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  • Title: Actors' Interpretations of King John
  • Author: Michael Best

  • Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Michael Best
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Actors' Interpretations of King John

    Edmund Kean

    From Hawkins, Frederick.W., Life of Edmund Kean (London 1869), ii, 50.

    Douglas was succeeded by King John on the 1st of June. Miss Macauley had exceeded the tragedian's expectations in Lady Randolph, and he gladly assigned her the part of Constance for the occasion. His King John, without disturbing the impression which John Kemble had created by his performance of the character, was nobly represented. The absolute triumph was won, as might be expected, in the scene where he darkly intimated to Hubert his desire for Arthur's death. Churchill's lines on Sheridan possessed the full extent of their application here:

    'Behold him sound the depths of Hubert's soul,
    Whilst in his own contending passions roll;
    View the whole scene, with critic judgement scan,
    And then deny him merit if you can.'

    In this and the subsequent scene where his remorseful fear prompted to overwhelm the supposed murderer with indignation, his characteristic fertility of expedient and quickness of invention were brought into conspicuous play. The wily, circuitous, and serpent-like approaches in the former derived a vivid and appropriate colouring from his action, voice, and force of feeling, from which they all drew the impulse of 'dire and fatal persuasion'; and the latter comprehended everything that could be wished for, no less than it exhibited a fine combination of energy and skill. In ardent display of fire in his passionate reply to the Cardinal's denunciation, and the qualms of conscience which he suffered when Hubert constantly recurred to the supposed murder of Arthur, were finely drawn, vigorous, and impressive pictures. The natural truth which pervaded the death scene elevated him in that part to a proud superiority over his predecessors. He did not destroy the reality by the exhibition of more energy than belongs to the exhausted powers of a dying man; be did not caricature and posturize in the representation of this awful close of human life. No; his delineation here stood in the place of nature. In the other scenes where studied dignity predominates in the place of passion, he appeared to considerable disadvantage; neither being seconded by that premeditated regularity of art which, indispensable to the due effect of the character in the parts referred to, conformed so well with the statuesque inflexibility of Kemble as to have rendered the King John of the latter one of the most admired and successful of his impersonations.