Charles Kean: Adjacent to Greatness

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Today is the birthday of Charles Kean (1811-1868). The son of the great actor Edmund Kean, he followed his father onto the stage at age 16. The younger Kean spent the first decade or so of his career touring the provinces and America with only occasional “undistinguished” forays onto the London stage, until 1838, when his Hamlet brought him to the front ranks. After further touring of America and a successful run at the Haymarket Theatre, he assumed the management of the Princess’s Theatre in 1850. There he undertook a series of acclaimed “realistic” productions of Shakespeare, often co-starring his wife Ellen Tree, whom he’d married in 1842. While considered more than competent in melodramas, Kean fils was not considered the equal of his father or any of history’s great tragedians, achieving his effects by dint of hard work and study, but never breaking through to what might be called inspiration. It is interesting to note however that among those who studied at his feet was a young Ellen Terry. 

 

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