Phelps, Samuel,1804–78, English actor-manager. After appearing in the provinces for some years he became known in London c.1837 for his portrayals of Shakespearean characters. His contribution to 19th-century theater was in opening (1844) and managing Sadler's Wells, London. There, where melodrama had reigned, he staged Shakespeare's works with imagination and taste; his productions were noted for their scenic beauty. He left Sadler's Wells in 1862 but continued acting.
Born Feb. 13, 1804, in Devonport; died Nov. 6, 1878, in Coopersale. British actor and stage director.
In 1837, Phelps first performed at the Haymarket Theatre in London, where he later played numerous Shakespearean roles, including the title roles in The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Othello, Richard III, and King Lear, Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Phelps’ acting was distinguished by its simplicity, naturalness, and masterful characterization.
From 1844 to 1862, Phelps directed the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, where he staged nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays. One of the greatest British stage directors of the 19th century, he was extremely important in establishing realism on the English stage. In his stagings he stressed the educational role of the theater. Phelps edited a two-volume collection of Shakespeare’s plays (1852–54).
REFERENCESIstoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 3. Edited by S. S. Mokul’-skii. Moscow, 1963.
Phelps, W. M., and J. Forbes-Robertson. The Life and Work of Samuel Phelps. London, 1886.
Sprague, A. C. Shakespeare and the Actors. Cambridge, Mass., 1945.
F. M. KRYMKO