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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)


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Birth of Stage Actress George Anne Bellamy

george-anne-bellamyGeorge Anne Bellamy, English actress whose stage career and personal life are, in their irregularity, not entirely atypical of her era, is born in County Fingal on April 23, 1727. Her best performances are in such tragic roles as Desdemona in Othello and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Bellamy is the illegitimate daughter of a Quaker lady who elopes from boarding school with the diplomat James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley. She is named George Anne through a mishearing of the name Georgiana at her christening. Though her mother marries a Captain Bellamy in Lisbon, Bellamy is acknowledged by Tyrawley as his daughter and he provides for her needs, including her education at a convent in Boulogne-sur-Mer. While living with her mother in London, she meets the theatrical manager John Rich and other leading stars of the stage, and she soon determines to pursue an acting career.

Bellamy’s early roles at Covent Garden, beginning about 1744, are as Miss Prue in Love for Love and with James Quin in The Orphan. Her reputation as an actress rests largely on her good looks and her “soft” feminine manner. Her career reaches its pinnacle when, in 1750, her performance of Juliet to David Garrick’s Romeo at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is said to surpass the work of the revered Susannah Cibber in a rival production of the play at Covent Garden.

Riotous living, including a legal and a bigamous marriage, takes its toll on Bellamy’s beauty and her appeal to managers. Her later life is marred by ill health and credit troubles. Her last appearance is at Drury Lane on May 24, 1785 at her own benefit concert. She is unable to act, but speaks briefly to the audience.

In the same year Bellamy publishes “An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy” in six volumes. The salacious work is said to be ghost written by Alexander Bicknell.

George Anne Bellamy dies in poverty on February 16, 1788 in London.

(Pictured: George Anne Bellamy by F Lindo exhibited in 1833 now owned by Garrick Club)


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Birth of Stage Actress Julia Betterton Glover

julia-betterton-gloverJulia Betterton Glover, Irish-born stage actress well known for her comic roles in the late 18th and 19th centuries, is born on January 8, 1779 in Newry, Northern Ireland.

“Betterton” is not her real name, despite her father`s promotion of the fiction. She is born Julianna Butterton, the daughter of the Newry`s theatre manager William Butterton. His venture fails and he decides there will be financial benefit to him if her name is changed to “Betterton,” claiming links to a famous actor and long dead Thomas Betterton. With this deception he and his family travel round the theatres and the young Julia is acclaimed as an infant acting prodigy in York, the West Country, Bath, and elsewhere.

In 1787, she joins the York Circuit under manager Tate Wilkinson and appears as the Page in Thomas Otway‘s The Orphan, as well as the Duke of York with George Frederick Cooke in Richard III. When Cooke is cast as Glumdalca, the Queen of the Giants, in Henry Fielding‘s burlesque play Tom Thumb, Cooke chooses Julia to play the title role.

In 1790, at age nine, she makes her debut in Scotland at the Dumfries Theatre Royal. In 1795 she goes to Bath and plays the parts of Juliet, Imogen, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, and Lydia Languish. She becomes well known, particularly praised for her comic role as Languish, and news of her success reaches London. A number of job offers are made, but they are declined by her father. He eventually accepts a lucrative offer, taking her salary for himself, for which she makes her London début in 1797 as Percy by Hannah More.

In 1800, her father sells her in marriage to Samuel Glover, the son of an industrial family from Birmingham, for £1, 000, although the money is never paid. Unhappily married, she has eight children, four of whom survive childhood. In 1820, she plays Hamlet at the Lyceum Theatre to critical acclaim. In 1822, she appears as Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her daughter Phyllis plays Juliet. On February 8, 1837, her father, with whom she has had an unhappy relationship, dies.

One of her sons is Edmund Glover and another is William Howard Glover. In 1850, Glover announces her retirement from the stage. After two weeks confined to her bed, she appears at Drury Lane for her farewell benefit performance on July 12, 1850 as Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals. She is noticeably ill and weak during her performance and is unable to stand to receive her applause at the end of the play. Instead, the curtain rises to reveal Glover seated, surrounded by the rest of the cast. She dies in London four days later on July 16, 1850. She is buried in St. George’s Churchyard Gardens in London.