“Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

John Barrymore? Walter Sichel? William Powell Frith? Anonymous Scene-Shifter? Johnston Forbes-Robertson? Arthur Machen? Cedric Hardwicke? Errol Flynn?

Dear Quote Investigator: The theater world has long been known for complex tempestuous relationships between cast members on and off the stage. One comical tale concerns the ambiguous relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia presented in William Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy.

An inquisitive theatergoer asked a well-known stage manager, “Did Hamlet have an affair with Ophelia?” The manager quickly responded, “In my company, always”.

Would you please explore the history of this tale?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 “The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections” by Walter Sichel appeared. The author relayed a story he heard from the painter William Powell Frith who died in 1909. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

At one time he delighted to go behind the scenes of the theatre and chat with the scene-shifters. One of them appeared very intelligent, and Mr. Frith asked him if he had ever himself been a player. He had, in the provinces. Had he ever acted Shakespeare? Of course he had, he had played in ‘Amlick, he had, indeed, acted the chief part.

“Very interesting,” said Mr. Frith, “please tell me what is your conception of Hamlet’s relation to Ophelia. Did he, so to speak, love her not wisely but too well?“I don’t know, sir, if ‘Amlick did, but I did,” was the unblushing answer.

The key line was delivered by an anonymous thespian who also worked as a member of a stage crew. This family of anecdotes is highly variable in expression; thus, the origin is difficult to trace.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

Notes:

  1. 1923, The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections by Walter Sichel, Chapter 8: Editorship—and After, Quote Page 238, Hutchinson and Company, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View)

I Traveled Fifty Miles To See Your Bust Unveiled. . . .

Winston Churchill? Hugh Hampton Young? Bennett Cerf? John Barrymore? Jacob Potofsky? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to a bawdy anecdote, British statesman Winston Churchill once attended a ceremony during which a sculpture of his likeness was unveiled. A beautiful woman approached him, and their provocative exchange included a pun on the word “bust”. Would you please explore the authenticity of this tale?

Quote Investigator: Historian and Churchill quotation expert Richard M. Langworth discussed this anecdote in his compilation “Churchill By Himself” within an appendix called “Red Herrings: False Attributions”. Langworth remarked that ribald statements were often incorrectly ascribed to Churchill, but they did not fit his character. In the following excerpt “WSC” abbreviated the full name Winston S. Churchill. Emphasis added by QI: 1

One example will suffice: a curvaceous female admirer who meets WSC at the unveiling of his sculpture says: “I got up at dawn and drove a hundred miles for the unveiling of your bust”; WSC supposedly replies, “Madam, I would happily reciprocate the honour.” In reality, Churchill simply was not given to salacious remarks, and nearly always treated the opposite sex with Victorian courtesy.

The earliest match for this comical tale located by QI appeared in the 1940 book “Hugh Young: A Surgeon’s Autobiography” by Hugh Hampton Young who was a prominent urologist and medical researcher. The doctor’s long record of accomplishments was celebrated at the University of Virginia during a ceremony which included the inaugural display of a bust created by the notable English sculptor Claire Sheridan. Young described his attendance at the event: 2

They insisted on my being present, and I sat through the ordeal while Dr. John H. Neff made a meticulous analysis of my contributions to medicine. When at long last the function was over, a young woman came up and said, “I hope you appreciate that I have come fifty miles to see your bust unveiled.” Whereupon, with a bow, I said, “I would go a thousand to see yours.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Traveled Fifty Miles To See Your Bust Unveiled. . . .

Notes:

  1. 2013 (Kindle Edition), In His Own Words: Churchill By Himself by Winston S. Churchill, Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Appendix I: Red Herrings: False Attributions. (Kindle Location 19563)
  2. 1940, Hugh Young: A Surgeon’s Autobiography by Hugh H. Young, Chapter 29: Bob, Quote Page 509, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)