Richelieu; or, The Conspiracy/Introduction

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On Oct. 24, 1838, William Charles Macready, at this time manager as well as leading actor at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, wrote in his diary: "Letter from Bulwer, informing me that he had made out the rough sketch of a play, an historical comedy on the subject of Richelieu. I answered him, 'Delighted at the news.'"

The famous novelist's "Duchesse de la Vallère" had already failed, but "The Lady of Lyons," anonymously produced, had succeeded; and Macready, suffering all the annoyances of an actor-manager in sad need of a new play, was prepared to welcome with enthusiasm another attempt by Sir Edward George Bulwer, of whose ability, patience, and industry the diary of the player has preserved abundant proof.

Macready received the first draft of "Richelieu" on Nov. 12, and, between that date and the night of its successful production, March 7 of the following year (1839), the play was several times reconstructed. Its original form was a great disappointment to the actor, and Bulwer—at first reluctantly but finally gratefully—accepted the suggestions, and profited by the experience of the friend to whom he owed much of his success as a play-maker. There is no question but that, in its final form, the construction of the play was more Macready's than Bulwer's. It was the actor who suggested the admirable use, in Act V., of the incidents from Alfred de Vigny's "Cinq Mars," Hazlitt's translation of which was then very popular.

"Richelieu" was read to the company at Covent Garden, Jan. 5, 1839. When it was produced two months later, Macready, in the title rôle, was supported by Helen Faucit, now Lady Martin, as Julie de Mortemar. James Anderson, who afterward managed Drury Lane, and is famous as the original Ingomar, was the Adrien de Mauprat; while the Father Joseph was Samuel Phelps, still looked back to by actors, like Sir Henry Irving, as one of the best all-round players the London stage has known, and who, as manager of Sadler's Wells Theatre, made some of the most notable and dignified revivals of Shakespeare the English theatre has seen. Henry Howe, so long associated with the London Lyceum Company, was the François. Out of these five players Lady Martin still survives, better known to-day as a writer on Shakespeare's heroines than as an actress.

Since the production of the play the title rôle has been a popular one with leading men and with stars. The attractive combination of comedy and melodrama, with opportunities for declamatory climaxes, is of the sort to excite audiences; and for that reason, if for no other, would appeal to actors. In addition to acting opportunities, the play has a romantic story, and that popular feature,—a happy ending.

In the autumn of the year that witnessed its first production in London, Edwin Forrest, the rival of Macready, played Richelieu in this country. To make a list of the actors who have attempted the rôle since would be to name nearly all the legitimate stars, and a large number of leading men, who achieved heroic parts in the days of répertoires. The most famous of many Richelieus in this generation is generally conceded to have been the late Edwin Booth. This eminent actor found in the rôle opportunities for some of his best work, and to the end of his days it was one of his most congenial and successful parts. It is impossible to say when Booth first played Richelieu. It was probably in 1856. As early as 1851 he recited portions of it, notably the curse scene of Act IV. It was in this part, in 1861, that he conquered London, which had looked askance at his Shylock, and then rejected it.

As originally presented, "Richelieu" consisted of five acts and nine scenes, each act except the fourth being in two scenes. Of late it has been customary to omit Scene 2 of Act III., and Scene I of Act V.; and in preparing this acting version of the play that tradition has been followed, as it reduces the drama to the shape in which players want it, and theatre-goers are accustomed to see it, and the acting gains materially by the condensation. In the matter of business, this edition follows carefully the best stage authorities, the prompt-books of the most representative performers of the leading rôle both stock and star, having been carefully collated to this end. The text has been reduced to its usual acting form, all the traditional "cuts" having been made, and not merely indicated, so that the version is immediately available for successful performance without change or alteration. The business indicated, while purposely not greatly elaborated, will be found entirely sound and amply suggestive.

M. A.