1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Macready, William Charles

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MACREADY, WILLIAM CHARLES (1793-1873), English actor, was born in London on the 3rd of March 1793, and educated at Rugby. It was his intention to go up to Oxford, but in 1809 the embarrassed affairs of his father, the lessee of several provincial theatres, called him to share the responsibilities of theatrical management. On the 7th of June 1810 he made a successful first appearance as Romeo at Birmingham. Other Shakespearian parts followed, but a serious rupture between father and son resulted in the young man's departure for Bath in 1814. Here he remained for two years, with occasional professional visits to other provincial towns. On the 16th of September 1816, Macready made his first London appearance at Covent Garden as Orestes in The Distressed Mother, a translation of Racine's Andromaque by Ambrose Philips. Macready's choice of characters was at first confined chiefly to the romantic drama. In 1818 he won a permanent success in Isaac Pocock's (1782-1835) adaptation of Scott's Rob Roy. He showed his capacity for the highest tragedy when he played Richard III. at Covent Garden on the 25th of October 1819. Transferring his services to Drury Lane, he gradually rose in public favour, his most conspicuous success being in the title-role of Sheridan Knowles's William Tell (May 11, 1825). In 1826 he completed a successful engagement in America, and in 1828 his performances met with a very flattering reception in Paris. On the 15th of December 1830 he appeared at Drury Lane as Werner, one of his most powerful impersonations. In 1833 he played in Antony and Cleopatra, in Byron's Sardanapalus, and in King Lear. Already Macready had done something to encourage the creation of a modern English drama, and after entering on the management of Covent Garden in 1837 he introduced Robert Browning's Strafford, and in the following year Bulwer's Lady of Lyons and Richelieu, the principal characters in which were among his most effective parts. On the 10th of June 1838 he gave a memorable performance of Henry V., for which Stanfield prepared sketches, and the mounting was superintended by Bulwer, Dickens, Forster, Maclise, W. J. Fox and other friends. The first production of Bulwer's Money took place under the artistic direction of Count d'Orsay on the 8th of December 1840, Macready winning unmistakable success in the character of Alfred Evelyn. Both in his management of Covent Garden, which he resigned in 1839, and of Drury Lane, which he held from 1841 to 1843, he found his designs for the elevation of the stage frustrated by the absence of adequate public support. In 1843-1844 he made a prosperous tour in the United States, but his last visit to that country, in 1849, was marred by a riot at the Astor Opera House, New York, arising from the jealousy of the actor Edwin Forrest, and resulting in the death of seventeen persons, who were shot by the military called out to quell the disturbance. Macready took leave of the stage in a farewell performance of Macbeth at Drury Lane on the 26th of February 1851. The remainder of his life was spent in happy retirement, and he died at Cheltenham on the 27th of April 1873. He had married, in 1823, Catherine Frances Atkins (d. 1852). Of a numerous family of children only one son and one daughter survived. In 1860 he married Cecile Louise Frederica Spencer (1827-1908), by whom he had a son.

Macready's performances always displayed fine artistic perceptions developed to a high degree of perfection by very comprehensive culture, and even his least successful personations had the interest resulting from thorough intellectual study. He belonged to the school of Kean rather than of Kemble; but, if his tastes were better disciplined and in some respects more refined than those of Kean, his natural temperament did not permit him to give proper effect to the great tragic parts of Shakespeare, King Lear perhaps excepted, which afforded scope for his pathos and tenderness, the qualities in which he specially excelled. With the exception of a voice of good compass and capable of very varied expression, Macready had no especial physical gifts for acting, but the defects of his face and figure cannot be said to have materially affected his success.

See Macready's Reminiscences, edited by Sir Frederick Pollock, 2 vols. (1875); William Charles Macready, by William Archer (1890).