Moments of Note: The Players on Stage

These are selected and exemplary performances from across the site interspersed with major world events. See our bibliography, here.


On April 24 and 25, Frank Benson’s company travels from Stratford to give two performances of Othello at the Globe Theatre in London. Benson plays Othello, and his wife Constance plays Desdemona. Benson performs in blackface as there are no black actors on any major British or American stage playing Shakespeare between the late Ira Aldridge, who died in 1867, and Paul Robeson who won’t premiere on stage as Othello until 1930 at the Savoy Theatre in London.


Henry Irving’s second production of Much Ado About Nothing opens at the Lyceum Theatre (London) on July 3 and runs for four performances—the 1890 production ran fifty-three shows; Irving and Ellen Terry revive their roles as Benedick and Beatrice. In two years, Irving will become the person ever to be knighted on the merit of his acting.

Also in 1893, Henry Clay and Emily Jordan Folger purchase their first of many First Folios (1623), an original copy of Shakespeare’s first published plays. In June, two years after playing his final performance as Hamlet, and suffering a pair of stokes, Edwin Booth, hailed as the greatest Shakespearean actor America ever produced, dies in New York.


Julia Marlowe purchases a mansion at 337 Riverside Drive in Manhattan with the profits from her many Broadway successes including her roles in Shakespeare. Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, opens on February 14 and is a major success in the midst of his legal troubles. Evelyn Millard creates the role of Cecily Cardew in this play. Irene Vanbrugh, sister of Violet, creates the role of Gwendolyn Fairfax.


Many of the postcards in this collection are published by the Rotary Photographic Company Ltd., which is founded this year in London as a subsidiary of Neue Photographische Gesellschaft, a German company. It is is to be liquidated after the outbreak of World War I.

After financing and rebuilding the grand Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, the enigmatic Herbert Beerbohm Tree plays Marc Antony in his production of Julius Caesar; the play runs from January 22 until June 18, with a total of 161 performances. The other players are Lewis Waller as Brutus and Evelyn Millard as Portia. Tree goes on to produce and perform in many other successful Shakespeare plays at this theatre.

Also this year, Sarah Bernhardt performs her celebrated Hamlet at the Adelphi Theatre in London; the play opens on June 12, and Bernhardt gives sixteen performances. Two years later in France, she will star as Hamlet again, this time in the first-recorded (non-silent) film version of Shakespeare.


King John becomes (reputedly) the first-ever motion picture adaptation of a Shakespeare play. It is a short silent film, lasting at most a scene, and stars Beerbohm Tree in the leading role and Julia Neilson appears as Lady Constance. A brief segment of the short film still exists today, and one of our postcards depicts Tree in this role. Watch a video clip of this silent film.


J. Comyns, as managing director, presents eighty performances of Henry V with Lewis Waller in title role. The play runs at the Lyceum Theatre (London) from December 22, 1900, until March 16, 1901. Others in the cast are William Mollison as Pistol and Sarah Brooke, who plays Katherine of France. The critics call the performance a “genuine and complete success.” Queen Victoria dies on January 22 and is succeeded by her son, Edward VII. In September, US President William McKinley is assassinated.


On October 17, the New York City producer Charles Frohman presents E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe playing for the first time together in a Shakespeare play. They lead in Romeo & Juliet at the Illinois Theatre in Chicago. As time goes on, the many performances of the pair include Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrewand Much Ado About Nothing. The two remain enormously successful on Broadway and will marry in seven years time.

Also this year, Adrienne McNeil Herndon, wife of Atlanta’s first black millionaire, debuts as Anne du Bignon to glowing reviews at Steinert Hall in Boston, reciting Antony & Cleopatra in its entirety. In the next years, she would go on to organize the first Class Day production of Shakespeare at Atlanta University, The Merchant of Venice, thereby opening up the University, and would-be black actors, to the wider world of theater and magnetizing Atlanta as the premiere center for dramatic arts in the American South.


April 29 marks the beginning of Sir Henry Irving’s final London season. His illustrious career in Shakespeare ends with his playing Shylock, a role in The Merchant of Venice for which he became famous. On April 30, Albert Einstein completes his thesis and is soon awarded a PhD from the University of Zurich before going on to publish a series of some of his most groundbreaking papers, Annus Mirabilis. Also this year, Sarah Bernhardt gravely injures herself during a performance in Rio de Janeiro eventually leading to her entire right leg being amputated in 1915. She begins using a wheelchair for several months and eventually a prosthetic limb, and will continue her triumphant stage and film career for the rest of her life.


On December 27, Beerbohm Tree stages a revival of Antony & Cleopatra at His Majesty’s Theatre. Tree plays Marc Antony with Constance Collier as Cleopatra. Basil Gill also appears in this production. In the next year, the internationally popular Australian actor Oscar Asche and his wife Lily Brayton (both former members of Tree’s company) will take over management of Tree’s theater and mount their own slew of successful Shakespeare productions.


Matheson Lang’s production of Romeo & Juliet opens at the Lyceum Theatre, London, on March 3 and runs through May 30, with eighty-eight performances. Well received at the box office and by critics, the principal players are Lang as Romeo and Nora Kerin as Juliet. Maxine Elliott, sister of Gertrude and her husband Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, opens The Maxine Elliott Theatre on Broadway this year becoming the only woman in the US at the time running her own theater. Also this year, in Detroit, Henry Ford introduces the mass-produced Model T to the world.


On February 8, H. B. Irving revives his production of Hamlet to much acclaim at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London. His wife Dorothea Baird plays Ophelia. On March 13, Matheson Lang plays Hamlet in his own revival at the Lyceum Theatre. Also this year, Beerbohm Tree is knighted by the king for his many contributions to theatre. Theodore Roosevelt is succeeded by William Howard Taft on March 4 as President of the United States.


On September 1, at His Majesty’s Theatre, Sir Beerbohm Tree plays Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII; the other players include Violet Vanbrugh as Queen Katharine and Laura Cowie as Anne Boleyn. Edward VII of the United Kingdom dies on May 6 that year and his son, George V is later crowned.


Fred Terry produces a version of Romeo & Juliet—he called it a “new arrangement”—at the New Theatre, London, with his wife Julia Neilson on September 2. The lead actors here are Vernon Steel and Terry’s daughter, Phyllis. Dubbed the largest ship in the world, the RMS Titanic is launched in Belfast on May 31. In one year’s time, it will hit an iceberg and sink in the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage to New York, deterring much of the travel between Britain and America.


On October 15, Richard III is released as a silent film starring Frederick Warde and becomes the oldest surviving American feature-length film. Also this year, the world-famous Sarah Bernhardt stars in the first film produced for the company that would eventually be re-branded as Paramount Pictures. In February, Arizona is admitted to Union as the forty-eighth and last state to be added to the contiguous United States.


Frank Benson returns from a tour in the United States to again direct one of his nearly thirty Stratford Summer Festivals. He opens the four-week festival with Much Ado About Nothing followed by an impressive selection of fan favorites. It ends with a rousing performance of Henry V in which Benson’s entire company marches on stage holding weapons such as spears and halberds showcasing patriotic solidarity. The date of this performance is August 4, the same day that Britain declares war on Germany.

There are seven images of postcards to the right. The first shows a scene from Hamlet starring Julia Marlowe and E. H. Sothern. the second shows Dame Ellen Terry in Much Ado About Nothing. The third image shows Henry Ainley and Lily Brayton in As You Like It followed by Matheson Lang and H. B. Irving in Othello. The fifth image shows H. B. Irving, Walter Hampden, Oscar Asche, and Maud Milton in Hamlet. The sixth postcard image depicts A. Milroy, Halliwell Hobbes, R. Hatteras, and Nora Lancaster in Cymbeline. The final image shows Sir Beerbohm Tree, Lily Brayton, Oscar Asche, and William Haviland in Richard II.