Celebration Quotation – January 7, 2016

Today’s quote comes from King Lear – it’s one of the many theatrical references in Shakespeare’s plays:

When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools. King Lear, Act IV, Scene 6

The photo is of Edwin Forrest, a popular 19th Century American actor who was celebrated for his performances of leading roles in Shakespeare’s plays.   For part of his career, he was involved in a well-publicized feud with the English actor William Charles MacReady.  The two actors differed so much in their ideas about the correct style too use when performing Shakespeare, they openly “hissed” each other at performances.  Their fans argued so passionately about which Shakespearean actor was the better – the English actor or the American –  that it sparked sparked the deadly Astor Place Opera House Riot in 1849.  During one of MacReady’s performances, Forrest’s followers stormed the Opera House, throwing stones and attempting to set fire to the building.  Police were called in to break up the ensuing conflict, which killed more than two dozen people and left more than 100 wounded.

It seems crazy, doesn’t it, that people cared so much about theatre they could actually come to blows defending their favorite actors?   But before the Civil War –  a time before television and professional sporting events – actors were some of the most powerful – and polarizing – celebrities of the day.

Forrest’s personal life also didn’t lack in scandal – his other long-standing feud was with his wife Catherine Sinclair, whom he sued for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Although he lost the verdict, he continued to appeal the decision for the next 18 years.

In his will, Forrest donated much of his fortune to found a home for retired actors in Philadelphia, which lasted for over a century before being folded into the larger Actors Fund facility in New Jersey.  His name lives on there in the Edwin Forrest Wing, and at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia.

Image Source: Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection