Edwin Forrest

Definition

Theater

  • (1806 - 72) The most renowned US tragedian of the 19thcentury. Despite being acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic, healso made many enemies with his aggressive character, becoming a bitterand lonely man. The critic William Winter described him as "avast animal, bewildered by a grain of genius".

    Forrest, who first appeared on stage at the age of ten, madehis adult debut at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre in1820, playing Young Norval in John Home's Douglas. In his manyShakespearean roles he became known for his powerful and resonantvoice, his expressive features, and grand style.

    Forrest's offer of cash prizes for scripts by US-born authorsresulted in a number of parts that enhanced his reputation - particularly (in 1829) the title role in Metamora by John AugustusStone, and (in 1831) the part of Spartacus in Robert Montgomery Bird'sThe Gladiator.

    In 1836 Forrest made his London debut with great success;however, on a second visit in 1845 he received bad reviews, which he attributedto the jealousy of the British actor William Macready. Thecritic John Forster (Macready's friend) wrote of Forrest's Macbeth,"our best comic actors do not often excite so great a quantityof mirth". The two actors' public quarrel culminated in theinfamous Astor Place riot of 1849 in New York, when 22 peoplewere killed.

    In 1851 Forrest tried unsuccessfully to divorce his wife.A year later he virtually retired from the stage, retreating to hislarge Philadelphia home from which he continued to launch appealsagainst the court's decision for nearly 20 years. He gave his lastperformance in 1872, playing in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Richelieuat the Globe Theatre, Boston.

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