Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917), one of the leading Shakespearian actors of his day, performed King John to some 170,000 spectators at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London between 20 September 1899 and 6 January 1900. Tree’s title role was captured in this monumental, brooding portrait by Charles Buchel (1872-1950), the glittering robes being testament to the spectacular costumes and elaborate scenery which made this production so appealing. Buchel reported that Tree was ‘a bad sitter … because he was impatient and seemed to want to do the work himself!’ Conscious that the most famous episode in John’s reign had been omitted by Shakespeare, Herbert Beerbohm Tree staged a tableau of ‘The Granting of Magna Carta’ at the beginning of Act III. Short segments of Tree’s production were also filmed in order to publicise the play, with the surviving footage, including John’s death-scene, being the oldest record of Shakespeare on film.
- Article by:
- Dan Jones
- Medieval origins
When Magna Carta was created, England had endured 16 years of John’s kingship – a rule based largely on extortion, legal chicanery, blackmail and violence. Here Dan Jones discusses King John's infamous reign.