Irving's King Arthur

HENRY IRVING AS ARTHUR Sir Henry Irving was perhaps the period's most respected and popular actor. Five years after MT's novel appeared, he comissioned a new production of King Arthur as a vehicle in which he and his leading lady Ellen Terry could star as Arthur and Guenever. The play opened at London's Lyceum Theatre on 12 January 1895 (the drawing at left, by Sir Bernard Partridge, is from a souvenir program of that production). That fall, 105 performances later, he brought it with him to the United States on his fifth American tour. According to his grandson's biography, "King Arthur proved to be immensely popular with American audiences." In St. Louis, after a delighted house called the actor on stage for a speech, "Irving thanked them 'for the appreciation of this effort to illustrate an old world legend,' adding after an effective pause, '-- your old world legend.' This reminder of common ancestry was widely reported and applauded." The success of both the drama and the remark indicate that, despite MT's attempt to wean his contemporaries from aristocratic and British allegiances, many in his audience were still happy to be enchanted by the legend of Camelot.
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