[IRVING, Henry, Sir (1838-1905)]. SHAKESPEARE, William. Hamlet, A Tragedy... the Only Edition Existing Which is Faithfully Marked with the Stage Business, and Stage Directions. London: Published for the Proprietors of the Theatres Royal, 1818.
12o (173 x 102 mm). Engraved frontispiece of Charles John Kean as Hamlet. (Last leaf a bit soiled, few small inkstains.) Contemporary half calf, marbled boards (spine and joints repaired); blue cloth folding case. Provenance: Sir Henry Irving (pencil notation in another hand on front flyleaves; John Fleming in Four Oaks Library, 1967, p.103: "A copy belonging to Henry Irving."); Jenny Shaw (pencil note on flyleaves: "from the Jenny Shaw library.")
SIR HENRY IRVING'S COPY OF HAMLET, with six autograph notes in ink (some cropped), in an unidentified hand (possibly Irving's). Laid-in is a small pencil sketch of Ion, a part played by Irving in his early days, identified on verso: "Drawing in Henry Irving's marked copy of Hamlet.
Born John Brodribb, Irving came to dominate the English stage in the last quarter of the 19th century. He made his first stage appearance in 1856 then, after a decade in provincial stock, he came to London at the behest of Dion Boucicault, appearing at the St. James Theatre in 1866 in the role of Rawdon Scudamore (see lot 81). On October 31, 1874 at the Lyceum, Irving introduced his original and very unconventional portrayal of Hamlet, which ran for 200 nights and was revived in 1878. Irving's first performance as Hamlet, his obituary in The Times (1905) recalled, was a critical moment: "For the first two acts the audience received the new Hamlet in complete silence... he was nothing that Hamlets traditionally should be, but only a prince and a gentleman, with an engaging tinge of melancholy and a quiet, almost familiar, demeanor." His Hamlet "was not a thing of lightning flashes, but a consistent and reasoned whole; a prince and a gentleman who failed to do the great things demanded of him, not so much from weakness of will as from excess of tenderness." In the next several decades, Irving made notable appearances as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, as Iago opposite Edwin Booth in Othello, and many others. The Lyceum stage under Irving was noted for the brilliance of its scenery, dressing, lighting and stagecraft. In 1895 Irving became the first actor to win a knighthood. He died "on tour" in October 1905 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.