Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ William Charles Macready 1793 - 1873

McCready

William Charles Macready, 1793 - 1873

William Charles Macready (1821) engraving by J Thomson after a painting by Samuel Drummond.  [This image is in the public domain]

Moving to from Covent Garden to Drury Lane in 1825, Macready gradually rose in public favour.  One notable success was in the title-role of Sheridan Knowles's William Tell (11 May 1825). In 1826 he completed a successful engagement in the United States, and in 1828 he was in in Paris. Over the following years he played numerous Shakespearean roles. He was responsible, in 1834, and more fully in 1838, for returning the text of King Lear to Shakespeare's text (although in a shortened version), after it had been replaced for more than a hundred and fifty years by Tate's happy-ending adaptation, The History of King Lear.

In 1837 Macready assumed the management of Covent Garden.  He appeared in Robert Browning's Strafford, and in the following year Bulwer's Lady of Lyons and Richelieu. On June 10, 1838 he gave a memorable performance of Henry V, for which Stanfield prepared sketches.

In his management of Covent Garden, which he resigned in 1839, and of Drury Lane, which he held from 1841 to 1843, he found his plans frustrated by the lack of public support. In 1843 he staged Cymbeline.

Macready's performances always displayed fine artistic perceptions developed to a high degree of perfection by very comprehensive culture, and even his least successful personal turns had the interest resulting from thorough intellectual study.

Macready belonged to the school of Kean rather than of Kemble; but, if his tastes were better disciplined and in some respects more refined than those of Kean, his natural temperament did not permit him to give proper effect to the great tragic parts of Shakespeare, King Lear perhaps excepted, which afforded scope for his pathos and tenderness, the qualities in which he specially excelled. With the exception of a voice of good compass and capable of very varied expression, Macready had no especial physical gifts for acting, but the defects of his face and figure cannot be said to have materially affected his success.

When Macready retired, Alfred Tennyson dedicated to him the following verse:

'Farewell, Macready, since to-night we part:
Full-handed thunders often have contest
Thy power well used to move the public breast.
We thank thee with one voice, and from the heart.

Farewell, Macready, since this night we part.
Go take thine honours home; rank with the best;
Garrick, and statelier Kemble, and the rest,
Who made a nation purer through their art.

Thine is it that the drama did not die.
Nor nicker down to brainless pantomime.
And those gilt gauds men-children swarm to see.
Farewell, Macready, moral, grave, sublime,
Our Shakespeare's bland and universal eye
Dwells pleased, thro' twice a hundred years on thee.'


[Based on an article originally published in Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1911.  Copyright expired.]

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Virginius

William Charles Macready in the USA

William Charles Macready as Virginius c. 1843. Artist: Rembrandt Peale (1778 – 1860) Oil on canvas 30 5/32 x 25 9/32 in. (76.6 x 64.2 cm.). Original in the collection of Maryland Historical Society.  [Image in the public domain.]

In 1843-1844 Macready made a prosperous and successful tour in the United States.  This portrait, by the American artist, Rembrandt Peale, was completed during that visit.  (Peale was a noted portrait painter who depicted many of the key american politicians and socialites during his lifetime.)

Macready's second visit to America, in 1849, was marred by a riot.  A favourite of New York City’s upper crust, Macready was to perform Macbeth at the refined Astor Place Opera House on 10th May.  That same night, American-born Edwin Forrest, who started his career in theatres on the nearby Bowery for working-class crowds, was also scheduled to play Macbeth a few blocks away. Once friendly, the actors were now bitter rivals.

On 7th May, Forrest’s fans, whipped up by newspaper stories and anti-English sentiment, arrived at Macready’s opening performance and proceeded to bombard the stage with eggs and shoes.  Macready wanted to go back to Britain, but prominent New Yorkers, like Herman Melville and Washington Irving, persuaded him to stay.

During the 10th May performance about 20,000 men amassed outside the opera house, tossing rocks through windows and attempting to set it on fire.

While police tried to quell the crowd outside, Macready finished the show and departed; the rioters did not. The militia were called in to restore order. They fired on the rioters and innocent bystanders, claiming 23 lives.and the further injuring one hundred persons. This incident added to the ominous reputation of that play.

[Based on an article originally published in Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1911.  Copyright expired.]

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Macready3

William Charles Macready, 1793 - 1873

William Charles Macready (1855), photograph of an original engraving.  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After study at Rugby, it was his intention to go up to Oxford, but in 1809 the embarrassed affairs of his father, the lessee of several provincial theatres, called him to share the responsibilities of theatrical management.

For many of his early years, Macready was rescuing his father from financial difficulties and became involved in the management of his father's theatres throughout the North of England and in Southern Scotland.  In the 1820's he was a regular performer at the Theatre Royal in Dumfries.

On 7thh June 1810 he made a successful first appearance as Romeo at Birmingham. Other Shakespearian parts followed, but a serious rupture between father and son resulted in the young man’s departure for Bath in 1814. Here he remained for two years, with occasional professional visits to other provincial towns.

On 16th September 1816, Macready made his first London appearance at Covent Garden as Orestes in The Distressed Mother, a translation of Racine‘s Andromaque. Macready’s choice of characters was at first confined chiefly to the romantic drama. In 1818 he won a permanent success in Isaac Pocock’s (1782-1835) adaptation of Walter Scott‘s Rob Roy. He showed his capacity for the highest tragedy when he played Richard III at Covent Garden on 25th October 1819.

Transferring his services to Drury Lane, he gradually rose in public favour, his most conspicuous success being in the title role of  James Sheridan Knowles‘s William Tell (1th1 May 1825). In 1826 he completed a successful engagement in the United States, and in 1828 his performances met with a very flattering reception in Paris.

Already Macready had done something to encourage the creation of a modern English drama, and after entering on the management of Covent Garden in 1837 he introduced Robert Browning's Strafford, and in the following year Edward Bulwer Lytton‘s Lady of Lyons and Richelieu, the principal characters in which were among his most effective parts.  On 10th June, 1838 he gave a memorable performance of Henry V, for which Stanfield prepared sketches, and the mounting was superintended by Edward Bulwer Lytton, Charles Dickens, John Forster, Daniel Maclise, W J Fox and other friends.

The first production of Edward Bulwer Lytton‘s Money took place under the artistic direction of Count D’Orsa on 8th December 1840, Macready winning unmistakable success in the character of Alfred Evelyn. Both in his management of Covent Garden, which he resigned in 1839, and of Drury Lane, which he held from 1841 to 1843, he found his designs for the elevation of the stage frustrated by the absence of adequate public support.

Macready took leave of the stage in a farewell performance of Macbeth at Drury Lane on 26th February 1851.

The remainder of his life was spent in happy retirement, and he died at Cheltenham on 27th April 1873. He had married, in 1823, Catherine Frances Atkins (d. 1852). Of a numerous family of children only one son and one daughter survived. In 1860 he married Cecile Louise Frederica Spencer (1827-1908), by whom he had a son.

William Charles Macready was a patient of homeopath Frederick Hervey Foster Quin, and he was also a patient of John Elliotson.

[Text based on an article in Wikipedia and on the Theatre Database.]


Top    ~   Macready Anecdotes  ~  Acting with Mrs. Siddons as Lady Randolph (1811-12)  ~  Macready rehearses and acts with Sarah Siddons  ~  Macready at Kean's Funeral


 

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