Sir Donald Wolfit

Definition

Theater

  • (Donald Woolfitt; 1902 - 68)The last of Britain's great actor-managers. His famous roles includedShylock, Volpone, Richard III, King Lear, and Solness in Ibsen's TheMaster Builder. He was knighted in 1957. Believing that everybodyshould have the opportunity to see Shakespeare's plays, Wolfit spentmuch of his career making gruelling provincial tours.

    Wolfit made his debut in 1920 in The Merchant of Veniceat York's Theatre Royal. He founded his own Shakespeare company in1937 and began to tour, visiting London only occasionally. Complaintswere sometimes made that Wolfit surrounded himself with inferior actorsin order to appear more impressive himself; he was also said to hurryhis company players through their parts to make more time for hisown lines. Once he omitted a scene in Twelfth Night, sayingit was the work of another writer. "I cannot learn it,"he declared, "and if I cannot learn it, Shakespeare did notwrite it!" One young actor appeared in Wolfit's Macbethfor several seasons. In his role as a messenger, he would come oncrying "My Lord, the Queen is dead." After asking Wolfitseveral times for a more demanding role and receiving no response,he took revenge one evening by rushing on stage to announce, "MyLord, the Queen is much better and is even now at dinner."

    When Wolfit played Falstaff he found out that his paddinghad to be completely removed if he was to relieve himself during theperformance. Luckily, Falstaff is off-stage for some time during theplay. "Brilliant craftsman, Shakespeare," Wolfit remarked."Knew the actor would want to pee and constructed the play accordingly.A master, a master!"

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