1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Benson, Francis Robert

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BENSON, FRANCIS ROBERT (1858-  ), English actor, son of William Benson of Alresford, Hants, was born at Tunbridge Wells on the 4th of November 1858. He came of a talented family, his elder brother, W. A. S. Benson (b. 1854), becoming well known in the world of art as one of the pioneers in the revival of English industrial craftsmanship, especially in the field of the metallic arts; and his younger brother, Godfrey Benson, being an active Liberal politician. He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, and at the university was distinguished both as an athlete (winning the Inter-university three miles) and as an amateur actor. In the latter respect he was notable for producing at Oxford the first performance of a Greek play, the Agamemnon, in which many Oxford men who afterwards became famous in other fields took part. Mr Benson, on leaving Oxford, took to the professional stage, and made his first appearance at the Lyceum, under Irving, in Romeo and Juliet, as Paris, in 1882. In the next year he went into managership with a company of his own, taken over from Walter Bentley, and from this time he became gradually more and more prominent, both as an actor of leading parts himself and as the organizer of practically the only modern “stock company” touring through the provinces. In 1886 he married Gertrude Constance Cockburn (Featherstonhaugh), who acted in his company and continued to play leading parts with him. Mr Benson’s chief successes were gained out of London for some years, but in 1890 he had a season in London at the Globe and in 1900 at the Lyceum, and in later years he was seen with his répertoire at the Coronet. His company included from time to time many actors and actresses who, having been trained under him, became prominent on their own account, and both by his organization of this regular company and by his foundation of a dramatic school of acting in 1901, Mr Benson exercised a most important influence on the contemporary stage. From the first he devoted himself largely to the production of Shakespeare’s plays, reviving many which had not been acted for generations, and his services to the cause of Shakespeare can hardly be overestimated. From 1888 onwards he managed the Stratford-on-Avon Shakespearian Festival. His romantic and intellectual powers as an actor, combined with his athletic and picturesque bearing and fine elocution, were conspicuously shown in his own impersonations, most remarkable among which were his Hamlet (in 1900 he produced this play without cuts in London), his Coriolanus, his Richard II., his Lear and his Petruchio.