by: David Howland (Author)
from: The Camelot Project 2001
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Kate and I had been trained almost from our birth forThe discipline that the actress learned though also came from a rigorous rehearsal schedule that the Keans required of all who worked in their theater. During her work in A Winter's Tale, Terry describes the work environment as follows:
the stage, and particularly in the important branch of clear
articulation. . . . They were both very fond of us and saw
our faults with the eyes of love, though they were unsparing
in their corrections." (Terry, 12)
"Rehearsals lasted all day, Sundays included, and whenAfter opening on April 28, 1856, Terry performed her role of Mamillius every night without use of an understudy, for one hundred and two nights. The Times review of her performance stated that she was "vivacious and precocious, a worthy relative of her sister Kate" (Terry, 15). While a youngster working for Keans, she undertook quite a few more roles including tackling the character of Puck from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. She recalls a funny moment during one performance when she scampered out of a trap door in the stage to deliver the closing lines of the play and got her toe stuck when the stagehand closed the door. She began to wail, but was motivated by both her sister (who was the understudy for Titania that evening) and Mrs. Keans (who offered to double her salary should she finish the performance) to complete the speech through her sobs (Terry, 17). Her dedication and perseverance as an actress were apparent at an early age, and as Ellen Terry grew and matured into one of Britain's leading ladies, her success was inevitable.
there was no play running at night, until four or five the
next morning." (Terry, 13)
"His fierce and indomitable will showed itself in hisNevertheless, Terry was disappointed with the state of her acting after this performance with Irving, and within a few months she decided to leave the theater for what would be a six-year hiatus, during which she chose to raise her family and concentrate on her homelife.
application to his work . . . . I learned from watching him that
to do work well, the artist must spend his life in incessant
labour, and deny himself everything for that purpose." (Terry, 74)
"It is no good observing life and bringing the result to theIn another episode, she was arguing with Irving about the costumes that she had chosen for her particular scenes. The controversy arose when she explained her intention to wear a black dress during the mad-scene. Though Irving only questioned her innocently that afternoon—"They generally wear white, don't they?"—the next afternoon, a horrified advisor of Irving's who had witnessed the discussion said to Ellen, "My God! Madam, there must be only one black figure in this play, and that's Hamlet!" (Terry, 157). Terry was embarrassed by her blunder, but Irving's patience led her to a conclusion that she held throughout her tenure at the Lyceum: "Although I knew more art and archaeology in dress than he did, he had a finer sense of what was right for the scene" (Terry, 157). Terry recalls that Irving constantly held his work and the work of everyone else in his company to a continually rising standard, so it is no wonder that by 1895 when King Arthur opened, the performances of Irving as Arthur and Terry as Guinevere were praised both in England and America.
stage without selection, without a definite idea. The idea
must come first, the realism afterwards" (Terry, 155).
"As to Miss Ellen Terry, it was the old story, born actressHis review continues to explain how Carr's limp and uninteresting prose is a "heartless waste of an exquisite talent" when performed by Terry. He describes her performance as bringing certain lines "to perfection, but often with a parting caress that brings it beyond that for an instant" (Shaw, 94). In Clement Scott's article about Terry, he describes the actress in terms of other characters in the Arthurian narrative not necessarily included in Carr's drama to show how her mature acting has embodied the female spirit of the Arthurian legends:
of real women's parts condemned to figure as a mere
artist's model in costume plays which from the woman's
point of view, are foolish flatteries written by gentlemen
for gentlemen." (Shaw, 94)
"We saw her play Queen Guinevere; but at this period she was 'Elaine the fair, Elaine the loveable, Elaine the lily maid of Astolot.' She was Vivien with her mad girlish uproars. She might have sat for Rapunzel in that earliest book of Morris' The Defense of Guinevere " (Scott, 18).Other critics also applauded the emotion that Terry provided on stage. The reviewer for the Athenaeum, for example, wrote, "The scenes of love-making between Lancelot and Guinevere are sentimental and idyllic . . . they are rendered with admirable delicacy by Miss Terry, and Mr. Forbes Robertson" (Athenæum, 93). Though clearly not her most memorable role (as her portrayal of Guinevere is not even mentioned in her autobiography), Terry undertook the role of the Queen with the dedication that she always had for the theater and created a wonderful counterpart to Irving's Arthur.
"Drama: This Week." The Athenæum. 19 January 1895: 93.
Goodman, Jennifer R. "The Last of Avalon: Henry Irving's King Arthur of 1895." Harvard Library Bulletin. 32.3 (Summer 1984): 239-255.
Manvell, Roger. Ellen Terry . New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1968.
Scott, Clement. Ellen Terry . New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1900.
Shaw, George Bernard. "King Arthur." The Saturday Review. 19 January 1895: 93-94.
Terry, Ellen. The Story of My Life. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908.