Samuel Phelps

Definition

Theater

  • (1804 - 78) British actor-manager, best known for his Shakespeareanproductions at Sadler's Wells Theatre.

    Phelps began acting in 1826 and for 11 years toured the provinces,earning a reputation as an excellent tragedian. In 1837 he was engagedby Ben Webster (see Webster family) at the Haymarket,where he gave well received performances as Hamlet, Shylock, and RichardIII. Later he joined William Macready's company at CoventGarden, appearing as Othello to Macready's Iago.

    When the monopoly of Covent Garden and Drury Lane was abolishedby the Theatres Act of 1844 (see patent theaters),Phelps immediately took over Sadler's Wells Theatre and began to produceserious drama. During his management (1844 - 62) he staged 34of Shakespeare's 37 plays, including Macbeth (1844), Antonyand Cleopatra (1849), and Pericles (1854). Despite hisusual striving for historical accuracy in costume, Victorian proprietydemanded "a very demure and much petticoated Cleopatra".His Pericles made use of the original text for the first timesince 1661. Phelps appeared in most of the productions himself withMrs Warner as his leading lady. After leaving Sadler's Wells, Phelpsreturned to acting in Shakespeare and dramatizations of Scott's novels.His last performance was as Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII in1878.

    Phelps was also renowned as a teacher. Having learned traditionaltechniques passed down from David Garrick through Macreadyand Sarah Siddons, he helped to launch the successful careers of manyyoung actors, including Johnston Forbes-Robertson (who painteda well known portrait of Phelps in the role of Cardinal Wolsey). seealso Henry V.

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