Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Charles Kemble

June 11th, 1835.—Saw last night C. Kemble as Hamlet: he is wondrous stiff and old. I had been reading in the morning his daughter's memoirs, in which there are occasionally passages of genius, of great discrimination, and good sense. I was struck with an observation on the disadvantage of representing tragedy in a small theatre which would be admirably fitted for comedy. It is not only the foil and tinsel which lose on nearer inspection: the expression of the stronger passions becomes coarse, &c. &c.

How I felt the truth of this last night, when I looked at Kemble's wrinkled face, at the coarser Mrs. Glover (the Gertrude): perhaps, too, the quality of Ophelia's voice might have been refined by distance; her tone was harsh, but her acting not bad enough to shock one, which is more than I can say for most of the performers.

The great error of Kemble seems to me, that he substitutes sneering scorn for dignity, and, truth to say, gives great force to some passages of the part, the ' little more than kin and little less than kind,' for instance; the scene with Rosencrantz and Guilderstein; the play scene; but he made a very awkward job of lying at Ophelia's feet; he sate in the midst of the little stage very stiff, and evidently rising with difficulty. The scene of the King at his devotions and Hamlet's speech are omitted, and I for one do not regret these expressions of diabolical revenge. I was surprised at the scene with the Queen; it was so much better, quieter, more son-like than I expected; there was also more of regret for Polonius than seemed to belong to the cold Kemble school.

I never was so much aware of the fault of the bungling catastrophe, especially of the absurdity of Hamlet's stabbing the king in the midst of his court, without one hand being lifted to prevent the outrage.


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