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Sir Henry Irving

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Sir Henry Irving

  • Birth 6 Feb 1838 Keinton Mandeville, South Somerset District, Somerset, England
  • Death 13 Oct 1905 Bradford, Metropolitan Borough of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
  • Burial Golders Green, London Borough of Barnet, Greater London, England
  • Plot Cremated 18.10.1905. Ashes removed to Westminster Abbey
  • Memorial ID 6380560

British Actor. One of the world's finest actors of the Victorian era, he reigned over London's Lyceum Theatre for nearly thirty years, where he took complete responsibility for running it, including the supervision of sets, lighting, direction, casting, as well as playing the leading roles. He was born John Henry Brodribb on February 6, 1838 at Keinton Mandeville, Somerset, England into a working class family and spent his childhood living with an aunt at Halsetown in Cornwall. He attended City Commercial School for two years before going to work in the office of a law firm at age 13. After seeing actor Samuel Phelps play Prince Hamlet in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," he sought out acting lessons, letters of introduction, and work in a theatre in Sunderland, making his first appearance in September 1856 as 'Gaston, Duke of Orleans', in Bulwer Lytton's play "Richelieu," billed as Henry Irving, the name that he legally adopted. For the next ten years, he went through an arduous training in various stock companies in Scotland and the north of England, taking more than 500 parts. He slowly gained recognition and in 1866, actress Ruth Herbert engaged him as her leading man and sometime stage director at the St. James's Theatre, London, In 1871 his first major success came as 'Mathias' in Leopold Lewis' "The Bells" at the Lyceum Theatre and began a long running association with the Lyceum, whose were at a low ebb when the tide was turned by his sudden success. The play ran for 150 nights, and it established him at the forefront of the British drama, and would prove a popular vehicle for Irving for the rest of his professional life. He went on to appear in W. G. Wills' "Charles I" and "Eugene Aram," in "Richelieu," and in 1874 in "Hamlet." The unconventionality of this last performance, during a run of 200 nights, aroused keen discussion and singled him out as the most interesting English actor of his day. In 1875 he appeared as the title character in "Macbeth," in 1876 as "Othello," and as 'Philip' in Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Queen Mary," in 1877 in "Richard III," and in "The Lyons Mail." During this time he became lifelong friends with Irish novelist Bram Stoker, who praised him in his review of Hamlet and then joined him as the manager for the company. In 1878 he entered into a partnership with actress Dame Ellen Terry and reopened the Lyceum Theatre under his own management. With Terry as 'Ophelia' and 'Portia', he revived "Hamlet" and produced "The Merchant of Venice" in 1879. After the production of Tennyson's "The Cup" and revivals of "Othello" (in which he played 'Iago' to actor Edwin Booth's title character) and "Romeo and Juliet," there began a period at the Lyceum which had a potent effect on the English stage. "Much Ado about Nothing" (1882) was followed by "Twelfth Night" (1884), then an adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield" by W. G. Wills (1885), then "Faust" (1886), "Macbeth" (1888), Watts Phillips' "The Dead Heart" (1889), and Herman Merivale's dramatic version of Sir Walter Scott's "Bride of Lammermoor" (1890). Portrayals in 1892 of the characters of 'Wolsey' in "Henry VIII" and of the title character in "King Lear" were followed in 1893 by a performance of 'Becket' in Tennyson's play of the same name. During these years he, with the whole Lyceum company, paid several successful visits to the US and Canada, which were repeated in succeeding years. The chief remaining novelties at the Lyceum during his term as sole manage were Arthur Conan Doyle's "Waterloo" (1894), J. Comyns Carr's "King Arthur" (1895) "Cymbeline" (1896, in which he played the part of 'Iachimo'), Victorien Sardou's "Madame Sans-Gene" (1897), and his son Laurence Irving's "Peter the Great" (1898). In 1898 he was appointed Rede Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, England. In 1899 the Lyceum was transferred into the hands of a limited-liability company and he reappeared in the production of Sardou's "Robespierre" that year after a serious illness, and in 1901 by an elaborate revival of William Shakespeare's "Coriolanus." His only subsequent production in London was as Sardou's "Dante" (1903) at the Drury Lane. On October 13, 1905 he died at the age of 67 shortly after suffering a stroke during a performance while on tour in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. Originally cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium in Greater London, his ashes were then moved to Westminster Abbey in London and interred in the Poet's Corner. He became the first actor to be knighted for services to the theatre in the Birthday Honours of 1895. His other awards include of honorary degrees from the universities of Dublin (LL.D 1892), Cambridge (Litt.D 1898), and Glasgow (LL.D 1899), and the Komthur Cross, 2nd class, of the Saxe-Ernestine House Order of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Saxe-Meiningen. A statue of him was erected near the National Portrait Gallery in London. He is thought to have been the inspiration for the title character in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel "Dracula."

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Kieran Smith
  • Added: 29 Apr 2002
  • Find A Grave Memorial 6380560
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Sir Henry Irving (6 Feb 1838–13 Oct 1905), Find A Grave Memorial no. 6380560, citing Golders Green Crematorium, Golders Green, London Borough of Barnet, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .