Transcript of the video 'Playing Shakespeare'
19 May 2016, National Library of Scotland
Good afternoon, and welcome to the National Library of Scotland.
I'm Andrew Martin, and I work in our General Collections team here, as the Curator for Literature and the Arts.
Thanks for coming this afternoon, for what will be a brief matinee performance of Shakespearean actors and acting, a star-packed pageant of famous names and faces of the theatrical past and a little bit of the present, too.
I am the lead curator on our display 'Playing Shakespeare: 400 years of great acting', and my talk this afternoon will follow the plot of the display, with the same cast and settings.
I think it's fair to say that I started the prep for this display and indeed for this talk in 1964, which as you will recall was the 400th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare — and as the 'Annandale Herald' for July 1964 (here in the National Library of Scotland) confirms I won 'Most original' in the Moffat Gala fancy dress competition for being Shakespeare.
I won't describe my costume to you now, but it came from a large number of family members. I recall, actually, winning the 'Best dressed', but the newsprint confirmed the facts, and I looked at that this week just to check.
Of course it is impossible to do justice to Shakespeare on stage in one talk — that really would require a book… well, more than one book — a whole library of books, in fact, and I am sure you will find them here in the National Library of Scotland.
So I'm hoping this afternoon that it may inspire you to look a wee bit further.
In 'A midsummer night's dream', you will recall, Puck put a girdle round the Earth in 40 minutes, and I will see if I can manage it in 50.
Today's talk is, of course, a celebration of the work of William Shakespeare who died 400 years ago. And I feel at this point I should seek inspiration from the man himself: 'O for a Muse of fire', etc.
Well, we can see what we can do. So, we'll ring up the curtain.
So, let us start with the man himself, the Bard of Avon, born on 23 April 1564 and died on 23 April 1616.
We know, of course, that he was an actor. In 1623 when the First Folio of his works was published — that's the complete works — Shakespeare's name comes first in the list of the principal actors. But we don't really know very much about his life, far less his acting career.
We do know he was paid as an actor at Elizabeth I's court in 1594, and there are non-contemporary references from the diarist John Aubrey and others about him being an actor. Was he perhaps one of the English players who came to Perth, very close to Birnam, in the 1580s, for example? But we really know practically nothing about what parts he played.
Some scholars do believe that there is evidence he acted till close to the end of his life in 1616, but was Shakespeare a star on the stage?
[image: 'Every man out of his humour']
This is a book from our collections published 400 years ago — not by Shakespeare but by his friend and fellow dramatist Ben Johnson. It is his play 'Every man out of his humour'. On the left hand side you can see information on the cast, the actors who originally played it, in 1598. Here's a close-up.
[image: Cast list]
It is a distinguished cast, and see who is billed first. And the principal comedians are — headed by Shakespeare, there is Richard Burbage and, further down, Will Kemp.
The star dramatic actor in Shakespeare's company was Richard Burbage, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet's father — a striking cameo for a star writer. Not many lines to learn, but a big impression to be made.
But here are three actors that we do know were Shakespeare players.
[image: Burbage, Kempe, Armin]
Left to right — Richard Burbage, Will Kemp, and Robert Armin.
Richard Burbage was born in 1568 and died in 1619. His family were in the theatrical business too, and his father James was an actor. Furthermore, James Burbage built one of the very first theatres in London, in 1576. It was called 'The Theatre' and lasted for 20 years — so was probably the venue for many of Shakespeare's early plays.
Burbage and Shakespeare had a long association and it's not fanciful to suggest that Burbage was Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Pericles, as well as Romeo and Macbeth. And it is an enviable resumé.
If Burbage was the key dramatic interpreter of Shakespeare, then Will Kemp — here in the middle dancing his famous jig in 1600 (he danced from London to Norwich in nine days) — was a comic actor, a clown, a national celebrity.
Kemp was certainly working with Shakespeare, and he may have played Lance in 'The Two Gentleman of Verona', the nurse's servant Peter in 'Romeo and Juliet', and possibly taken the famous role of Sir John Falstaff in the two parts of 'Henry IV' and 'The merry wives of Windsor' — possibly Bottom in 'A midsummer night's dream'. Dogberry in 'Much ado about nothing' seems very likely.
Kemp left Shakespeare's company in 1599 and seems to have died in 1603, and his successor in comic roles appears to have been Robert Armin, born in the early 1560s too. And he may have inherited Kemp's early comic roles, and added Touchstone in 'As you like it', Feste in 'Twelfth Night', and King Lear's fool. He may have been the gravedigger in 'Hamlet', the Porter in 'Macbeth', and Autolycus in 'The winter's tale'.
Robert Armin was more than an actor, though — he wrote as well, and the image here is from our copy of his 1609 play 'The two maids of More-clacke'
[image: Burbage, Kempe, Armin]
[image: Globe theatre etc]
I'm sure you're very familiar with these early 17th century images of the South Bank of London and the theatres, including the famous Globe.
The Globe was built in 1599, reusing the timbers of the previous theatre in Shoreditch. One of the earliest productions was 'Julius Caesar' — we know that —and one of the most spectacular was Shakespeare's 'Henry VIII' in 1613, where a cannon ignited the thatch and the whole theatre burned down within an hour. We also know that one unlucky gentleman had his breeches set on fire, but these were luckily extinguished by some ale that was handy.
The Globe was rebuilt in 1614 and lasted for another 30 years, till the site was sold to a property developer who built flats. But later residents of the site maintained that there were still visible ruins of the famous Wooden O there.
But this image is of a different theatre altogether.
[image: 'The Wits']
This is historically very important, because it is the earliest known depiction of a Shakespeare character — of more than one, in fact.
It is from a book called 'The wits' published in 1662, and apparently depicts the interior of the Red Bull Playhouse in Clerkenwell in London.
The Shakespeare characters down the left hand side are Sir John Falstaff and Mistress Quickly from 'Henry VI' — IV, sorry.
Theatres were closed from 1642, and only short skits or drolls were allowed, but Falstaff appears to have remained in the affections of audiences. Though not with Samuel Pepys, who saw 'The merry wives of Windsor' three times between 1660 and 1667 and never liked it: Sir John Falstaff, he wrote in his diary — 'as bad as any'.
[image: Kynaston and Hughes]
Pepys, of course, is the chronicler of the Restoration and of theatre-going from 1660, when the theatres re-opened — with one important change.
Here we have, in this slide, the last of the boy actors and the first of the female actors — or certainly one of the first actresses.
As you will know, there were no females on Shakespeare's stage.
And Edward Kynaston, in the Restoration period, had a long career as an actor, born in 1643, and he died in 1712. At the time of the Restoration he was playing women to much acclaim. Pepys said he was ‘the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life'. But later in his career he was playing Henry IV.
Who actually was the first woman was on the British stage is unclear. There are several candidates. This is Margaret Hughes, and she may have been the first woman on stage, and the first in Shakespeare, playing Desdemona in 'Othello' in December 1660. For what it is worth, in Pepys's eyes she was 'a mighty pretty woman'.
[image: Thomas Betteron portrait]
The late 17th century was not necessarily a good time for actresses in Shakespeare in any case. The romantic comedies that we associate with actresses now were out of favour, as were some of what we would think of as the heavyweight roles, such as Cleopatra. They had all been re-written to suit the age. They were not Shakespeare's original roles.
But one male actor triumphed and he was still playing Hamlet when he was over 70. This is Thomas Betterton. He was around 25 when Pepys saw him for the first time as Hamlet in August 1661, and he wrote he acted the part 'beyond imagination'.
He was an astonishingly versatile actor, and even taking into account that sometimes he was playing adapted texts. He was famed for his Othello, his Macbeth, for Henry VIII — where apparently he followed the Holbein portrait. He was famous as Brutus in 'Julius Caesar', and for the scene-stealing roles of Hotspur, Mercutio (in 'Romeo and Juliet'), and even Sir Toby Belch. So he was a versatile player.
[image: Hamlet scene]
This is important too — it's the very first illustrated edition of Shakespeare, edited by the then Poet Laureate, Nicholas Rowe, in 1709.
We have a full collection of the 1709 editions of the plays here at the Library. It's a wonderful collection. They all have an illustration by Francois Boitard, but I chose Hamlet here to show Thomas Betterton in his most famous role.
For this illustration does appear to illustrate what an audience would have seen when Betterton played the role — in what was then, of course, modern dress.
Betterton's Hamlet is to the left here, Gertrude in the middle, and the Ghost (Hamlet's father) in full armour. Note the upset chair which was a noted part of the stage business at the time, when Hamlet got very upset in the closet scene here.
Betterton naturally had a ruddy complexion, and it was said when he saw the ghost of his father on stage that his face went the colour of his white shirt.
When he died in 1710 Betterton became the first actor to be buried in Westminster Abbey. That shows his status.
[image: David Garrick]
The 18th century, though, is represented by David Garrick, very much the dominating star of his age. He made a sensational debut as Richard III in a suburban playhouse in 1741, when he was only 24.
And he associated with writers — Samuel Johnson, for example, was a life-long friend (they were both from Lichfield) — and artists, and was much painted. I think it has been said that there was only one man in England had been painted more than David Garrick, and that was King George.
From descriptions we know that he was not particularly tall and he had a slight stature, but his eyes were expressive, and his facial expressions mobile. He was a mimic, energetic, speedy. George III said: 'He never could stand still. He was a great fidget.'
[image: Garrick, Hamlet]
Here's Garrick in two of his most famous roles. On the left we have him on the stage at Drury Lane in London, as Hamlet confronting the ghost of his father. And in this scene apparently in some productions he used a mechanical wig so his hair literally did stand up on end. And on the right we have him in the role of Macbeth, caught red-handed with the daggers.
In recognition of his staging of 27 Shakespeare plays at Drury Lane, the corporation of Stratford-upon-Avon — Shakespeare's birthplace, of course — bestowed on Garrick the freedom of the borough, and it was sealed in a box made from the mulberry tree that grew in Shakespeare's garden.
And in return Garrick planned a Jubilee celebration for Shakespeare in September 1769, with a grand procession of characters from the plays and fireworks and banquets, etc., etc., — although there were no actual plays performed. But alas, in September 1769 the weather was against them and the procession was cancelled. Nevertheless the showman Garrick transferred the spectacle to London where it played for 91 triumphant performances on the stage at Drury Lane — and David Garrick played Benedick in the procession. And in all of that work with Shakespeare and Stratford, Garrick had done his bit in making Shakespeare a recognised national icon.
In 1776, close on 60, he retired from the stage with a series of farewell performances, including Hamlet, Benedick and King Lear, and he died three years later.
[image: Sarah Siddons]
If Garrick was the leading male actor and actor manager of the mid-18th century, then Sarah Siddons was unquestionably the undisputed Queen of the theatre in the latter part of the 18th century.
Like Garrick she was adored by writers and artists, and like him her likeness became a familiar one to people who would never have seen her in the flesh. And in the 18th century players like Siddons and Garrick became the superstars, the celebrities of the time.
Here is Sarah Siddons, née Kemble — as 'The Tragic Muse', painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1784 — and peeking over her shoulders are Pity and Terror.
She was born in 1755 and came from a theatrical family of strolling players. She was the eldest of 12 young Kembles, and all the Kembles went on the stage, with varying success. As a child she played Ariel in 'The Tempest', and she became a London star in 1782, and from then on to her retirement her stately repertoire included Volumnia in 'Coriolanus', Constance in the then popular 'King John' and, above all, as Lady Macbeth.
She played Hamlet too, but not regularly the parts which other leading actresses have charmed in — she didn't play regularly Juliet or Rosalind, Viola, or Beatrice. And she didn't play Cleopatra either — and that's because Shakespeare's version had suffered compared to Dryden's 'All for love'.
[image: Sarah Siddons]
Here is Siddons in action in a production which also starred three of her brothers — John Philip, Charles, and Stephen Kemble.
Here perhaps is a suggestion of the black flashing eyes that people talk about. She was not tall, but graceful and dignified, and her voice was described as melodious, clear, and thrilling. And it's worthwhile remembering now that she was able to project into a vast theatre like Drury Lane — which had over 3,500 seats.
She was devoted to her art and the public responded accordingly.
She announced her retirement from the stage in 1812, when she was in her late 50s, which seems perhaps a little young, in modern terms, but there were reports of ill health, and problems, perhaps, re: her weight.
[image: Siddons as Lady Macbeth]
In her final season she played her greatest triumphs again and ended with Lady Macbeth, which is this part here. The enthusiastic audience demanded that the play should end with the sleepwalking scene… and so it did.
[image: image: 'Coriolanus' cover]
This modest little paperback — and it is a modest little paperback — dates from 1812. For sixpence the educated reader in Edinburgh could purchase a series of Shakespeare plays published by Oliver and Boyd, the well-known firm. We have many of these little books in the collections here, but I have chosen this particular one — as it says, 'as performed at the Theatre Royals, Drury Lane and Covent Garden' — for a particular reason.
This is John Philip Kemble, the younger brother of Sarah Siddons, born 1757 — so a little bit younger — and for a time the leading Shakespeare actor of his time, and also the leading theatre manager of the time, at both Drury Lane and Covent Garden in London — the great London houses.
And here he is, of course, in the title role of Coriolanus. This engraving looks very much like a famous painting of Kemble in the role, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. And Sir Thomas Lawrence appears to have specialised in making the Kemble brother and sister (Mrs Siddons as well) look dark and majestic. And he also painted Sarah as Lady Macbeth.
Like Sarah Siddons, Kemble was dignified, tragically impressive — and he was splendid. Sir Walter Scott said he was 'tall and stately, his person on a scale suited for the stage — and almost too large for a private apartment'. As well as Coriolanus, he played Macbeth and Hamlet, Prospero, and Lear and Cardinal Wolsey.
As was normal practice at the time, he rewrote Shakespeare to suit his own interpretation — many others had done that before, including Garrick — and he apparently put 240 extras on the stage for Coriolanus. When Kemble as the hero died, Sir Walter Scott also reported, women in the audience screamed.
[image: Edmund Kean]
Kemble retired in 1817, at a time when his supremacy on stage had been threatened by a younger and much less dignified player, Edmund Kean, born 1787.
It is possible that Kean was on the stage of Drury Lane before he was 10, in John Philip Kemble's production of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'.
Edmund Kean had acted from an early age, like so many other actors of the time — and he had been billed as 'the celebrated theatrical child, Edmund Carey [which was his previous name], not eleven years old'. That's how he was billed in 1801, when he was actually more like 14. He was a slight child, he was dark, and as a short and stocky young adult he was touring the provinces, till he made a sensational London debut as Shylock in 'The merchant of Venice' in January 1814 at Drury Lane.
Within weeks — which seems almost unimaginable now — he had added Richard III to his repertoire, then Othello, and Iago as well, and Hamlet. In the next season he played Macbeth, Romeo, and Richard II. He was a phenomenal success.
These images here show him in character as Macbeth on the left-hand side and as a typically full-blooded Richard III on the other side.
Kean was also the classic case of the actor who coped with sudden success and attention by self-medication with alcohol, with drugs, and he also frequently employed prostitutes backstage at Drury Lane — not in speaking roles, I should say.
He sought refuge on the Isle of Bute, which must have seemed a very long way away from Covent Garden. He bought an estate there, and he kept a lion as a pet. That's what stars do.
Meanwhile there was a little Kean, Charles, born 1811. And he had made his debut as an actor, too. There are a lot of family names around in the theatre history as you see. And it was when Edmund Kean was playing Othello to his son's Iago that Edmund Kean made his last appearance on 25 March 1833. He was unable to finish the performance. He collapsed in his son's arms, and he died a few weeks later. An application to bury him in Westminster Abbey, next to Garrick, was refused.
Coleridge famously said of Kean senior that 'to see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.' — perhaps this is the most famous epitaph that any actor has had, and it has kept him immortal over two centuries.
[image: Clara Fisher]
Let's have a short interval and look at the career of the 'Lilliputian wonder' who played here in Edinburgh in June 1819.
Yes, that would be Miss Clara Fisher, then only seven years old, and taking on Edmund Kean's great role — in a costume as you see here very much like the one that Edmund Kean wore as Richard III, and she was playing Shylock the next night too.
Child stars were a phenomenon at that time — incredibly popular. There was Master Betty, who set the stage alight around about the same time. And Clara Fisher performed with her sisters in supporting roles surrounding herm, and some adults too, apparently.
Later in life she emigrated to America where she played adult roles, including Ophelia and Viola. And she was 87 when she died in America, and only recently at that time she'd been billed as 'the oldest actress in the world.'
[image: Ira Aldridge]
Children may have been common on the Shakespearean stage at that time — in the early 19th century — but men of colour certainly were not.
There is not time today to do justice to the remarkable life of Ira Aldridge, but we should note that he emigrated from America at 17, and found work in the provinces in Britain, including Edinburgh, playing the great roles such as Richard III, Shylock, Lear, and Macbeth, sometimes in white make-up, and he acted under the name of 'Mr Keene' — spelled differently from Edmund and Charles.
Barely two weeks after the death of Edmund Kean, he inherited the role of Othello at Drury Lane. And the response was mixed in an era, of course, when slavery was not yet abolished in the British colonies, but he played the role many times over the next thirty years, bringing a fine voice and carriage and a great passion to a role. It was a role he clearly identified with.
And he lived till 1867. He was especially popular in Europe, and it was while on tour in Poland that he died, and he's buried there.
This is from Aldridge's role as Aaron in 'Titus Andronicus', with the character reworked as a tragic hero. And some of you may have seen coverage of Adrian Lester, the actor's recent performance in the play 'Red velvet', which is about Ira Aldridge.
[image: Henry Irving]
But the latter half of the 19th century was dominated by a theatrical couple who played Shakespeare to the hilt from their base at the Lyceum theatre just off the Strand in London. Our collections are rich with memoirs and souvenirs and images of their theatrical partnership.
They are the first theatrical knight and dame, actors becoming respectable at last, more or less, and to talk of one is to inevitably talk of the other. And I'm talking of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.
This obviously is Henry Irving as Hamlet. He was born in 1838, he came from God-fearing Cornish stock. On the face of it did not seem to be promising Shakespeare material. He was tall and thin and had a long face and a peculiar accent they said.
Laurence Olivier once said that the clipped voice he used for his famous Richard III was taught him by elderly actors who had worked with Irving. So I won't do that 'Now is the winter of our discontent' speech, but you know what I mean.
People also said of Henry Irving that he had a wooden leg which caused his awkward walk — but this was not true at all.
He was a clerk in a London office at 13, but he was determined to be an actor despite his mother's Methodist opposition. And he had a long apprenticeship, playing 700 parts over 15 years or so all around the country, including Glasgow and here in Edinburgh. He was in 14 Shakespeares during that time, but was playing the Ugly Sisters in pantomime.
But things changed. After some very popular roles in melodrama he played Hamlet at the London Lyceum in October 1874. It ran for 200 performances, which was a great success for a Shakespeare play at that time. And with that one performance he was unrivalled in the role, acclaimed as the greatest Hamlet of his era. Macbeth, Othello, and Richard III (which was another special triumph) followed.
In 1878 he took over the management of the Lyceum Theatre in London, and he recruited a leading lady. And that would be the radiant Ellen Terry, born in 1847, and formerly married to George Watts the artist.
[image: New Lyceum playbill]
It was a long professional partnership. Mrs Irving thought it amounted to rather more than that and instructed her sons to refer to Miss Terry as 'the wench.'
What actually was between Irving and Terry will never now be known. They were very discreet — different hotels on tour — but what is unquestioned is the great career they had together for 25 years, mostly in Shakespeare.
They played together as a great team — she was Portia to his Shylock, Lady Macbeth to his Macbeth, Imogen to his Iachimo, Ophelia to his Hamlet, Cordelia to his Lear. And if Irving was admired, Ellen Terry was adored. Painters and photographers and writers — including George Bernard Shaw — loved her.
[image: Terry and Irving]
They were both triumphantly associated with 'Much ado about nothing' and with the roles of Beatrice and Benedick, which they brought to the new Royal Lyceum theatre here in Edinburgh — the theatre we know now — in 1883.
Irving was knighted, the first actor, to be so honoured, in 1895, giving, it was thought then, theatre the same status as the other arts, and he died in 1905, still on tour, in the lobby of the Midland Hotel in Bradford, and appropriately enough, in the arms of his dresser.
[images: Ellen Terry]
By that time Ellen Terry had already left the Royal Lyceum and her great run of great Shakespeare roles. She never played Rosalind in 'As you like it', for example, a role many critics thought would have been perfect for her, and possibly that was because there was no role in the play for Irving.
She did play Mistress Page in 'The merry wives of Windsor' in 1902, and in 1906 the theatrical profession treated her to a Jubilee on the stage of Drury Lane, celebrating her 50 years in the theatre.
Here is the brochure of the event, from our collections.
On the right of the image you will see a depiction of Ellen Terry as a child in 1856, in her first Shakespeare role, in her first Shakespeare role, as Prince Mamilius in 'The winter's tale' — the tragic little boy at the beginning of the play — she would have been 8 or 9.
[image: Ellen Terry]
And here we have a scene from the Jubilee show, where one of the scenes from 'Much ado about nothing' — was performed by a special ensemble of 22 members of the Terry family — there were a lot of actors in the Terry family.
Ellen Terry is the unmasked face just at the border of the image on the left hand image — and she has been given a golden spotlight as befits her status.
[image: Ellen Terry]
But here she is in close-up as Beatrice on a postcard advertising a tour to Birmingham without Irving.
She played Hermione in 'The winter's tale' after this, she toured the world with recitations, and she made her final appearance in a Shakespeare part as Juliet's Nurse in 1919, when she was over 70. She died in 1928.
[image: Lewis Waller]
Ellen Terry's long career has taken us into the 20th century, an era where players could be reported and reviewed and recorded and photographed and filmed and interviewed.
Our collections at the National Library are full of biographies and autobiographies, of theatre editions, and theatre magazines — of fan interviews and learned responses. There is no shortage of Shakespeare material here on the shelves, or theatre material, for that matter.
This, for example, is a souvenir of Lewis Waller in 'Henry V', it is basically a collection of large photos of the cast, including Mr Waller himself, which the buyer would take home and cherish long after the play. Waller was reckoned to be the first Edwardian matinee idol, and he specialised in heroic roles such as Henry V.
[image: Drury Lane souvenir]
This is another souvenir of the commemorations at Drury Lane in 1916 for the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Britain of course was in the middle of World War One then, so there is a reference here to Princes of Wales past and present — and an allusion to the future Edward VIII, and Duke of Windsor on the far side.
And these celebrations on Drury Lane in 1916 were also notable for the knighting on stage of Sir Frank Benson.
[image: Benson as Romeo]
Benson was born in 1858, and he had a long touring career, which took him from a youthful Romeo here with a good profile, through many years as the guiding force behind a regular Shakespeare season at Stratford, and several farewell tours. Here is an example of one of his farewell tours.
[image: Benson at Lyceum]
He remained passionate about Shakespeare — and cricket and Stratford — but by 1933 when he visited Edinburgh again for this season, he was beginning to flag. But see just how many performances there were at the Lyceum that week!
Sadly by that time in his career it is said that he was not always entirely sure which play he was in. No wonder after all those long, tiring years on the road.
[image: Old Vic programme]
We now unbelievably have reached the middle of the 20th century, a period well within our own knowledge and memories. The names and the faces now are more familiar, some of us may have been lucky enough to see the actors who feature in the theatre programmes and theatre magazines which feature in our collections, in our display, and on the screen today.
Many of them have familiar and much-loved faces and many of them also have familiar and much-loved voices, captured on radio, television and film.
When we look back at the recent past, even though it is only last century, we would be talking about the distinguished history of the Old Vic over the years, the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and its successor the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the National Theatre, never mind the graduates of theatres in Scotland.
There are so many names, it will be impossible to do justice to them. So in this final act I am going to recall the Shakespeare procession conjured up by David Garrick, and present a pageant of great actors, with some personal asides.
You will all know them, and you will also know only too well the ones who have been left out. Too many actors for this one matinee performance, and not enough parts.
[image: Edith Evans]
On the screen at the moment is Dame Edith Evans, born in 1888. In my youth, and I'm sure you'll remember this, she often was an idiosyncratic guest on the chat shows on television, she was of course a famous Lady Bracknell, but she was Viola and Cressida before World War One, Volumnia and the Countess of Rousillon in Alls well that ends well in the maturity of her career, and she stole the play, playing Juliet's Nurse many, many times throughout her career.
But here she is as a magical Rosalind in 1936. So magical in fact that her young Orlando, Michael Redgrave, fell in love with her, and she with him.
[image: John Gielgud as Hamlet]
The most celebrated Hamlet of his time, John Gielgud, was part of the Terry family. That's where his voice came from, and apparently he had the 'Terry tears', which he could turn on very quickly. He brought a famous musicality and a nobility to many of Shakespeare's heroes. And his beautiful voice rang out for a very long career, till his death in 2000, aged 96.
[image: Gielgud as Richard II]
Here are examples of his many performances as Hamlet. He was a memorable Richard II too, here with Peggy Ashcroft.
[image: Gielgud,'Much Ado']
And a famous Benedick in 'Much ado about nothing', and he played opposite a number of Beatrices — this one was in the West End, and this is Diana Wynyard.
[image: Hamlet theatre]
It seems now at this stage a little bit insulting to reduce Laurence Olivier to the stature of a toy theatre. But this is the version of the 1948 film of Hamlet designed especially for toy theatres.
[image: Hamlet theatre 2] And here is the theatre recreated for our current display.
Ellen Terry had picked out Olivier as being something special when she saw him act as a child. By the time he was reduced to being a Hamlet puppet on a paper stage he had already been Romeo and Mercutio, Lear and Richard III and his claim to immortality was secure.
[image: Michael Redgrave]
But he did not have all the praise to himself. Michael Redgrave was an actor of power and beauty, here as Hamlet on the left hand side and Richard II — a very famous role. And his Shylock, Prospero, Macbeth, and Lear only enhanced his reputation
[image: Olivier and Leigh]
Laurence Olivier's fame needs no help from me, but this afternoon I would like to remind you of the Shakespearean career of Vivien Leigh, overshadowed of course, inevitably by her success in film.
[image: 'Antony and Cleopatra']
In 1951, for the Festival of Britain, Leigh played two different Cleopatras — Shaw's deadly kitten and Shakespeare's 'lass unparalleled'. She lowered her voice and heavily shadowed her cheeks — as she joked, just like Marlene Dietrich.
And at Stratford in the next few years, in the mid-50s, she soon played Viola, Lavinia in 'Titus Andronicus' very famously, and she was a striking Lady Macbeth.
[image: Richard Burton]
Film fame was also on the cards of course for Richard Burton, but in 1953, when he played Hamlet at the Assembly hall here on the Mound as part of the Edinburgh Festival he seemed to be the natural successor to Olivier, and audiences looked forward to his Macbeth and to his Lear.
[image: Burton as Hamlet]
Those roles never came, though they were promised many times before his death in 1994. Audiences had to be content with that voice and that famous face as Prince Hal and Henry IV and Iago — and Camelot.
[image: Vanessa Redgrave]
In 1961 a newish face lit up the stage at Stratford. Her birth in 1937 had been announced from the stage of the Old Vic, and perhaps she had always been destined for stardom. Vanessa Redgrave's Rosalind in 'As you like it' (here with the Scottish actor Ian Bannen) is legendary still.
[image: Laurence Olivier]
By the time Olivier was playing Othello in 1964 he had founded the National Theatre. It was inevitably a controversial star performance. The expressive white hand here — not the one holding the book, the other one — is of his first Desdemona, and that was Maggie Smith, though by the time the production came here to Edinburgh to the King's Theatre in 1965, the leading lady was Billie Whitelaw. And Othello followed on from an extended run of The Black and White Minstrels.
[image: McKellen and Dench]
Skipping on shamelessly to the 1970s, here are two of our most famous live Shakespeareans. Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in the 1976 Stratford production of 'Macbeth'.
Wizards and Bond may have brought them world-wide fame more recently, but their Shakespeare careers are magnificent, their credentials impeccable.
In 1976 I went to Stratford for the first time. 40 years ago, and I saw this production. And it was a memorable season, as I recall. Ian McKellen was playing Romeo and Leontes in 'The winter's tale' and this legendary Macbeth. And Judi Dench was playing also Beatrice, Lady Macbeth, finding time for 'The comedy of errors' also.
[image: Cumberbatch and Peake]
We are almost up to date now, and you will say where is Paul Scofield, for example and Peggy Ashcroft, Ian Richardson — from Scotland — and Alan Howard, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Sher, Harriet Walter, Simon Russell Beale, Kenneth Branagh? All those great actors in Shakespeare, not given their rightful due this afternoon, but featured in our books and journals and programmes all the same — throughout this building.
Here are two Hamlets for today, both using fame in other media to give them the freedom to tackle a great role and to open up the play to a new audience. Benedict Cumberbatch's production was beamed live round the world and we can only hope that fans of 'Sherlock' tuned in, just as they had queued for tickets.
[image: Dench and Redgrave]
As we close, it pleases me to note that two of our most distinguished have not given up on their Shakespeare. Not for them, retiring in their 50s.
Judi Dench played Paulina in Kenneth Branagh's production of 'The winter's tale' to some acclaim — she won awards — late last year, and Vanessa Redgrave played a controversial Beatrice — controversial I think because she was in her 70s — a couple of years earlier at the Old Vic, where her birth had been announced in 1937. And next month she will be Queen Margaret to the Richard III of Ralph Fiennes.
[image: David Tennant, Hamlet]
Here is a typical curator researching an exhibition and finding something apparently amusing in the programme for young David Tennant's Royal Shakespeare Company appearance as Hamlet, another example of television fame — and talent — allowing a career to flourish in the great parts, as played by all the greats that we have seen this afternoon.
[image: Shakespeare montage]
Or perhaps that curator is thinking about a glorious montage of players such as this. This montage comes from the early 1950s. It comes from a programme from the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and it celebrates some of the great names who strutted and fretted on the stage at Stratford in the early 1950s.
Sharp eyes may be able to make out the rather misty faces of Vivien Leigh as Viola, John Gielgud as Benedick, Diana Wynyard as Helena in 'A midsummer night's dream', Laurence Olivier as Malvolio and Peggy Ashcroft as Cleopatra.
Such stuff as dreams are made on.
Our revels now are ended, and the curtain is ready to come down.
Thank you for your time this afternoon, but let's thank all those grand players over the years, so amply recorded in our rich collections here at the National Library of Scotland. It is 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare — and he is still bestowing upon us — the audience — the benefit of his genius, through the talents of some wonderful actors.