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EDWARD HUGH SOTHERN. 1859-19—: JULIA MAR
LOWE, MRS. E. H. SOTHERN, 1862-19– THE
The names of Edward H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe,-actors whose professional career began in the same period and, after proceeding in adjacent pathways for many years, finally, through their participation in plays of Shakespeare, converged in 1904, and whose private lives were united by marriage, August 17, 1911, -naturally associate themselves in the dramatic record. Mr. Sothern was born in New Orleans, on December 6, 1859. His first appearance on the stage was made at the new (Abbey's) Park Theatre, New York, on September 8, 1879,-a début which I saw and remember,-in the theatrical company of his distinguished father, Edward Askew Sothern (1826-1881). The elder Sothern, early in life, wished to act in tragedy, and to the last he valued his serious more than his comic abilities. His principal success, however, was gained in grotesquely comic, satirical performances,—such as that of Lord Dundreary, in his variant of “Our American Cousin,” and as Fitzaltamont, in “The Crushed
Tragedian.” His son Edward, though by temperament and proclivity distinctly a comedian, and though possessed of a less delicate and artistic method than that of his father, early evinced a similar propensity toward serious drama, and he has achieved notable popular success in the field which was closed to the elder actor, wresting himself from his natural bent, assuming three of the most exacting tragic characters in Shakespeare, making many earnest, studious productions of serious plays, gaining many golden opinions, reflecting credit on his profession and earning for himself recognition and honorable renown in the Theatre of his period. Among conspicuously successful productions made by him, apart from those accomplished in association with Julia Marlowe, the chief are “The Dancing Girl,” “Captain Lettarblair,” “The Prisoner of Zenda,” “The Adventures of Lady Ursula,” “The King's Musketeer,” “The Sunken Bell,” “Hamlet,” “Richard Lovelace,” “If I Were King,” “Richelieu,” and “The Fool Hath Said, 'There Is No God.'” Analysis of all those plays and of Mr. Sothern's performances in them is not essential. His Duke of Guisebury, Lettarblair, and Rudolph Rassendyll, for example, were no more than respectable, competent, ephemeral personations by a clever, experienced actor in plays of the hour. Other embodiments of his, by reason both of attempt and accomplishment, as well as of subject, require considerate attention in this work.
It is “sweet and commendable” in the nature of any actor that he should wish to impersonate Hamlet, for the character is beautiful and the play which it pervades and illumines is one of transcendent intellect and sublimity. There are, however, insuperable obstacles in the way of most actors when they approach that subject. It is, indeed, readily possible for an experienced tor of respectable talent to dress in the customary trappings of woe and to walk conventionally through the part of Hamlet, speaking the words smoothly, and giving a more or less picturesque embodiment of meditative melancholy: and this is all that usually is accomplished. The essential quality of the character,—its soul of misery, its grandeur of desolation, its significance as an image of finite man baffled, overwhelmed, and ruined in the struggle to comprehend and dominate the awful mystery of his infinite environment,-is scarcely ever remotely suggested. The Poet has created and displayed a type of human nature at its highest and best, -a beautiful, exalted soul, shrined in a physical form of perfect grace; a being invested with lofty social station, “the expectancy and rose of the fair state”; environed by circumstances of romantic and awful character; deficient in the attribute of will; o'erladen by the burden of distracting thought; blasted by grief; tainted by madness; overwhelmed not only by terrible
personal affliction but by the accumulation of the shocks and sufferings of earthly experience; alike in tendency and external propulsion made a total failure; the transcendent type of all that is inexplicably strange, dark, and miserable in the spiritual destiny of man. The Stage ordinarily presents, as a correlative of that image, a handsome young man, his face carefully clean shaven, his hair carefully curled, attired in neat and becoming black velvet clothes, looking as though on the instant liberated from a band-box, with no more sense of the terrible facts of moral responsibility, spiritual suffering, life, death, and an inscrutable destiny, than a feather has of the breeze by which it is blown.
Many actors have played Hamlet in a respectable manner.
E. L. Davenport was, for many years, customarily accepted and cited as, in all respects, an efficient and thoroughly satisfactory representative of the part. He had a sufficiently correct ideal of it for practical purposes, and he expressed that ideal clearly, fluently, and with effective precision; but, probably, no one of his auditors was ever thrilled, fascinated, or even deeply moved by his expression of it, howsoever impressed by his profound reverence for the subject and by the inherent power and magical charm of the play; and this, which was true of Davenport, was also true of his compeers, such as Forrest, Murdock, Couldock, Vandenhoff, Marshall, and others, the capable, admired, and honored chieftains of a by-gone age. The simple