“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)

Dear Sir, I Have Read Your Play. Oh, My Dear Sir. Yours Faithfully

Herbert Beerbohm Tree? Albert Chevalier? John Clayton? Johnston Forbes-Robertson? John Golden? James Wallen? John Alfred Calthrop? Charles Dillingham? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Successful producers and directors are regularly sent screenplays and scripts by individuals with high aspirations. Unfortunately, these products of creativity are often terrible. One theater manager in the 1800s responded with a devastating two sentence assessment. The critical words have been attributed to the prominent English actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Era” newspaper of London in 1888. A short item of “Theatrical Gossip” credited the actor and theater manager John Clayton with delivering the harsh assessment in a letter. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A young author sent a play to the late Mr John Clayton, and begged him to read it. After a few days he received the MS. and the following characteristic reply:—“Dear Sir,—I have read your play— Oh! my dear sir.—Yours, J.C.”

The same item appeared in other newspapers in 1888 such as the “South Wales Echo” of Glamorgan, Wales. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Dear Sir, I Have Read Your Play. Oh, My Dear Sir. Yours Faithfully

Notes:

  1. 1888 November 10, The Era, Theatrical Gossip, Quote Page 10, Column 2, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1888 November 10, South Wales Echo, Green-room Gossip, Quote Page 2, Column 6, Glamorgan, Wales. (British Newspaper Archive)