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IN 1877, in a conversation with Edwin Booth, I expressed 1 to him a regret,—which, doubtless, is felt by many vota
ries of the drama,—that little of the stage business of the famous old actors, such as Burbage, Betterton, Quin, Wilks, Garrick, Barry, Henderson, Kemble, Edmund Kean, Macready, etc., has been recorded, and that it should be difficult for a student of acting to ascertain the exact manner in which those actors played the parts with which, historically, their names are associated ; and I suggested that the time would come when students of acting might find it as hard to learn material facts about his Hamlet and Richelieu, as we had found it to learn material facts about Burbage in Shylock, or Henderson in Iago. We talked long and carnestly on this subject, and the result of our colloquy was a resolve to print the Edwin Booth PROMPT Book, to comprise the sixteen plays which were included in Booth's regular and customary repertory. That collection of plays, with all the original prefaces and notes, and with additional embellishments,—the whole material revised and corrected, is now presented in a Library Edition.
Edwin Booth said that twenty years earlier, in 1857, he had begun to make stage versions of some of the stock plays then in use by him, and he referred to books of several of them which he had caused to be printed, in the time of his · management of the Winter Garden Theatre, 1863 to 1867, under the supervision of a member of his theatrical company : those books, being dissatisfied with them, he said that he had discarded. It was planned that the new Prompt Book should give the text of the several plays only as actually used in his
representations of them, and should preserve as much as possible of his stage business. A few days later he sent to me the tragedy of “Richard III,” cut and arranged for the stage, and the book of that tragedy was the first of the series that went to the press. Booth had previously, in 1876, reverted to the original text of that play, discarding Cibber and restoring Shakespeare. We had many discussions about the text, not only of “Richard III,” but of the other Shakespearean dramas, and I found my belief amply confirmed, that, in every case, he had studied his subject with scrupulous attention and deep insight, and was thoroughly and minutely acquainted with every part of it.
The series was completed and published within the years 1877 and 1878. It included "Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “Othello," “King Lear," "Richard II,” “Richard III,” “Henry VIII," "The Merchant of Venice,” “Much Ado About Nothing," “Katharine and Petruchio," "Richelieu," "The Fool's Revenge,” “Brutus," "Ruy Blas,” and “Don Cesar de Bazan.” The last play published was "Henry VIII." The tragedy of "Julius Cæsar" was cut and arranged for publication, but it was not printed until after the formation of the Booth and Barrett alliance, in 1886-87, and it was then hurriedly sent to press, without either preface or notes, That lack I have supplied in the present edition. Booth's stage version of “The Merchant of Venice," as originally made, did not include the fifth act, but after Booth and Lawrence Barrett joined their dramatic forces they thought it wise to follow the example of Henry Irving (that great actor having, in the meantime, 1883, come to America and presented “The Merchant of Venice" in a magnificent manner, with the full text of Shakespeare, and with the incomparable Ellen Terry as Portia), and so the last act of the comedy was restored to its rightful place. Booth's prompt-copy originally ended with Shylock's exit, after the Trial.
Booth did not write into the plays as much of his stage business as I wished him to give, for the capricious reason that he fancied it would be tedious, but he furnished many directions, and he approved of many that were supplied by me from recollection of his performances : it was in consequence of a comment of mine upon Hamlet's demeanor in the rehearsal scene that he discontinued the use of that singular phrase, “ the mobléd queen,” and put the folio reading, “ innobled queen," meaning degraded queen, in its place; that reading he ever afterwards retained and used. The plays were printed in the regular prompt-book form, with a blank page facing each page of the text. The intention was to include, within a brief compass, all the information absolutely essential for actors, as to each play, and to make every detail of the representation clear, so that the stage mechanics could set each play by merely following the directions in each book. It was Booth's desire, furthermore, that the Prompt Book should, ultimately, be extended, so as to comprise not only the plays included in his personal repertory, but many others, in short, that it should be made a compendium of the Standard Acting Drama. This work and also a History of the Rise and Progress of the Theatre in America were literary projects that we had planned to fulfill in collaboration. Various obstacles, however, delayed the accomplishment of our plans, and Booth's untimely death put an end to them.
WILLIAM WINTER. New York, February 9, 1899.