- Henry Irving's Waterloo: Theatrical Engagements with Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, Edward Gordon Craig, Late-Victorian Culture, Assorted Ghosts, Old Men, War and History by W.D. King (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 21, Number 1, Summer 1995
- pp. 97-99
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews97 And while it contains several well-chosen iUustrations, I longed for more, particularly to accompany the descriptions of the "frocks." JUDITH W. FISHER Queen's University W.D. King. Henry Irving's Waterloo: Theatrical Engagements with Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, Edward Gordon Craig, Late-Victorian Culture, Assorted Ghosts, Old Men, War and History. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993. xxv + 303. Despite its baroquely recherché subtitle, Henry Irving's Waterloo advances a neo-historical methodology (in addition to a formidable body of research), which offers new directions and future chaUenges for theatre historians. Conan Doyle's A Story of Waterloo is a mere pebble of dramatic literature, which King has thrown into the waters of late Victorian culture, only to find that the resultant ripples flow in all directions, most of which offer fresh insights into the transition period in British theatre at the turn of the century. While he acknowledges his debts to Kuhn, Foucault and Benjamin, King writes in his own idiom — a compeUing and readily comprehensible style, which is as free ofjargon as it is stimulating and provocative. Although King has achieved a refashioning of theatre history methodology, his work still appreciates the myths and ghosts of the theatre's historic past By the author's own account, Henry living's Waterloo grew in a very traditional manner. King happened to notice Bernard Shaw's scarifying review of Irving in A Story of Waterloo, a little known play by Arthur Conan Doyle, in a paperback collection of Shaw's Saturday Review critiques covering the period 1895 to 1898. Like another of Conan Doyle's more famous heroes, King set out to investigate why Shaw had gone against the general trend of enthusiasm which universally greeted Irving in the role of Corporal Brewster, the hero of Hougoument, one of the pivotal engagements of the Battle of Waterloo. Brewster is the doughty corporal who drove a cartload of much needed ammunition through a burning hedge to relieve his besieged regiment. In the play the octogenarian warrior relives that moment on stage, just before dying. In an electrifying coup do théâtre, Irving transforms before the very eyes of his audience from withered veteran to sprightly hero, frozen in a fitting pose that both captivates and enthrals, as he utters the immortal Une, "The Guards need powder, and, by God, they 98 Victorian Review shall have it!" (259). King found a long unborrowed French's acting edition of Waterloo in his coUege Ubrary and decided that although the play was obvious claptrap, it was also, in the words of A.B. Walkley, "a perfect" play, which "touched all hearts always" (xvi). AU except Shaw's, it would seem. King set out to discover why this was so. At the heart of the matter is the conflict between Shaw and Irving, which King characterizes as a battle between the "Dook" (as in Duke of Wellington) of the Theatre World, and his Napoleon, the theatrical upstart playwright. After a two year battle Irving finally rejected Shaw's offering him the chance to play Napoleon in his The Man of Destiny. Instead Irving chose Sardou's Emperor Napoleon, clearly aligning himself with the forces of the Old Theatre against those of the New. One of the victims of this contest was Ellen Terry, whose case is not as thoroughly explored in the book as one might have wished. However, Terry's son, Gordon Craig, takes up the cudgels against Shaw and fights long into the twentieth century in his family's name, at the same time perpetuating the ghost of Irving we know today. In his review, "Mr. Irving Takes Paregoric", Shaw declares that Waterloo is void of acting; all the effects and machinery are there, but contrived by the author. He further maintains that Irving did not have to act the part. (Patent nonsense as any perusal of the text will demonstrate: the part certainly does not act itself). The "Uterary play", on the other hand, which Shaw prefers and which Waterloo is not, is a play in which the actors must act. Shaw wanted actors who spoke as the playwright's proxy, not actors whose personalities...