Henry Irving (1838–1905) was a popular Victorian actor-manager who directed and performed in numerous Shakespeare plays throughout his career. He also campaigned for the recognition of acting as a legitimate art form like painting or music, and played a major part in popularising theatre with the general public.
In 1901 Irving directed and starred in a production of Coriolanus at the Lyceum Theatre in London. This collection item is a printed copy of Irving’s three-act adaptation, interleaved with blank pages and used as a working copy for the production. It contains various manuscript annotations and revisions, thus revealing a part of the process of preparing the play for the stage. The annotations include cuts, alterations and additions to dialogue, and a large number of stage directions.
In his version of Coriolanus, Irving lessens the significance both of the political plot and of the story surrounding martial competition (Aufidius does not appear until the last act). He emphasizes instead the relationship between Martius and Volumnia (played by Ellen Terry).
The extract shown here shows the scene at the Forum where Coriolanus is banished.
Coriolanus had not been a popular play with Victorian audiences and Irving’s was the first major production in London for more than 40 years. Despite Irving’s popularity, the play still struggled to draw audiences and closed after just 36 performances.
- Full title:
- Acting edition of Coriolanus with autograph alterations and additions
- 1901, London
- Manuscript / Playscript / Book
- William Shakespeare, Henry Irving
- Usage terms
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 61996 C
- Article by:
- Michael Dobson
Michael Dobson describes the political context in which Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus, and how the play has resonated with later generations of playwrights, directors and actors.