William Macready

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William Macready
William Charles Macready by John Jackson.jpg
Born(1793-03-03)3 March 1793
London, England
Died27 April 1873(1873-04-27) (aged 80)
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
Years active1810 to 1851
Spouse(s)Catherine Frances Atkins
(1823–1852) (her death)
Cecile Louise Frederica Spencer (1860–1873) (his death)

William Charles Macready (3 March 1793 – 27 April 1873) was an English actor.


He was born in London the son of William Macready the elder, and the actress Christina Ann Birch. Educated at Rugby School where he became headboy, and where now the theatre is named after him, it was his initial intention to go to University of Oxford, but in 1809 financial problems experienced by his father, the lessee of several provincial theatres, called him to share the responsibilities of theatrical management. On 7 June 1810 he made a successful first appearance as Romeo at Birmingham. Other Shakespearian parts followed, but a serious rupture between father and son resulted in the young man's departure for Bath in 1814. Here he remained for two years, with occasional professional visits to other provincial towns.[1]

On 16 September 1816, Macready made his first London appearance at Covent Garden as Orestes in The Distressed Mother, a translation of Racine's Andromaque by Ambrose Philips. Macready's choice of characters was at first confined chiefly to the romantic drama. In 1818 he won a permanent success in Isaac Pocock's (1782–1835) adaptation of Scott's Rob Roy. He showed his capacity for the highest tragedy when he played Richard III at Covent Garden on 25 October 1819.[1] In 1820 he played the title role in the tragedy Virginius by James Sheridan Knowles.

Transferring his services to Drury Lane, he gradually rose in public favour, his most conspicuous success being in the title role of Sheridan Knowles's William Tell (11 May 1825). In 1826 he completed a successful engagement in the United States, and in 1828 his performances met with a very flattering reception in Paris. In 1829 he appeared as Othello in Warwick.[2] On 15 December 1830 he appeared at Drury Lane as Werner, one of his most powerful impersonations. In 1833 he played in Antony and Cleopatra, in Byron's Sardanapalus, and in King Lear.[1] He was responsible, in 1834, and more fully in 1838, for returning the text of King Lear to Shakespeare's text (although in a shortened version), after it had been replaced for more than a hundred and fifty years by Nahum Tate's happy-ending adaptation, The History of King Lear.[3][4]

He performed at the Georgian Wisbech theatre (now Angles Theatre) and other theatres of the Lincoln theatre circuit run by Fanny Robertson.[citation needed] Already Macready had done something to encourage the creation of a modern English drama, and after entering on the management of Covent Garden in 1837 he introduced Robert Browning's Strafford, and in the following year Bulwer-Lytton's Lady of Lyons and Richelieu, the principal characters in which were among his most effective parts. On 10 June 1838 he gave a memorable performance of Henry V, for which Stanfield prepared sketches, and the mounting was superintended by Bulwer-Lytton, Dickens, Forster, Maclise, W. J. Fox and other friends.[1]

Dickens wrote to him in 1847: "The multitude of tokens by which I know you for a great man, the swelling within me of my love for you, the pride I have in you, the majestic reflection I see in you of the passions and affections that make up our mystery, throw me into a strange kind of transport that has no expression but in a mute sense of an attachment which in truth and fervency is worthy of its subject."[5]

Macready playing 'Macbeth'

The first production of Bulwer-Lytton's Money took place under the artistic direction of Count d'Orsay on 8 December 1840, Macready winning unmistakable success in the character of Alfred Evelyn. Both in his management of Covent Garden, which he resigned in 1839, and of Drury Lane, which he held from 1841 to 1843, he found his designs for the elevation of the stage frustrated by the absence of adequate public support. In 1843 he staged Cymbeline. In 1843–1844 he made a successful tour in the United States, but his last visit to the country in 1849 was marred by a riot at the Astor Opera House, New York, arising from the jealousy of the actor Edwin Forrest, which resulted in the death of twenty-three people and injured a hundred, who were shot by the militia called out to quell the disturbance;[1] Judge Charles Patrick Daly later presided at the trial. Both Forrest and Macready were playing Macbeth in concurrent, competing productions at the time of the riot, a fact which added to the ominous reputation of that play. American playwright Richard Nelson dramatized the events surrounding the riot in his 1990 play Two Shakespearean Actors.[6]

Macready took leave of the stage in a farewell performance of Macbeth at Drury Lane on 26 February 1851. The remainder of his life was spent in happy retirement, and he died at Cheltenham on 27 April 1873.

He married twice, firstly in 1823 to Catherine Frances Atkins (died 1852). Of a numerous family of children only one son and one daughter survived. In 1860, aged 67 he married the 23 year old Cecile Louise Frederica Spencer (1827–1908), by whom he had a son, Nevil Macready.

Macready's remains were deposited in the catacomb below the Anglican Chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery.

In 1927 the Cheltenham Local Tablets Committee placed a bronze tablet at No. 6 Wellington Square recording Macready's residence there from 1860 to 1873.[7]


According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition:

Macready's performances always displayed fine artistic perceptions developed to a high degree of perfection by very comprehensive culture, and even his least successful personations had the interest resulting from thorough intellectual study. He belonged to the school of Kean rather than of Kemble; but, if his tastes were better disciplined and in some respects more refined than those of Kean, his natural temperament did not permit him to give proper effect to the great tragic parts of Shakespeare, King Lear perhaps excepted, which afforded scope for his pathos and tenderness, the qualities in which he specially excelled. With the exception of a voice of good compass and capable of very varied expression, Macready had no especial physical gifts for acting, but the defects of his face and figure cannot be said to have materially affected his success.[8]

When Macready retired, Alfred Tennyson dedicated the following verse to him:

"Farewell, Macready, since to-night we part:
  Full-handed thunders often have confessed
  Thy power, well used to move the public breast.
We thank thee with one voice, and from the heart.
Farewell, Macready, since this night we part.
  Go take thine honours home; rank with the best;
  Garrick, and statelier Kemble, and the rest,
Who made a nation purer through their art.
Thine is it that the drama did not die.
  Nor flicker down to brainless pantomime.
  And those gilt gauds men-children swarm to see.
Farewell, Macready; moral, grave, sublime,
Our Shakespeare's bland and universal eye
  Dwells pleased, through twice a hundred years on thee."


Macready's son from his second marriage was General Sir Nevil Macready, a distinguished British Army officer as was his brother, Major Edward Nevil Macready, who commanded the Light Company of the 30th Regiment of Foot in the closing stages of the Battle of Waterloo.[7]

His daughter, Catherine Frances B Macready, was a minor Victorian poet. Her book, Leaves From the Olive Mount, published by Chapman & Hall in 1860, began with a one-page dedication poem, 'To My Father'. The writer Rowena Farre (Daphne Lois Macready) was a great-granddaughter of William Macready. American stage, film, and television actor George Macready claimed to be a descendant.

Macready! Stage play and television adaptation[edit]

Actor Frank Barrie wrote and performed the one-man play Macready!, which was first performed in 1979 and eventually staged in 65 countries.[9] A television adaptation of the play was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1983 as a one-hour special, again starring Frank Barrie.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911, p. 268.
  2. ^ A History of Warwick and its People by Thomas Kemp. Published 1905 by Henry T. Cooke & Son. Page 75
  3. ^ Grace Ioppolo: William Shakespeare's King Lear: A Sourcebook. London, Routledge, 2003, p. 69.
  4. ^ Mullin, Emily (6 September 2011). "Macready's Triumph: The Restoration of King Lear to the British Stage". Penn History Review. Berkeley Electronic Press. 18 (1). Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  5. ^ de la L. Oulton, Carolyn W. (2016). Romantic Friendship in Victorian Literature. Routledge. ISBN 978-1317061533.
  6. ^ Rich, Frank (17 January 1992). "War of Hams Where the Stage Is All". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  7. ^ a b "W. C. Macready and Cheltenham: Unveiling of memorial tablet". Gloucester Citizen. 16 March 1927. Retrieved 26 October 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  8. ^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 268–269.
  9. ^ [1] Macready!
  10. ^ [2] Macready!



  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Macready, William Charles". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 268–269. which in turn cites:
    • William Charles Macready, Reminiscences, and Selections from his Diaries and Letters, Sir Frederick Pollock, ed., 2 vols. (London and New York, 1875)
    • William Archer, William Charles Macready (1890).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]