Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Worse than the Scottish Play....

In 1796, financial difficulties caused the ususally canny Richard Brinsley Sheridan to take a very stupid gamble and stage a five-act tragedy, Vortigern, by no other than 'William Shakespeare', i.e. William Ireland, who forged a trunkful of 'Shakespeare's' plays and legal papers. Above, a pissed-off Shakespeare attempts to smack William Ireland upside the head.

Kemble, the manager of Sheridan's Drury Lane Theatre, attempted to open the play on April 1, which shows his stance on the play quite clearly, but was forced to open on the 2nd.

As Gyles Brandreth writes in Great Theatrical Disasters, the play turned into "pandemonium after the first two acts. The actor playing Horsa died right beneath the curtains, and was bisected by them at the end of the scene. Other members of the company were so drunk that they failed to kill their adversaries in the many skirmishes between the Saxons and their foes. And the lines themselves provided an ironic commentary on the ill-fated production. From the Prologue's 'Before the Court immortal Shakespeare stands' to Vortigern's climactic line 'And when this solemn mockery is ended' the audience could not contain their scornful merriment. During the last two acts the more erudite were calling out 'Henry the Sixth', 'Richard the Third', etc. whenever they detected an echo in Ireland's dialogue. The announcement that Vortigern would be played the following night met with an uproar that lasted a quarter of an hour, after which Kemble came forward to announce that The School for Scandal would be played instead. His reputation recovered. Vortigern's did not."

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