Powell, George (DNB00)

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POWELL, GEORGE (1658?–1714), actor and dramatist, was the son of an actor, who was a member of the King's company in 1682, when it joined the Duke of York's, and who died about 1698. George Powell is stated by Tony Aston, whose authority, however, is far from conclusive, to have been twenty-three years younger than Betterton, who was born about 1635. He is first heard of at the Theatre Royal in 1687, in which year, as Powell junior, he played Emanuel in the ‘Island Princess, or the Generous Portugals,’ altered by Tate from Fletcher—Powell senior playing King of Bakam—and Don Cinthio in Mrs. Behn's ‘Emperor of the Moon.’ In the theatre was also a Mrs. Powell, whose relationship, if any, to Powell cannot now be traced. In the following year Powell was Longovile in D'Urfey's ‘Fool's Preferment, or the Three Dukes of Dunstable’ (adapted from Fletcher), and Shamwell in Shadwell's ‘Squire of Alsatia;’ in 1689 Bellamour in Crowne's ‘English Friar, or the Town Sparks,’ and in 1690 Muley Zeydan in Dryden's ‘Don Sebastian, King of Portugal,’ Antonio in Mountford's ‘Successful Strangers,’ Friendly in Mrs. Behn's ‘Widow Ranter,’ and Alberto in Harris's ‘Mistakes.’ In 1691 Powell junior appears to the character of Pilgrim in Southern's ‘Sir Anthony Love, or the Rambling Lady.’ This year saw the production of his first drama, ‘Alphonso, King of Naples,’ 4to, 1691, a play taken from Neapolitan history, and owing something to Shirley's ‘Young Admiral.’ It was given, with a prologue by Joe Haines and an epilogue by D'Urfey. The part of Ferdinand in this is assigned to Powell, with no mention of junior. It is impossible, indeed, to be sure what parts were played about this time by the father and what by the son. Genest assigns to George Powell Edward III in Mountford's play of that name, and Captain Bouncer in D'Urfey's ‘Love for Money, or the Boarding School.’ In this year also he played the King of Cyprus in his own ‘Treacherous Brothers,’ 4to, 1676. He appears in 1692 to Colonel Hackwell junior in Shadwell's ‘Volunteers’ and Granger in Southerne's ‘Maid's Last Prayer.’ Dr. Doran states that on 13 Oct. 1692 Sandford, acting with Powell in ‘Œdipus, King of Thebes,’ ran a real dagger, of which he had accidentally become possessed, three inches into the body of Powell, all but taking his life. In 1693 he was Bellmour in Congreve's ‘Old Bachelor’ and Brisk in his ‘Double Dealer,’ Tom Romance in D'Urfey's ‘Richmond Heiress,’ Clerimont in Wright's ‘Female Virtuosos’ (‘Les Femmes Savantes’), Carlos in Dryden's ‘Love Triumphant,’ and Courtwell in his own ‘Very Good Wife,’ 4to, 1693, a comedy the plot of which is taken at second hand from Middleton's ‘No Wit, no Help like a Woman's.’ In the first part of D'Urfey's ‘Don Quixote’ he was in 1694 Don Fernando, and in the second part Manuel, playing also Carlos in Southerne's ‘Fatal Marriage,’ subsequently called ‘Isabella,’ and Careless in Ravenscroft's ‘Canterbury Guests.’ In 1695, at the close of a dispute with the patentees, his salary was raised from 2l. to 4l. a week, and he played Philaster in an adaptation from Beaumont and Fletcher by Settle. These parts and all which follow, unless the contrary is mentioned, were original. In the third part of ‘Don Quixote,’ in 1696, he was the Don. He was also Aboan in Southern's ‘Oroonoko,’ the Prince in Mrs. Trotter's ‘Agnes de Castro,’ Caratach in ‘Bonduca,’ altered from Beaumont and Fletcher, Antonio in Gould's ‘Rival Sisters,’ Amurath in Mrs. Pix's ‘Ibrahim, thirteenth Emperor of the Turks,’ Sir Amorous Courtall in Mrs. Manley's ‘Lost Lover,’ Argilius in ‘Pausanias,’ Wilmot in Scott's ‘Mock Marriage,’ George Marteen in Mrs. Behn's ‘Younger Brother,’ King of Parthia in ‘Neglected Virtue,’ and Sharper in the ‘Cornish Comedy.’ The play last named and the wretched adaptation of ‘Bonduca’ mentioned above were both brought on the stage by Powell, who said that they were given him by friends. The ‘Cornish Comedy’ was dedicated in somewhat servile terms to Rich, whose right-hand man Powell appears at this time to have been.

In 1697 Powell played Worthy in the ‘Relapse.’ The habits of intoxication to which he had given way influenced him so much on this occasion that Mrs. Rogers, as Amanda, incurred, according to Vanbrugh, some real danger from the vivacity of his attack. Powell had, Vanbrugh affirms, been ‘drinking his mistress's health in Nantz brandy from six in the morning to the time he waddled in upon the stage in the evening.’ In a scene in ‘Female Wits, or the Triumvirate of Poets at Rehearsal,’ written by W. M. for the purpose of ridiculing Mrs. Manley, Mrs. Pix, and Mrs. Trotter, Powell played Fastin. One scene is supposed to pass on the stage at Drury Lane, and an inquiry is made by Mrs. Cross where Powell is. Johnson, the prompter, says, ‘At the tavern,’ and asks her if she does not know that ‘honest George regards neither times nor seasons in drinking.’ From this piece we learn that Powell was tall. Among other parts he played Young Rakish in Cibber's ‘Woman's Wit.’ In his own ‘Imposture Defeated, or a Trick to Cheat the Devil,’ 4to, 1698, he played in 1698 Hernando. This piece he claims to have written in a week in order to serve the company, who were in a fix. Genest declares it pretty good. This year saw him also as Petruchio in Lacy's ‘Sauny the Scot, or the Taming of the Shrew,’ Phaeton in Gildon's ‘Phaeton,’ and Caligula in Crowne's ‘Caligula.’ In Farquhar's ‘Constant Couple,’ played in 1699, he was Colonel Standard. The same year he was Achilles in Boyer's ‘Achilles, or Iphigenia in Aulis,’ and in 1700 he was Roderigo in Vanbrugh's alteration of the ‘Pilgrim.’ In 1702 Powell was at Lincoln's Inn Fields playing Moneses in Rowe's ‘Tamerlane,’ Antiochus in ‘Antiochus the Great,’ King of Sicily in Lord Orrery's ‘Altemira,’ Flash in the ‘Gentleman Cully,’ and Toper in the ‘Beau's Duel’ and Palante in the ‘Stolen Heiress,’ both by Mrs. Carroll (Centlivre). Here he remained two years longer, playing, among other original characters, Lothario in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ Drances in Burnaby's ‘Love Betrayed,’ and Solyman in Trapp's ‘Abra-Mulé.’ He also took a few transmitted characters, among which are Sir Courtly Nice, Sir Positive Atall in ‘Sullen Lovers,’ and Ford. About June 1704 he reappeared at Drury Lane, playing Volpone and other established parts. Powell's secession from Lincoln's Inn Fields led to his arrest and confinement in the porter's lodge for two days by order of the lord chamberlain. On 7 Dec. 1704 he was at Drury Lane the original Lord Morelove in Cibber's ‘Careless Husband.’ In 1705 he was at the Haymarket. Returning to Drury Lane, he to some extent abandoned original parts. He was seen during the next few years, among many other parts, as Captain Plume, Peregrine in ‘Sir Solomon,’ Œdipus, Don John (Don Juan) in Shadwell's ‘Libertine,’ Macbeth, Timon of Athens, Leon in ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife,’ Prospero, Springlove in Brome's ‘Jovial Crew,’ Lear, Torrismond in the ‘Spanish Fryar,’ Laertes, Mithridates, Alexander the Great, Macduff, Aurenge-Zebe, Cortez, King in ‘Mourning Bride,’ Surrey in ‘Henry VIII,’ Hector in ‘Troilus and Cressida,’ Face in the ‘Alchemist,’ the Humorous Lieutenant, Cassius, Valentinia, Falstaff in ‘King Henry IV,’ Cassio, Castalio, and Cutter in the ‘Cutter of Coleman Street.’

He put upon the stage at Dorset Gardens, for his own benefit and that of Verbruggen, ‘Brutus of Alba,’ an opera given them, as he said, by an unknown author (cf. Genest, i. 245–6). He acted at Greenwich during the summer of 1710, and was at Drury Lane, on 17 March 1712, the original Orestes in Ambrose Philips's ‘Distrest Mother.’ On 29 Jan. 1713 he was the first Wilmot in Charles Shadwell's ‘Humours of the Army,’ and on 19 Feb. Augustus in ‘Cinna's Conspiracy,’ translated from Corneille, and ascribed to Cibber, and on 14 April he was the original Portius in Addison's ‘Cato.’ Soon after this his name disappears from the bills. Powell died on 14 Dec. 1714, and was buried on the 18th in St. Clement Dane's, his funeral being attended by all the male actors of the company. Davies says that Powell was alive in 1717, in which year he saw his name in a bill. This error has been copied by Bellchambers in his edition of Cibber's ‘Apology,’ and is rectified by Mr. Lowe in his later edition.

Powell had high qualifications for tragedy, and came in for many parts of Mountfort and Betterton, not, however, without, in the case of the latter, incurring the charge of presumption. His life was debauched, and he was in such constant dread of arrest as to menace with his sword sheriffs' officers when he saw them in the street. Addison, in the ‘Spectator,’ No. 40, accuses him of raising applause from the bad taste of the audience, but adds, ‘I must do him the justice to own that he is excellently formed for a tragedian, and, when he pleases, deserves the admiration of the best judges.’ Booth told Cibber that the sight of the contempt and distress into which Powell had fallen through drunkenness warned him from an indulgence in drinking to which he was prone. Cibber had a personal dislike to Powell, which he is at little pains to conceal. He depicts a scene in which Powell, who ‘was vain enough to envy Betterton as a rival,’ mimicked him openly in a performance of the ‘Old Bachelor.’ On another occasion Powell, according to Chetwood, imitated Betterton as Falstaff. In his long rivalry with Wilks, Powell had ultimately to succumb. Powell seems to have been quarrelsome, and to have assaulted Aaron Hill and young Davenant. This latter offence embroiled the company with the lord chamberlain. When, as in the case of Wilks, he found men ready to give him ‘satisfaction,’ his anger would evaporate. In physical endowments and in power of acting, Powell, until he took to haunting the Rose tavern, was held the superior of Wilks. Mills, a commonplace but trustworthy actor, was often exalted over his head. Aston charges Powell in his acting with out-heroding Herod. When imitating Betterton, he used to parody his infirmities. He seems, indeed, to have been a churlish, ill-conditioned man, but was a better actor than might be supposed from Cibber's ungracious references to him. No portrait is to be traced.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Baker, Reed, and Jones's Biographia Dramatica; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies; Downes's Roscius Anglicanus; Cibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Aston's Brief Supplement; Doran's Annals of the English Stage, ed. Lowe; Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present; Chetwood's History of the Stage, Dibdin's History of the Stage; Clark Russell's Representative Actors.]

J. K.