cartoon that was developed in [Punch’s] pages worked in a similar way: one looked at the picture, wondering what it meant, interested and puzzled; then read the caption, which was sometimes quite long; and then returned to the picture, which now meshed with the caption to make a joke.’8 J. Hillis Miller also discusses the irreconcilable doubleness of text and picture in the novel. Through an analysis of The Pickwick Papers he comes to the conclusion that Mark Twain’s ‘suspicion that words only artificially control an anarchy of contradictory potential meanings in a picture’ is closer to the truth than ‘Dickens’s confidence that his narrative can dominate the plates that illustrate it.’9 In effect we must remain aware of the interplay between text and image not only within the parameters Hillis Miller outlines, but also within the more specific instances of representations of theatre in both book illustrations and cartoons. In the early Victorian period (and in the years immediately prior to Queen Victoria’s ascension) many serial (and book) illustrations were produced in the comic mode pioneered by Rowlandson in his Dr Syntax series of illustrations and by Cruikshank and his brother Robert for Life in London in the 1820s. The illustrations of Cruikshank and Hablot K. Browne (better known as Phiz) were often on the edge of caricature and this includes their depiction of theatrical subjects. Cruikshank’s illustrations for Sketches by Box (1836) and The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi (1838) Phiz’s for Nicholas Nickleby (1838–1839) and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840) and for James Grant’s Sketches in London (1838), Phiz’s and Cruikshank’s illustrations for Raymond’s Life of Elliston (Figure 11.2), and those of Thackeray all share this characteristic. Thackeray’s theatrical illustrations, which are worth a paper in their own right, range from the balletic postures of Flore et Zéphyr (1836) to visiting the opera in Jeames’s Diary (1845–1846) to various theatrical moments in Travels in London (1847–1848). Some of Thackeray’s illustrations, those for The Rose and the Ring (1854) in particular, look like scenes from contemporary
Figure 11.2 George Cruikshank, ‘Alas, poor Ghost!’, illustration from George Raymond, The Life and Enterprises of Robert William Elliston, Comedian (London: G. Routledge & Co, 1857) (Collection of Author).
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pantomimes replete with ‘big heads’ and all the paraphernalia of this annual form of entertainment. Interestingly, when The Rose and the Ring (which itself had been inspired by some drawings done for a Twelfth Night play while Thackeray was in Rome) was adapted to the stage in the early 1890s, characters were in turn made up to resemble Thackeray’s illustrations. According to Punch (10 January 1891): Mr. S. SOLOMON as Jenkins, the Hall Porter, is made up so as to be the very fac-simile of THACKERAY’s own illustration and to reproduce that Master’s sketches with more or less exactitude has evidently been the aim of all the actors. The influence of pantomime also emerges in the decorative first letters with which Thackeray opens his chapters, as in Pendennis (1848–1850), often quite overtly providing the cueing device for how we should respond to the chapter that follows.
Social commentary/class In any consideration of the cultural and social impact of visual material on Victorian theatre a further consideration has to be who had access to it. Who bought the prints, who read the journals, in which these illustrations were published, and to what extent does this merely promulgate or foster already engrained social and cultural attitudes? There was certainly a class bias in much of the mid to late Victorian cartoons and caricatures produced, often in a crudely physiognomic way. According to Mark Bills: Dress and activity were obvious ways in which characters are distinguished from one another; facial features, on which physiognomy mainly, though not exclusively, focused were another. Crudely simplified, the narrow face, fine feature and high forehead represented the higher classes, whereas the low forehead, crude features and protruding jaw represented the lower classes. It is impossible to look through the enormous body of social satire in the Victorian period without seeing these associations.10 At its most extreme this is manifest in the near-simian features with which popular gallery audiences were occasionally depicted.11 To some extent a physiognomically-based indication of class is a recurrent tendency (although not always taken to extremes) in representations
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working class audiences in other illustrations. The popular tradition of depicting audiences, which extends from Hogarth’s ‘The Laughing Audience’ and the prints of Rowlandson through to the illustrations of Cruikshank and Phiz tends to characterise working class audiences as physiognomically comic and uncouth, but with a certain dynamic about them. This is certainly the case in Cruikshank’s ‘Pit, Boxes and Gallery’ (1836) and ‘BOXING-NIGHT – A picture in the National Gallery’ (1845) and a regular trait of Phiz’s depiction of pantomime audiences. Sometimes more specific issues might be targeted in pictures of audiences, such as controversy over the indecorum of ballet girls’ costumes, on which an 1869 issue of Judy had an interesting line. (Figure 11.3) The illustration is accompanied by the following verse, which also provides a good example of the mutual interdependency of text and image:
The humble apology of Grace Tarleton, a poor ballet girl Ye friends of Virtue do not think Us ballet-girls, as per se Immodest, and deserving of ‘Short shrift and little mercy!’ A cruel public – lack of bread – To wear a garb compel us Which ‘draws’ and we are forced to do As our employers tell us. You do us wrong to call us ‘bold’, True charity forgetting; A girl may have an honest heart, Though skilled in pirouetting! Think what we dancers suffer, when The temperature’s at zero; To hear us cough at night might move A managerial NERO. Ofttimes if you were near enough You’d see our teeth to chatter In painful obligato to Our footsteps’ nimble patter.
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
Ah! Many a girl that nightly seems Brimful of fun outrageous, Half-starves herself to help sick friends Out of her scanty wages. Methinks it is unjust and false To brand us all as vicious; We ballet-girls and our costumes Are what the public wish us! Why should to dance, for bread, ‘in tights’ So scandalize beholders Who vie, from choice, in showing off A great deal more than shoulders.12 A second illustration a few weeks later situates the Lord Chamberlain, Viscount Sydney, whose office was responsible for maintaining the theatre’s moral standards, within the controversy (Figure 11.4). Victorian journals often targeted specific social classes. Peter Bailey draws attention to the way in which Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday engages from the 1880s with the newly acquired leisure activities of the lower middle classes in the late nineteenth century, appealing to the very social group it also depicts.13 Some illustrations from the journal show Ally Sloper as a spectator at specific theatres, including Drury Lane, Sadler’s Wells and the Elephant and Castle, as often as not the victim of some mishap or public embarrassment, and the character itself emerges on the pantomime stage, as at Manchester 1883–1884 (Figure 11.5) and Drury Lane 1887–1888. Many cartoons towards the end of the century are somewhat tamer, focussing on the comfort and discomfort of middle and upper class audiences, as countless examples from Punch, Judy and The Idler demonstrate. One of the most persistent topics is the obstruction caused to other spectators by large hats (Figure 11.6) and sometimes the opening of large fans, although the annoyance of late arrivals, early departures and over-talkative spectators also figures. Aspirations above one’s station (the housemaid who wants to be an actress) or marrying beneath it, as with the aristocratic swell who wishes to marry an actress (‘How do, Duchess?’ says an actress late of the Frivolity Theatre in one cartoon, ‘I’m the latest thing in misalliances!’) are also targeted, while the dangers of Ibsen’s impact on lower middle-class marriage are clearly indicated in a Punch cartoon entitled ‘Ibsen in Brixton’ (Figure 11.7).
Figure 11.3 Author).
‘The Stalls and the Stage’, Judy, 10 February 1869 (Collection of
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
‘The Ballet Corps’, Judy, 17 March 1869 (Collection of Author).
The obvious incongruity of pairing Ibsen with Brixton reflects a frequent trait in late Victorian cartoons. Du Maurier, for example, created a series of illustrations for Punch that relied on the contrast between the titles of plays advertised on sandwich boards and those who display them. One shabby and astonished-looking bill board carrier, advertising Ici On Parle Français at Toole’s Folly Theatre, is mistaken by a visiting Frenchman as ‘un interpret ambulant’. Another squat, rough-looking carrier, advertising as ‘Irving as Hamlet’, is mistaken by an unsophisticated elderly lady up from the country as the great actor himself (Figure 11.8). Two bedraggled, unprepossessing men stand in the pouring rain respectively displaying sandwich boards that seemingly advertise themselves as One of the Best and The Gay Lord Quex. Du Maurier’s interplay between the verbal and the visual arguably appeals to a mixture of smugness, superiority and class consciousness in his audience.
Caricature from Auntie to Irving Not only incongruity but also degradation can be deeply embedded in caricature, a trait we can see in the Punch cartoon, the caption of
Figure 11.5 ‘The Pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Manchester’, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 2 February 1884 (Collection of Author).
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
‘Her New Hat’, Judy, 19 January 1887 (Collection of Author).
230 Jim Davis
Figure 11.7 ‘Ibsen in Brixton’ from Mr Punch at the Play n.d. (Collection of Author).
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
Figure 11.8 Author).
‘A Disenchantment’ from Mr Punch at the Play n.d. (Collection of
which has given me my title. ‘Auntie, can you do that?’ says a small boy to his rather severe and rotund Auntie as they watch a female contortionist perform (Figure 11.9). Visions of Auntie doing the splits remain an abstraction, however, so the degradation is only implicit.
232 Jim Davis
Figure 11.9 ‘Auntie, can you do that?’ from Mr Punch at the Play n.d. (Collection of Author).
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
Caricatures of specific individuals on the other hand are another matter and these continued to thrive in journals such as Entr’acte, in ‘Cards of the Day’ in Figaro and in Vanity Fair’s series of portraits towards the end of the century. Critical discussion of caricature tends to focus either on its contextual historical and cultural impact or on its psychoanalytic significance. Caricature arguably encourages derision based on the equation of physical flaws with moral failings and it can be highly aggressive in its representation of individual subjects through its techniques of distortion and unmasking. Its lasting impact, however, is limited since its full comic effect is inevitably dependent on social and historical context. If we consider the examples of Irving and Toole, it is difficult to make a consistent case for the impact and reception of individual caricatures. Caricatures of Toole celebrate his success as a comic actor – they are an endorsement of what he does and how well he does it. This is clearly indicated in A B’s representation of Toole as Paul Pry (Figure 11.10) and in SPY’s 1876 Vanity Fair caricature of Toole in A Spelling Bee, which provides a strong impression of his comic style and demeanour. With Irving caricature may also have demonstrated an innate affection and been inevitable, to some extent, since Irving’s leadership of his profession made him fair game as the late nineteenth century’s visual prototype of actor manager and heavy tragedian, but there is an element of denigration and distortion that at times seems unmerited and aggressive. Irving suffered more than most from the caricaturist’s pen, particularly in APE’s (Pellegrini’s) famous Vanity Fair portrayal of him as Mathias in The Bells. ‘I never thought “Ape” so poor as when on December 19th, 1874, he gave us The Bells in that week’s Vanity Fair’, wrote Edward Gordon Craig. ‘Better by far were A B’s caricatures, and best of all, though less comic, Sargent’s one parody. All the caricaturists attributed to Irving bent knees, bent back, or a dragging leg – like the aesthete in Iolanthe – which if not particularly funny, was anyhow quite untrue.’14 Harry Furniss, who himself had caricatured Irving less savagely than APE, states that Irving was very sensitive to caricature. ‘A caricaturist’, claims Furniss, ‘is one who emphasises all the bad qualities in the sitter and avoids the better ones.’ He refers to a portrait of Irving, which had been exhibited in the Royal Academy and was later owned by Irving. In itself a caricature, the portrait showed, says Furniss, ‘the head of a drunken, fifth-rate, broken-down mummer’, which Furniss then went on to caricature in Punch as Irving with a bad cold in his head.15 When he left his Bond Street Lodgings, Irving offered the portrait to his man-servant, who
234 Jim Davis
AB, ‘Mr J. L. Toole as Paul Pry’ (Collection of Author).
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
declined. Irving then took a sharp knife to the portrait, cut it into long, thin strips and threw it on the fire.16 Despite this rather extreme example of Irving’s intervention, caricature was not going to disappear and it continued to be a significant means of representing the stage and even the world beyond the stage. A number of journals included caricatures as a regular feature of their theatrical reviews and articles. Even the books of the pantomime on sale at the theatres included caricatures and imply a collusion between theatre and illustration in re-enforcing certain sorts of stereotype, as in the caricatured representations of Man Friday’s family in Drury Lane’s Robinson Crusoe (1893–1894) or of the ‘New Woman’ (as impersonated by Herbert Campbell) in the same theatre’s Dick Whittington (1894–1895).17 Pantomime was also a useful metaphor for politics, figuring frequently in depictions of Parliament, such as ‘The Westminster Pantomime’ (1869), which shows John Bright as Clown, Gladstone as Pantaloon and Robert Lowe as Harlequin. (Figure 11.11) Punch (27 December 1890) includes an illustration by Harry Furniss entitled ‘A Parliamentary Pantomime Opening (Seasonable Suggestion to Augustus Druriolanus)’, in which a rather shapely Lord Chancellor in wig and tight-fitting dress, sits on the woolsack displaying her/his ankles and contemplates the transformation of Parliament into a spectacular Drury Lane pantomime. Later in the decade a politician presenting workmen with the new Compensation Bill is transformed into ‘The Conservative Fairy Godmother’ by Punch (22 May 1897). The Christy minstrels provided another source for satire in ‘Collapse of “Corner Men” ’ (Figure 11.12), which highlights questionable business operations in the cotton industry. Politicians were regularly depicted as actors, particularly as ‘rival stars’ in the case of Disraeli and Gladstone. Gill Stoker, in a discussion of Tenniel’s use of theatrical motifs in political cartoons, comments: [I]n Tenniel’s political cartoons, the foremost of all performers are the politicians, appearing as theatre managers, actors, fairground, circus and pantomime performers, conjurors, jugglers, magicians and musicians ... The entertainment analogy is appropriate, for politicians were and still are exploited by the media for their entertainment value. On a more subversive level, just as theatrical entertainment of all kinds relies on an element of illusion, so politicians often appear in Punch as tricksters, concealers, pretenders and role-players.18 This brings us back to the theatrum mundi of late-eighteenth and earlynineteenth century caricature and the continuity of theatrical metaphor in visual satire throughout the nineteenth century.
Figure 11.11 Author).
‘The Westminster Pantomime’, Judy, 6 January 1869 (Collection of
‘Auntie, can you do that?’
Figure 11.12 ‘Collapse of “Corner Men” ’ (1890), Pictures from Punch (undated), IV, 219 (Collection of Author).
So how do the Victorian cartoon, caricature and book illustration represent the theatre? How do they refine upon or develop from the satirical illustrations and prints that preceded them? How can we use them in ways that go beyond mere descriptive illustration and read them as texts in their own right? And, if we use them as social and cultural documentary evidence, how do we go beyond taxonomy on the one hand or over-reliance on the most available sources on the other? Occasionally, cartoons may merely show us how theatre functioned, providing an additional and often detailed source for the investigation of theatrical space and technology. But there is still a lot of work to be done on the ways in which visual and print culture reflected and shaped contemporary understanding of the Victorian theatre. The development of the cartoon and of book illustration in mass market conditions and within a socially and culturally polarised society requires us to broaden our understanding of spectatorship beyond the theatre and ask questions not only about who attended performances but also about who read the comic journals and the serial publications in which these theatrical images appeared. In turn we need to learn how to ‘read’ these images in other than descriptive terms in order to understand them in their own context. This is a huge task – but one which needs to be undertaken if we wish to enhance further our
238 Jim Davis
understanding of the cultural, political and social significance of the Victorian stage.
Notes 1. See Mark Bills, The Art of Satire: London in Caricature (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2006) and Kenneth Baker, George IV A Life in Caricature (London: Thames and Hudson, 2005). 2. ‘Painting, Politics and Stage in the Age of Caricature’, in Robyn Asleson, ed., Notorious Muse: The Actress in British Art and Culture 1776–1812 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 172. 3. ‘Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday: Comic Art in the 1880s’, in Peter Bailey, Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 50. 4. Louis James, ‘Cruikshank and Early Victorian Caricature’, History Workshop Journal, 6:1 (1978), 107–120. 5. Quoted in John Buchanan-Brown, The Illustrations of William Makepeace Thackeray (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1979), p. 24. 6. Ernst Kris, Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (Madison, Connecticut: International Universities Press, 2000), p. 194. 7. William Vaughan, British Painting: The Golden Age. From Hogarth to Turner (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999), p. 149. 8. Ronald Paulson, ‘The Tradition of Comic Illustration from Hogarth to Cruikshank’, in Robert L. Patten, ed., George Cruikshank A Revaluation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 56. 9. Joseph Hillis Miller, Illustration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 125. 10. See Bills, The Art of Satire: London in Caricature, p. 193. 11. This is particularly apparent in an unreferenced picture reproduced in Victor Glasstone’s Victorian and Edwardian Theatres (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), pp. 54–55. Several of the small boys depicted look almost like apes in human clothing. 12. Judy, or the London Serio-Comic Journal, 10 February 1869, p. 167. 13. See Bailey, Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City, pp. 53–54. 14. Edward Gordon Craig, Henry Irving (London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1930), p. 73. 15. ‘Henry Irving: An Artist’s Sketch of an Actor’, Strand Magazine, 1906. 16. ‘Henry Irving’, Strand Magazine, 1906. 17. See Jim Davis, ‘Imperial Transgressions: The Ideology of Drury Lane Pantomime in the Late Nineteenth Century’, New Theatre Quarterly XII:46 (May 1996), 151–154. 18. ‘Tenniel’s Punch Cartoons and Theatre’. http://www.britishtheatreguide. info/otherresources/academic/tenniel.htm
Index àBeckett, Gilbert Abbott, 154–5, 219 Acland, Angie, 66 Adelphi Theatre, 141, 142, 155, 160, 161, 163 Alexander, George, 32–3, 103 Alighieri, Dante, 114 Alma-Tadema, Lawrence, 19, 23–5, 27, 29–30, 35, 37, 190, 193, 207 Anderson, Mary, 33, 101 Antoine, André, 9 Archer, William, 97, 101, 104–5, 108, 206 Aristotle, 1, 187 Armstrong, Nancy, 189–90, 203 Arnold, Matthew, 97, 103 Audran, Edmond, 58, 65–6 Bach, Johann Sebastian, 66 Bacon, Francis, 119 Bailey, Peter, 219, 225 Ballet Jooss, 106 Ballet Rambert, 106 Balme, Christopher, 10 Bancroft, Squire and Marie, 179–81, 182, 183 Barlow, Paul, 7–8 Barrett, Wilson, 33, 34–5, 99–101, 142, 143–5, 159 Barrie, J.M., 30–1 Batchelor, John, 115 Beardsley, Aubrey, 19 Benson, Frank, 26–9, 30 Bernhardt, Sarah, 195 Besant, Annie, 146 Bogg, John Stuart, 102 Booth, Michael, 6 Botticelli, Sandro, 88 Boucicault, Dion, 136 Bourchier, Arthur, 29, 31 Braddon, Mary, 136–7 Bradford, 2 Brantwood, 34, 102, 114, 124
Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, 12–13, 135–53 Brown, Ford Madox, 190 Brown, Rawdon, 176–7, 178, 183 Browning, Robert, 12, 27, 74–96, 186n64 Buchanan, Robert, 78, 84 Burdett-Coutts, Baroness, 182 Burne-Jones, Edward, 19, 26–7, 45, 46, 47, 50–1, 88, 141, 202 Burns, Robert, 114 Byron, George Gordon, Lord, 114, 119, 128, 169, 170 Calvert, Charles, 176–7, 178–9, 182 Calvert, Louis, 30 Carlyle, Thomas, 62, 97, 114 Carpaccio, Vittore, 86, 88 CEMA, 106–7 Cervantes, Miguel de, 119 Lord Chamberlain, 138, 224 Churchill, Winston, 104 Clark, E. Holman, 31 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 114 Collins, Wilkie, 138–9, 151 Corregio, Antonio da, 25, 115 Craig, Edward Gordon, 180, 212n21, 233 Crane, Walter, 33–4, 46, 47, 141, 193 Crary, Jonathan, 10, 63, 189–90, 209 Craven, Hawes, 177–8, 181, 182, 193 Cruikshank, George, 137, 216–17, 219, 220, 221–2, 224 D’Annunzio, Gabriele, 105 Darwin, Charles, 52–3, 54 Dean, Basil, 106 Dene, Dorothy, 35–6 Dickens, Charles, 8, 135, 136–7, 150, 164, 221 Donne, William Bodham, 6–7 D’Oyly Carte, Richard, 43, 47
Eastlake, Elizabeth, 196, 209 Elgar, Edward, 106 Eliot, George, 27 ENSA, 105 Faucit, Helen, 33, 169–70 Fitzgerald, Percy, 191, 192, 193, 201 Flint, Kate, 2 Gaiety Theatre, 155 Gaskell, Elizabeth, 137 Gilbert, W.S., 11, 42–57, 64, 101, 160, 233 Gilmartin, Kevin, 9 Gladstone, W.E., 27, 32, 103, 111n37, 235 Godwin, E.W., 36–9, 101, 179, 180–1, 182, 190 Gordon, George, 178–9, 181 Gorki, Maxim, 105 Granville-Barker, Harley, 104–5 Griffith, D.W., 160, 165 Guild of St George, 49, 70, 124–5 Hall, Gaston H., 128–9 Hall, T.W., 29, 33 Hann, Walter, 36, 177, 182 Harker, Joseph, 29, 183 Harris, Augustus, 159, 235 Hauptmann, Gerhart, 105, 108 Hazlewood, Colin, 135–41, 142, 148 Hengler’s Circus, 36, 59–60, 63 Her/His Majesty’s Theatre, 155, 160, 183 Herkomer, Hubert von, 141 Hewison, Robert, 117 Hilton, Tim, 115 Himmelfarb, Gertrude, 150–1 Hogarth, William, 216, 224 Houghton, Walter E., 22 Hughes, Alan, 162–3, 166 Hugo, Victor, 137 Hunt, William Holman, 1, 3, 8, 115, 145 Ibsen, Henrik, 9, 105, 108, 225, 227, 230 Irving, Henry, 10, 24, 28–30, 37, 62, 97, 103, 108, 135, 158–9, 161–3, 165,
166, 176, 179, 181–3, 187–215, 227, 231, 233, 235 Irving, H.B., 29–31 Irving, Laurence, 158, 191, 198, 202, 206, 210, 212n22 James, Henry, 48, 195–6, 201, 203 Jeffries, Maud, 144–5 Jones, Henry Arthur, 104, 105 Jowett, Benjamin, 26 Jowett, William, 107 Kean, Charles, 7, 11, 156–7, 171–4, 176, 177, 178, 217–18 Keats, John, 114 Kendal, Madge, 33 Kestner, Joseph, 22, 23, 39 Klancher, Jon, 9 Langtry, Lillie, 30–1 Leighton, Frederic, 19–22, 23–5, 27, 31–3, 35–6, 37, 46, 141, 190 Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, 4–5 Levine, George, 52 Lewis, Leopold, 103, 197, 199, 201, 233 Liddell, Edith and Alice, 66 Lippi, Filippo, 86–94 Lorrain, Claude, 117 Lunn, Arnold, 48, 50 Lyceum Theatre, 97, 103, 155, 159, 161–2, 166, 176, 188, 190–4, 201, 202–3, 206 Lyric Theatre, 142, 143–6 Lyttelton, Alfred, 97 Lytton, Edward Bulwer, 58, 97, 102 Lytton, Victor Lord, 107 Macready, William Charles, 169–71, 172, 173 Maidment, Brian, 3 Marmontel, François, 121, 124–5 Martin-Harvey, John, 155, 164–5 du Maurier, George, 45–6, 219, 227 Mayne, Leslie, 30 Meiningen Company, 157–9, 162 Meisel, Martin, 4, 8–9, 140, 155 melodrama, 3, 5 Menpes, Mortimer, 191, 192, 197
Index Michelangelo, 20–1, 115, 187 Miles, Bernard, 108 Millais, John Everett, 27, 75, 115, 190 Milton, John, 119 Mitchell, W.J.T., 4–5 Molière, J.B.P., 12, 105, 114–31 Monroe, Marilyn, 187–8, 190 Morley, Henry, 101 Moore, Albert, 19, 23, 25 Morawski, Stefan, 2 Morris, William, 26, 47, 48, 78 Munich, Adrienne Auslander, 23 Neville, Henry, 4–5 New Theatre, 142 Newton, Charles, 31–2 Noble, Peter, 106, 108 Old Vic Theatre, 97, 106–7, 159 Olivier, Laurence, 106–8 Olympic Theatre, 172 pantomime, 13, 58–9, 60–6, 68–70, 100, 135, 142, 143, 146, 148–50, 159, 167, 170–1, 225, 228, 235 Partridge, Bernard, 191, 193, 195, 217 Paul, R.W., 147 Phillip, John, 139 Phillips, Andrew, 177–8 Phillips, Stephen, 162 Poynter, Edward, 20–2, 23–4, 25, 31–2, 34 Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 7–8, 19, 34, 36, 46, 75, 80, 88, 114, 115–16, 120, 121–5, 145, 190, 207 Prince of Wales’s Theatre, 142, 179 Princess’s Theatre, 34–5, 100, 141–3, 159, 163, 171–2, 176 Proust, Marcel, 117–18 Queen Victoria, 103, 164, 171, 221 Raphael, 115 Rembrandt van Rijn, 190 Reynolds, Joshua, 187, 190, 191 Richardson, Ralph, 107 Richmond, William, 27–8 Robertson, Tom, 179 Rodd, Rennell, 27–8
Rojek, Chris, 189 Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 45, 47, 50–1, 75–6, 77–8, 79, 83–4, 87–8, 115 Rowell, George, 159 Royal National Theatre, 97, 108 Ruskin, John – Works Academy Notes, 20, 24, 193–4 Aratra Pentelici, 121 Ariadne Florentina, 19, 88, 89 The Art of England, 19, 25, 42 The Bible of Amiens, 126–7 The Cestus of Aglaia, 19, 45, 211n4 Deucalion, 19, 51 The Eagle’s Nest, 58–9 The Ethics of the Dust, 70 Fiction, Fair and Foul, 128 Fors Clavigera, 10, 48, 58–9, 61–5, 67–70, 115, 122, 124 Lectures on Architecture and Painting, 119 Love’s Meinie, 51 Modern Painters, 50, 74–5, 77–80, 83–4, 98–9, 105, 115, 116, 119, 120, 122 Of Queens’ Garden, 22, 98 The Poetry of Architecture, 115 Praeterita, 50, 62, 99 Proserpina, 19, 51 The Queen of the Air, 19 Roadside Songs of Tuscany, 126 Sesame and Lilies, 22, 68, 117 The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 118 The Stones of Venice, 11, 12, 31, 48, 59, 65, 70, 74, 78, 172, 188 The Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism, 123 Unto This Last, 48 Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 106, 172, 225 Sardou, Victorien, 161, 163, 165 Sargent, John Singer, 191, 193–4, 203, 233 Savoy Theatre, 42–57 Schliemann, Heinrich, 35 Schoch, Richard, 6–7 Scott, Walter, 114, 136–7 Severn, Alfred, 34 Severn, Lily, 68–9 Severn, Joan, 33, 58, 62–3, 66, 69
242 Index Severn, Walter, 34 Shakespeare, William, 7, 24, 26, 97–100, 114, 116, 126, 129, 135, 217–18, 231 Anthony and Cleopatra, 162 Cymbeline, 207 Julius Caesar, 29–31 Macbeth, 162, 193, 203–4 The Merchant of Venice, 11, 99, 103, 161, 169–86 Romeo and Juliet, 28 tercentary celebrations, 103–6 Shaw, Bernard, 104–5, 108, 135, 207–10 Siddons, Sarah, 187, 190, 191 Sims, George R., 142, 159–60, 163 Smith, Jonathan, 6 Solomon, Simeon, 19 Stanislavski, Constantin, 9 Stephens, Walter, 104 Stoker, Bram, 32, 182, 193, 202, 206 Strand Theatre, 142 Sullivan, Arthur, 11, 42–57, 178 Surrey Theatre, 141, 142, 172 Swinburne, Algernon, 45, 47, 51 Syms, Algernon, 144–5 Taylor, Tom, 45, 176–7, 179 Telbin, William, 173, 177–8, 181, 182 Tennyson, Alfred, 27, 33, 159, 195, 197 Terry, Ellen, 10, 28, 37, 103, 179, 181, 182, 187–215 Thackeray, William, 220, 221, 223 Theatre Royal, Covent Garden 104, 169 Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 59–60, 63, 142, 155, 157, 159, 170–1, 225, 235 Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 29, 142, 171, 172 Thorndike, Sybil, 106
Tintoretto, Jacopo, 20, 178, 179 Titian, 178 Todhunter, John, 36 ‘Toga Plays’, 100–2 Tolstoy, Leo, 105 Toole, J.L., 233–5 Touche, Rose La, 86–8 Tree, Herbert Beerbohm, 24, 37, 103, 104, 135, 162, 165, 183 Tree, Maud, 32, 37, 183 Turner, J.M.W., 80, 118, 118–19, 120 University of Cambridge, 26, 51 University of Edinburgh, 26 University of Harvard, 26 University of Oxford, 26–9, 30, 51, 53, 88, 89–90, 97, 123 Vardac, Nicholas, 9 Vasari, Giorgio, 86–7, 89 Venice, 36, 37, 48–50, 54, 59, 86, 169–86 Veronese, Paulo, 190 Vezin, Hermann, 37 Wagner, Leopold, 150 Warhol, Andy, 187–8, 190 Warr, George C., 31–2, 34 Watts, G.F., 31, 33–4, 141, 190 Weltman, Sharon Aronofsky, 77, 115 Whistler, James McNeill, 43–5, 47, 51, 122–3 Wilde, Oscar, 26, 36–8, 45, 47 Wilde, Willie, 26, 32 Wilson, Effingham, 97 Wills, W.G., 101 Wood, Christopher, 19 Wordsworth, William, 67, 114, 115, 120, 121, 123, 128 Zola, Emile, 142