Thomas Betterton

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Betterton, Thomas

(bĕt`ərtən), 1635?–1710, English actor and manager. He joined Sir William D'Avenant's company at Lincoln's Inn Fields theater in 1661 and became the leading actor of the Restoration stage, the theatrical leader of his time. In the role of Hamlet he was acknowledged as the greatest since Burbage. After D'Avenant's death (1668), he became the head of the company and moved to the Dorset Garden theater (1671), which he partially managed, and where he was especially successful in adaptations of Shakespeare by Dryden, Shadwell, Tate, and himself. Betterton managed the Drury Lane theater from 1682 until 1695, at which time he reopened a theater in Lincoln's Inn Fields, with Congreve's Love for Love as his first production. In 1705 he moved his company to the new Haymarket theater, built for them by Sir John Vanbrugh, where he made his last appearance in 1710. Sent to Paris by James II to study French technique, Betterton adopted new ideas in his theaters, especially in regard to scene design. His wife, Mary Saunderson Betterton, d. 1711, was the first woman to act Shakespeare's great female characters, most notably Lady Macbeth. Both are buried in Westminster Abbey.


See R. W. Lowe, Thomas Betterton (1891, repr. 1972); B. Marinacci, Leading Ladies (1961).

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The indictment, preserved in the Public Record Office, charges Thomas Betterton, Thomas Doggett, John Bowman, Cave Underhill, Elizabeth Barry, George Park, John Hodgson, Anne Bracegirdle and George Bright with setting up a 'Common Playhouse' in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields and with presenting in the presence of 'divers persons' an 'obscene, prophane and pernicious Comedy entitled Love for Love' and likewise Ravenscroft's The Anatomist or Sham Doctor and Vanbrugh's The Provok'd Wife.