Monday, September 21, 2009

Edwin Booth. Othello. 100+ Years Ago. Wow.

Finds like this send chills up my spine.  The Shakespeare geeks likely know, though others may not, that a certain Booth – Mr. Edwin Booth, to be precise – was a much heralded Shakespearean actor in the late 1800’s.  If the name sounds familiar, you are correct – he is the brother John Wilkes Booth, and hopefully we all know what he did.

Would you have ever thought in a million years that you could hear what Edwin Booth sounded like?  Here’s a portion of his Othello, courtesy Michigan State:


Of course the quality is terrible – it’s from a wax cylinder!  The fact that it exists at all is amazing.  You’re listening to a guy that was alive when Lincoln was  shot.

How do you like his delivery, what you can make of it?  He seems a little … I dunno, spooky to me.  Bela Lugosi?  I’m trying to remember which of the horror movie actors was famous for that ghoulish sort of elongating of the vowels.  Like the narration on the old “Monster Mash” variety song.

What a horrible comparison to make.  Sacrilege, I know. :)

1 comment:

JM said...

Very Cool stuff, Duane.

Poor Edwin--he never really lived down what his wacko brother did.

His cadence reminds me a little of a cross between a John Barrymore and John Gielgud delivery.-A sort of wave-like ebb and flow, rising and falling accents, with a little emotional tremolo now and again. It's typical of the declamatory style which was the accepted way of delivering "poetic drama" well into the early 20th century.
It's my belief that Shakespeare's boys sounded little like it, but that it was residual, from the Restoration style, when actors had to declaim just to get the attention of their self-centered audiences away from themselves or the overdone spectacle on stage around them. We've since rejected the style, of course, but it took a long time to whittle away at it bit by bit. You can still see vestiges of the acting style in the movies from Lugosi's time period though--the all too too sincere emoting, gesturing, and tremulous voices of the heroes and heroines.
Oh Jaahn....Oh Maaarry...Jaahn...Maaahrry.