100-9089-8079-7069-6059-50 49-40 • 39-30 • 29-2019-1110-1


John Gielgud (1904-2000) had not been seen in an untried Shakespearean role in twelve years (when he made his only attempt at Shylock in his 1938 production of The Merchant of Venice) when he was invited to come to Stratford in 1950 to play King Lear (a role he had previously played in 1931 and 1940), Benedick (in a revival of a production he directed at Stratford the previous year starring Anthony Quayle as Benedick, a role Gielgud played in 1931) and to make his debut performances as Cassius in Julius Caesar and Angelo in Measure for Measure. The opening production of that memorable season was Measure for Measure, and directed by Peter Brook (pictured at rehearsals with Gielgud and Stratford Artistic Director Anthony Quayle) was hailed not only as a triumph for Gielgud, but is still written up in theatre history books as the greatest mounting of the play ever achieved.

Gielgud considered his steely, Puritanical Angelo (described by T.C. Worsley as "discovering new depths of feeling and ranges of voice') to be one of his greatest successes, writing "it was a great milestone in the second half of my career." Previously regarded only as a poetic, romantic actor prior to that production, Measure for Measure opened a floodgate of new possibilities for Gielgud in unsympathetic, middle-aged roles. Yet despite the enormous success he received as Angelo, it proved to be the one role of that landmark season that he would never play again (essaying King Lear for a final time in a controversial production designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi in 1955, reviving Benedick throughout the 1950s in London and New York, and immortalizing his Cassius in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's brilliant 1953 film), despite several attempts to revive his performance. But, as Gielgud summed up in a 1963 letter, "Measure is no good without an equal star [as the Duke] and Peter Brook," so he was never again given an opportunity to present his magnificent Angelo.

The 1983/84 Royal Shakespeare Company season provided Derek Jacobi with one of the greatest showcases ever given an actor with the massive roles of Peer Gynt, Prospero in The Tempest, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. He won an Evening Standard Award for his work over the entire season and the Laurence Oliver Award for his Cyrano, but when he took Cyrano and Much Ado on a North American tour, it was his masterful Benedick (beautifully matched by the glorious Beatrice of Sinead Cusack and a hilarious - and sadly underrated - Christopher Benjamin as Dogberry) that received the most attention, winning Jacobi the Tony Award as Best Actor in a Play (the first actor in a Shakespearean role to win the award in that category). Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote "It's hilarious to watch Mr. Jacobi, who has piously mocked Claudio's romantic ardor 10 minutes earlier, rack his brain to find any convenient excuse for his sudden change of heart. By the time he grabs at his final rationalization - 'The world must be peopled' - he has about-faced so many times he's spinning. When he emerges later in full romantic plumage - a red cape matched by the rose he daintily carries in his hand - the deadpan understatement 'I am not as I have been' becomes a tumultuous punchline."

Jacobi later disclosed that he was on the verge of a crushing case of stage fright under the burden of playing Prospero, Peer Gynt, Cyrano and Benedick all within the course of a single season, but he confessed "In the end it was Much Ado that saved me. I was cast opposite Sinéad Cusack, who has this wonderful Irish fire; you have to be on your mettle playing against her. Rehearsals were wonderful – the dialogue between Beatrice and Benedick is so much fun to play....On the first night I was rigid with nerves, but somehow got through it, and it went from there. I went on to play other parts – I’ve played Hamlet nearly 400 times now, I think – but it all restarted with Benedick. He was the one who got me through."

Undoubtedly the best actor in England between Burbage and Garrick, Thomas Betterton (1635-1710), was trained in the role of Hamlet by William Davenant, "having seen Mr. (Joseph) Taylor of the Blackfriars Company act it, who being instructed by the author Mr. Shakespeare, he taught Mr. Betterton every part of it." Davenant, who claimed to be an illegitimate son of Shakespeare's, was granted one of the first two Royal patents (along with Thomas Killigrew) for producing theatre in London, recruited Betterton for his company in 1661 as its star attraction, and Betterton had no serious rivals during his lifetime. "It's beyond imagination," whispered Samuel Pepys to his companion whilst watching Betterton's Hamlet in 1661. "Mr Betterton is the best actor in the world." Colley Cibber described him as "an actor, as Shakespeare was an author, both without competitors! form'd for the mutual assistance, and illustration of each other's genius!"

Betterton was known for his remarkable versatility, playing at least 120 parts in his career and being equally happy in character roles as dramatic heroes. After Hamlet, his most successful portrayal was Toby Belch in Twelfth Night but he was also acclaimed for his interpretations of Henry VIII, Macbeth, and Othello. He took over management of the company after Killigrew's death, but he had only sporadic success in that capacity and eventually gave it up to concentrate exclusively on acting. He was also a playwright whose most popular work was an adaptation of Henry IV in which he debuted in as Hotspur but which enjoyed such a long stage life that he eventually recast himself as Falstaff.

Michael Redgrave (1908-1985) first gained notoriety in John Gielgud's legendary Queen's Theatre season of 1937/38, with his performances as Bolingbroke in Richard II and Baron Tusenbach in The Three Sisters leading to a film contract and international stardom in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. But theatre remained a central part of his work and his performances as Hamlet, Macbeth, Prospero, and King Lear gained him a reputation as the most intellectual actor of his generation. His first appearance at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as Richard II in 1951 received mixed reviews, but he returned in 1953 to play Antony in Antony and Cleopatra and enjoyed one of the greatest successes of Stratford's landmark decade. The production opened at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and created such a sensation that it went on to tour Europe and finally returned to London for a run. Both Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft as Cleopatra enjoyed personal successess in a production, and within a decade that both Laurence Olivier and Godfrey Tearle had made their marks as Antony, the London Times described the Redgrave/Ashcroft staging as "nearer to perfection than any in living memory."

Redgrave's career continued to ascend in the 1960s, most memorably in the title role of Laurence Olivier's production of Uncle Vanya during Chichester Festival Theatre's opening season and later as part of the Royal National Theatre's inaugural season, winning Redgrave the Evening Standard Best Actor Award. Regrettably, he suffered severe health problems during the 1970s which caused his memory to fail, and his final stage performance was in a nonspeaking role in Simon Gray's Close of Play at the National in 1979.

Vanessa Redgrave was only 24 year old junior member of the Stratford Memorial Theatre when she burst to the forefront of the acting profession with her unforgettable performance of Rosalind in Michael Elliott’s production at Stratford-upon-Avon. She gave a depth to the character that had rarely been glimpsed before, and her natural sexiness and vulnerability enchanted audiences and critics and inspired RSC Art Director Peter Hall to describe her performance in his memoirs as "a rush of sunlight," and The Sunday Times wrote "Miss Redgrave...smiles away all problems, striking a silver note unheard on our stage for years; a note which sings of radiance without effort, of an unrestrained charity." Bernard Levin wrote "The naturalness of her playing, the passionate, breathless conviction of it, the depth of feeling and the breadth of reality - this is not acting at all, but living, being, loving."

After the achievement of her Rosalind, Redgrave was able to forge her own path to shape her career. She gave legendary performances on stage as Nina in The Seagull, The title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Evening Standard Award), and Mary Tyrone in Long Days Journey into Night (Tony Award) while also pursuing a successful film and television career in Camelot, Isadora, Julia (Academy Award), Playing for Time (Emmy Award), and Howard's End, even while frequently polarizing her audience with her outspoken radical political views. But for all her subsequent fame and success, Redgrave was never able to approach the unexpectedness or vigor of her Rosalind. Unlike many actresses who returned to the role in middle age, Redgrave chose to let her 1961 performance stand in eternal youth until 1995, when she recreated the role on record at the age of 58. Listening to it, it's as though nary a day has passed by.

John Gielgud's (1904-2000) long association with Julius Caesar began when he was a twelve year old schoolboy in 1916 and played Mark Antony in scenes from the play with such conviction that his performance reportedly reduced at least one parent to tears. He played Antony again in 1931 at the Old Vic Theatre, and returned to the play in the title role of the lackluster 1970 film version and in the 1977 National Theatre staging, which proved to be his final Shakespearean performance in live theatre. His most famous association with the play, of course, was for his performance as Cassius which he first played at the Memorial Theatre at Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1950 and immortalized in the 1953 MGM film. He was initially offered the role of Brutus in the Stratford production (along with Angelo in Measure for Measure, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and King Lear) but opted for the more soldierly Cassius, feeling at the time that it was the strongest role in the play. He later came to regret the decision, being at odds with director Anthony Quayle's approach to the part and ultimately deciding that the production was the lone unenjoyable experience of his triumphant Stratford season. Critics and audiences disagreed, as the staging was the greatest popular success of the four he appeared in and critics lauded his Cassius as one of his finest creations, with the Times gushing "Gielgud's burning sincerity makes Brutus and even Mark Antony seem puny by comparison."

Among the audience members for that 1950 Stratford season was director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who came to see Paul Scofield play Don Pedro in Gielgud's production of Much Ado with an idea of casting him as Mark Antony in his planned film of Julius Caesar in case Marlon Brando's screen test was not successful. Scofield's services were ultimately not required for the film, but Mankiewicz was so impressed with Gielgud's Benedick that he offered him the role of Cassius. Gielgud disliked filming in the past and had appeared in only one in the past decade (as Disraeli in 1941's The Prime Minister), but the salary he was offered was too attractive to pass up and Gielgud agreed to appear in his first Hollywood super-production. Brando especially benefited from Gielgud's presence, asking the great Shakespearean to coach him in the role and delivering a surprisingly powerful and effective performance (Gielgud was, in turn, so impressed by Brando that he offered to direct him in a theatre production of Hamlet, a proposal that was sadly turned down), winning an Academy Award nomination. James Mason was even more impressive as Brutus, winning the Best Actor Award from the National Board of Review, but the outstanding performance of the film is Gielgud's Cassius. Variety wrote "John Gielgud, as the 'lean and hungry' Cassius is superb. The English actor portrays the chief conspirator with sympathetic understanding," and Gielgud went on to win a BAFTA Award for his performance.

Even with his success as Cassius, Gielgud ultimately decided that the role he really coveted was Brutus. He made several attempts to launch a production of the play with himself in the role in the 1960s, at one point writing to Laurence Olivier suggesting a staging at the Royal National Theatre with Gielgud as Brutus, Ralph Richardson as Cassius, and Olivier in the title role. It proved to be just wishful thinking on Gielgud's part, but an intriguing idea that regretably never came to pass.

Derek Jacobi is among the most accomplished Shakespearean actors of the twentieth century, having first achieved recognition as a founding member of Laurence Olivier's National Theatre Company, notably as Laertes opposite Peter O'Toole's Hamlet in the company's premiere production in 1963, and later as Michael Cassio opposite Olivier's Othello. He played Hamlet at the age of 18 for the England Youth Theatre at the Edinburgh Festival, but didn't return to the role until he was 39 years old in the Prospect Theatre Company production of 1978. Jacobi created a sensation in the part, playing Hamlet over 300 times and taking it to such far corners as China and (following the tradition started by Tyrone Guthrie and Laurence Olivier in 1937) Kronberg Castle in Elsinore, where the play is set. Ned Chaillet of the London Times wrote "Mr. Jacobi builds a vigilant Hamlet. He is not restrained by conscience or doubt from killing Claudius and claiming his throne, but the only weapons he is free to use are irony and an aggressive mockery. This Hamlet is passionate, methodical and quick-witted, and might, most unusually among Hamlets, have proved most loyal, had he become king."

Derek Jacobi's Hamlet might have faded into the pages of theatrical history books had he not achieved international stardom in the title role of the BBC miniseries I, Claudius. The acclaim of Jacobi's stage performance combined with his newfound television celebrity made him the natural choice to play Hamlet in the BBC's ambitious Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare television series. Aided by memorable performances from Claire Bloom as Gertrude and Eric Porter as Polonius, and a remarkable one by his I, Claudius costar Patrick Stewart as Claudius, Jacobi's passionate Dane is the greatest performance of the role ever captured on film, light years beyond Laurence Olivier's wooden and overrated depiction in his 1948 film. Cecil Smith wrote in The Los Angeles Times wrote "Inside the prince, as the soliloquies reveal, Jacobi's Hamlet is a cauldron of intellectual conflict - his soldier's militancy in deadly battle with his student philosophy. Shaw once said that Hamlet, born to military barbarism and heir to a blood feud, was incapable of conventional revenge 'because he had evolved into a Christian without knowing it' - and Jacobi's Hamlet, more than any I have seen, seems to bear this out. What he is not is the traditional melancholy Dane. Jacobi, who looms as one of the English-speaking theater's most interesting actors, gives us a Hamlet of great charm and wit, capable of wonderfully funny badinage with the grave digger - changing instantly into deep compassion over the skull of poor Yorick. It's a performance that is varied and inventive and highly intelligent."

Jacobi returned to the play in 1988, directing his protégé Kenneth Branagh in his first attempt at the title role at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1988. Branagh returned the favor by casting his mentor as the Chorus in his masterful film of Henry V in 1989. They continued the partnership in 1996, with Jacobi contributing an ineffective performance as Claudius in Branagh's overlong, pretentious film of Hamlet that featured monumentally awful performances by movie stars like Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal and Gérard Depardieu (as well as a jarring, nonspeaking cameo by the century's greatest Hamlet, John Gielgud). Jacobi would continue to give remarkable performances in such films as Gladiator and Gosford Park, and on television in Inside the Third Reich and Emmy Award-winning turns in the TV movie The Tenth Man and a delightfully memorable guest appearance on the sitcom Frasier as a terrible Shakespearean actor. The part must have been a stretch for Jacobi, who continues to be best known for his work on the Shakespearean stage; winning a Laurence Olivier Award in 2009 for his performance as Malvolio in Twelfth Night

The illustrious Peter Brook directed Laurence Olivier (1907 -1989) on only two occasions. They were constantly at odds in the first, a disappointing 1953 film of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, so there was little hope that their collaborating on Shakespeare's gruesome and rarely-performed Grand Guignol Titus Andronicus would yield promising results. But Brook cut and rearranged the text to produce a high tragedy, and his stylized staging mitigated the brutality of the play somewhat (although ambulances were kept at the ready to assist the many audience members who fainted at the sight of the onstage atrocities), resulting in one of the most important theatrical productions of the 1950s. "The two occasions when I worked with Larry touched two extremes," said Brook, quoted in Olivier by Robert Tanitch. "In one case - The Beggar's Opera - we never agreed at any moment on anything - the result was a battlefield - and the work that emerged was bad for both of us. The second time - Titus Andronicus - we came together reluctantly and to our astonishment found ourselves in immediate harmony. So we did good work together."

Following hard upon the heels of his landmark performance as Macbeth, Olivier's Titus Andronicus was hailed as one of the great tragic impersonations in theatre history. "Sir Laurence's Titus," wrote Kenneth Tynan in a famous review in The Observer, "even with one hand gone, is a five finger exercise transformed into an unforgettable concerto of grief. This is a performance which ushers us into the presence of one who is, pound for pound, the greatest actor alive. As usual, he raises one's hair with the risks he takes. Titus enters not as a beaming hero but as a battered veteran, stubborn and shambling, long past caring about the people's cheers. A hundred campaigns have tanned his heart to leather, and from the cracking of that heart, there issues a terrible music, not untinged by madness. One hears great cries, which, like all of this actor's best effects, seem to have dredged up from an ocean-bed of fatigue."

After the success of the Olivier/Brook collaboration, the play sank back into relative obscurity and tarnished reputation (in the short story The Condemned, Woody Allen muses "Even the works of Shakespeare will disappear when the universe burns out - not such a terrible thought, of course, when it comes to a play like Titus Andronicus, but what about the others?") until Julie Taymor staged a revolutionary Off-Broadway production in 1994 for Theatre for a New Audience featuring a masterful performance by Robert Stattel as Titus, and adapted into the electrifying 1999 film Titus starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role with particularly marvelous performances by Alan Cumming as Saturninus (pictured with Hopkins) and Harry Lennix as Aaron. The end of the universe may have some surprises yet.

James Earl Jones is a phenomenally versatile actor, having achieved outstanding Shakespearean successes as Caliban, King Lear, Coriolanus, Oberon, and Claudius (for which he won a Drama Desk Award), as well as triumphs in non-classical works like The Great White Hope (Tony Award), The Iceman Cometh, The Cherry Orchard, Paul Robeson, Fences (Tony Award), and On Golden Pond (Tony nomination). But his regal bearing and singular basso profundo voice made him a definitive Othello, first essaying the role at the Manistee Summer Theater in his native Michigan in the late 1950s, and later performing the jealous Moor at the Delacorte Theatre in New York, Off-Broadway at the Martinique Theater (Drama Desk Award), the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles (pictured), the American Shakespeare Theater at Stratford, Connecticut, and finally for 126 performances on Broadway opposite Christopher Plummer as Iago, Dianne Wiest as Desdemona, and Kelsey Grammer as Cassio in 1982.

Jones was the Othello of his generation as assuredly as Paul Robeson was of his, and the New York Times review of Jones' Broadway performance inevitably drew comparisons between the two actors. "Mr. Jones always was a big actor even when playing such small roles as the Prince of Morocco. His voice, as moviegoers know from the Darth Vader echo chamber, is a booming baritone. Could Robeson have been more resonant? Mr. Jones's barrel-chested bearing gives him a monarchical presence. We can envision him conquering kingdoms as well as winning Desdemonas, and when he begins his pursuit of that incriminating handkerchief, the search soon becomes an obsession. Between his 'Othellos,' Mr. Jones has played 'King Lear,' and there is more than a touch of Lear in his final madness, as he brings the world crashing down on himself."

Jones was offered the opportunity to immortalize his Othello for television in the BBC series of the entire Shakespeare canon but British Equity intervened, insisting that a British actor take the role. This resulted in a hopelessly miscast Anthony Hopkins floundering about unconvincingly as the Moor instead of giving us a permanent record of Jones in the role he seemed to be born to play. Jones had his own experience of miscasting in what may be his final Shakespearean role; taking on Benedick at the age of 82 opposite the Beatrice of 76 year old Vanessa Regrave in a critically eviscerated production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic that can be charitably described as "experimental." It was an unfortunate closing chapter to a glorious Shakespearean career.

Samuel Phelps (1804-1879) made his debut as Shylock in London at the Haymarket Theatre in 1837 and appeared under the management of William Charles Macready at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, who saw him immediately as a potential rival and gave him few opportunities to shine. It wasn't until Phelps left Macready's employ and set up shop as the first manager to take advantage of the abolition of the Patent monopoly which allowed more theatres to apply for licenses to perform drama, that he became a star. Phelps staged all but four of Shakespeare's plays during his progressive and influential management of the Sadler's Wells theatre from 1844 to 1862 and counted Falstaff, Hamlet, Macbeth, Wolsey, Leontes, and Bottom among his greatest roles but he was considered the finest Lear of his generation. Bell's Weekly Messenger wrote "The majesty, as well as the paternal tenderness of Lear, is preserved throughout; the grief, despair, and madness are kingly; and the business which the action inspires is heightened by the consciousness of the greatness of the mind that is suffering."

As with all of Phelps' productions at Sadler's Wells, the premiere performance of his Lear in 1845 was the first to show adherence to Shakespeare's original text since the Restoration, eschewing the changes and "improvements" of Nahum Tate's popular adaptation The History of King Lear (which included a happy ending, the elimination of Lear's Fool, and a love story subplot between Edgar and Cordelia) which had dominated the English stage since the late 17th century. Phelps was held in high esteem by his colleagues and the most famous portrait of him (as as Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare's Henry VIII) was painted by his friend and fellow actor Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson, and now hangs in the Garrick Club in London. Phelps even showed no ill will towards his old task master Macready when the latter was preparing to perform at a major benefit as Wolsey and sent a letter asking his old employee to play opposite him as Henry VIII. Phelps immediately responded "Yes, yes, and a resounding YES!!!"

100-9089-8079-7069-6059-5049-40 • 39-30 • 29-2019-1110-1