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Sir Henry Irving

Irving, Sir Henry, 1838–1905, English actor and theatrical manager, originally named John Henry Brodribb. He made his debut in 1856 and achieved fame in 1871 with his portrayal of Mathias in Leopold Lewis's The Bells, a role he often repeated. Irving managed London's Lyceum Theatre from 1878 to 1903. With Ellen Terry as his leading lady he dominated the English stage and was largely responsible for introducing the theater to his country's burgeoning middle class. He was a champion of the star system and produced artistic spectacles that emphasized scenic detail. As an actor he was most successful in the "realistic" melodramas of his day and in Shakespeare's plays, which he liberally abridged. To him acting was movement and emotion; his realistic approach to creating a character, in which he stressed that the actor should incorporate real feelings into his characterization, led to the noted controversy with his French contemporary, Coquelin, who advocated simulated emotion (or representation) in acting. His company frequently toured the United States where he became quite well known. Irving was knighted in 1895, the first actor to be so honored, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

See biographies by B. Stoker (1906), G. Craig (1930), his grandson L. Irving (1952), and C. M. Bingham (1978); studies by A. Hughes (1981), G. Rowell (1981), and M. Holroyd (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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