Ben Greet

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Ben Greet
Ben Greet as Boomblehardt.jpg
Ben Greet as "Boomblehart", from W. S. Gilbert's Creatures of Impulse, circa 1910
Born Philip Barling Greet
(1857-09-24)24 September 1857
London, England
Died 17 May 1936(1936-05-17) (aged 78)
London, England
Nationality United Kingdom British
Occupation Actor-manager
Years active 1883-1936

Sir Philip Barling "Ben" Greet (24 September 1857–17 May 1936) was a Shakespearean actor, director, and impresario.

Early life[edit]

The younger son of Captain William Greet RN and his wife, Sarah Barling, Greet was born on board HMS Crocodile, a Royal Navy recruiting ship tied up at the Tower of London. He was educated at the Royal Naval School, New Cross. His parents planned to make him a naval officer or a clergyman, but instead he became a schoolmaster at a private school at Worthing.[1] His brother was theatre manager William Greet.


Greet made his professional stage debut in 1883, playing Caius Lucius in Cymbeline. In 1886 he started staging open-air productions of the classic English stage repertory; his companies, called the Ben Greet Players, the Sign of the Cross Company, and the Woodland or Merry Woodland Players, toured Great Britain and the United States. Greet, along with William Poel, led a return to Shakespeare's original texts in simplified productions, in contrast to the often elaborate and heavily edited presentations fashionable in their era. Greet did not limit his work to the Shakespeare canon, but staged a range of other dramas; his production of the morality play Everyman was acted for 35 years across Britain and America.

Greet toured North America with great success with his "Elizabethan Stage Society of England" from 1902 to 1914. The company included Sybil Thorndike and Sydney Greenstreet. He staged performances at Harvard University and in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House and was a mainstay of the Chautauqua Circuit. From 1914-18 he was director of the Old Vic Theatre in London, making that theatre a center for Shakespearean production. Later he concentrated on productions for London schoolchildren.

Greet was knighted in 1929.

In his four seasons at the Old Vic, Greet produced 35 plays, including 23 by Shakespeare, plus Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, Sheridan's The Rivals and The School for Scandal, the Medieval mystery play The Star of Bethlehem, and Everyman among other works.[2]

He is commemorated by a blue plaque on the facade of 160 Lambeth Road, London, where he lived from 1920 until his death in 1936.[3]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ Foulkes, Richard, Greet, Sir Philip Barling Ben (1857–1936), actor and theatre manager in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  2. ^ Rowell, pp. 168-9.
  3. ^ English Heritage (2011). "156,158 and 160, Lambeth Rd.". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 


  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  • Isaac, Winifred F. E. C. Ben Greet and the Old Vic: A Biography of Philip Ben Greet. London, 1964.
  • Rowell, George. The Old Vic Theatre: A History. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993.