Kemble family



  • A British theatrical family, the principal members of whichwere John Philip Kemble (1757 - 1823), his sister Sarah Siddons,his brothers Stephen Kemble (1758 - 1822) and Charles Kemble (1775 - 1854),and Charles's daughter Fanny (1809 - 93).

    John Philip Kemble began his career as a child actorwith his parents' touring company. His mother continued to act whileraising 12 children, all of whom appeared on stage together in 1767in Worcester. Although John was sent to study for the priesthood thelure of the theater proved too great; he made his adult debut at Dublin'sSmock Alley theater before appearing as Hamlet at Drury Lane in 1783;of this performance one critic remarked: "How very like hissister!" Kemble subsequently appeared in most of the great tragicroles, winning particular acclaim for his Lear (1787). He becamemanager of Drury Lane in 1788 and of Covent Garden in 1802, wherehis decision to raise prices triggered the O.P. riots. Kemble, whoseown style of acting tended to the dignified and portentous (see teapotschool), could hardly be persuaded to watch his great Romantic rival Edmund Kean; when someone asked if he had finally seen Kean, he replied:

    No, sir, I did not see Mr Kean. I saw Othello, and further,I shall never act the part again.
    Stephen Kemble made his London debut in 1783, whenhe played Othello at Covent Garden. His choice of roles was somewhatrestricted by his extreme corpulence. Hazlitt was among those unimpressedby his talents:
    We see no more reason why Mr Stephen Kemble should play Falstaffthan why Louis XVIII is qualified to fill a throne because he is fatand belongs to a particular family.

    Stephen was more successful as a manager, running theatersin Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Newcastle. He was briefly manager of DruryLane (1818).

    Charles Kemble made his first stage appearance ina Drury Lane production of Macbeth starring John and Sarah.He excelled in Romeo and other romantic roles; Thackeray later claimedthat "the chivalrous Charles Kemble" was his favouriteactor as a schoolboy. Kemble became manager of Covent Garden in 1817but only survived bankruptcy through the help of his young daughter,Fanny Kemble. She had long wanted to be a novelist but tookto the stage in 1829 in an attempt to save her father's fortunes.She was an instant success, playing Juliet to packed houses, despitebeing so nervous that she had to be pushed onto the stage. She latertoured America with her father, and in 1834 married a wealthy plantationowner. Disgusted by seeing slavery at first-hand, she deserted herhusband in 1845 and returned to England to act with William Macready.In her later years she became well known for her solo readings of Shakespeareplays, in which she performed all the parts with minimal props andscenery. When Fanny died in 1893, the family's hold on the British theater came to an end.