Kean


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Kean

Edmund. ?1789--1833, English actor, noted for his Shakespearean roles

Kean

 

English stage family.

Edmund Kean. Born Mar. 17, 1787, in London; died May 15, 1833, in Richmond. Representative of Engish stage romanticism.

Kean became a strolling player at the age of 12, and by 14 he began acting in provincial theaters. It was in these theaters that he created the roles that later brought him fame (including parts in Shakespeare’s tragedies). Kean performed in London for the first time in 1814 as Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice at the Drury Lane Theatre, where he later established himself as the finest tragic actor in England. His most famous roles included Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and lago and Sir Overreach in Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts. The characters Kean created combined the tragic with the ordinary. Their emotions, their suffering and joys, were close in spirit to those experienced by the audience.

Kean was both an actor and a humanist and strove to create figures of great moral purity. As Othello he stressed the character’s depth of suffering rather than his jealousy, and he interpreted Hamlet in terms of spontaneous protest against the falsehood and hypocrisy within English society. Kean’s extraordinary stage presence, sharp mind, power of observation, and fine character delineation brought vitality to his art. His performance of every new role became an event of social significance.

Kean was close to democratic circles; his progressive tendencies made him subject to the attack of certain critics, who approached his acting from the point of view of classicism—a school aesthetically foreign to him. After a triumph unprecedented in the history of the English theater, Kean was openly persecuted by the reactionary circles of English society, and he was not permitted to direct the Drury Lane. After a tour in the USA in 1825 and 1826 he rarely appeared on stage.

Charles John Kean. Born Jan. 18, 1811, in Waterford; died Jan. 22, 1868, in London. Son of Edmund Kean.

Kean studied at Eton. In 1827 he made his debut at the Drury Lane Theatre (against the wishes of his father, who did not want his son to become an actor). He played in melodramas. He tried to imitate his father, and his name brought him success, but he lacked his father’s force, emotional qualities, and ability to reveal both subtly and profoundly a character’s inner life. In 1850, Kean became head of the Princess Theatre in London, which had become popular among the English aristocracy. The theater’s repertoire consisted essentially of melodramas and the plays of Shakespeare. Kean devoted the bulk of his attention to scenery, costumes, and stage effects (hundreds of extras took part in his crowd scenes), to the detriment of plot and exposition. He strove to achieve historical authenticity in the set and to convey the atmosphere of the times in which the action took place, taking liberties with the texts of the plays for the sake of spectacle.

Kean was among the first to introduce long runs of a single play, making it possible to form a small acting troupe. Financial difficulties caused Kean to leave the theater in 1859. He toured in Australia, South America, and the USA between 1863 and 1867.

REFERENCES

Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 3. Moscow, 1963.
Mints, N. Edmund Kin. Moscow, 1957.
Hawkins, F. W. The Life of Edmund Kean From Published and Original Sources, vols. 1–2. London, 1869.

N. V. MINTS

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