William Macready



  • (1793 - 1873) British actor-manager. Known as the eminenttragedian, Macready was the chief rival of Kean in theearly 19th century.

    Born in London of theatrical parents, he never wanted to bein the profession and never ceased to dislike it. When his fatherwas imprisoned for debt, he was called in to manage the family's stockcompany, making his acting debut in 1810 as Romeo. From 1816 he appearedat Covent Garden, where he enjoyed a huge success in Virginias (1820),a now forgotten drama by John Sheridan Knowles. Macready took overthe management of Covent Garden in 1837 and of Drury Lane in 1841.He improved standards at both, restoring many of Shakespeare's originaltexts and insisting on thorough rehearsals.

    An intensely emotional performer, he was often criticizedfor his exaggerated gestures and to cure this tendency sometimes rehearsedwith his arms tied down with string. He could also use silence togreat effect; the term Macready pause is still used of along significant pause. When he performed in Paris in 1828, LaRéunion expressed amazement at the histrionic powers of"a man to whom nature has refused everything - voice,carriage, and face."

    Macready undoubtedly had an obsessive, violent streak. One night whenplaying Macbeth in Manchester he was waiting in the wings for theimitation blood (cochineal) to smear on his hands. When it was notdelivered and the moment for his entrance grew near, he walked overto a salesman whom the stage manager had allowed backstage, struckthe man violently on the nose, and rubbed his hands in the blood.After the play, he apologized for his 'rudeness' and gave the mana £5 note. see also Astor Place riot; Bunn,Alfred 'Poet'; King Lear.