William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

285.

J.P. Kemble, in defence of Macbeth

1786

From Macbeth re-considered; an Essay (1786), 36 pp. A second and much enlarged edition (171 pp.) was published in 1817 with the title Macbeth, and King Richard the Third: An Essay, in answer to Remarks on some of the Characters of Shakespeare. In the advertisement Kemble notes that the passages printed in italics are quotations from Whately.

John Philip Kemble (1757-1823), whose acting career lasted from 1767 to 1817, performed first with Tate Wilkinson’s company on the York circuit, then at Edinburgh and in Ireland, making his London début (as Hamlet) at Drury Lane on 30 September 1783. He acted over 120 roles in nineteen years at Drury Lane, and achieved celebrity with his sister, Mrs Siddons. As theatre manager and producer, first at Drury Lane and subsequently at Covent Garden, he laid especial emphasis on costume and stage settings. As an actor he had many successes, but his affectations of speech detracted from them. On his Shakespeare adaptations see G.C. D. Odell, Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving (New York, 1920, 1966); Harold Child, The Shakespearian Productions of J.P. Kemble (Oxford, 1936: Shakespeare Association lecture); and Herschel Baker, John Philip Kemble. The Actor in his Theatre (Cambridge, Mass., 1942).

Plays are designed, by the joint powers of precept and example, to have a good influence on the lives of men. Enquiries into the conduct of fable in the drama were useless to this end. The regular or irregular disposition of parts in a play is an artificial praise or blame, that can contribute nothing to the improvement or depravation of the mind; for the cause of morality is promoted only when, by a catastrophe resulting from principles natural to the agents who produce it, we are taught to love virtue and abhor vice.

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