Lewis Carroll’s Diaries

‘Henry VIII: Queen Katherine’s Dream’, from Illustrated London News 2 June 18855, reproduced in Shakespeare’s Staging

Source: Edward Wakeling (ed.), Lewis Carroll’s Diaries: The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), vol. 1 (Lewis Carroll Society: Publications Unit, 1993), pp. 104-106

Productions: John Maddison Morton, Away with Melancholy and William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, Henry VIII, Princesses’s Theatre, London, 22 June 1855

Text: Went to the Gallery of the British Artists where I scarcely got the worth of my shilling – then heard a very good lecture on the model of Sebastopol in Leicester Square, and at five joined Ranken and a man of the name Brown at the Wellington Hotel, where we dined before going to the ‘Princess’. The evening began with a capital farce, Away with Melancholy, and then came the great play, Henry VIII, the greatest theatrical treat I ever had or expect to have. I had no idea that anything so superb as the scenery and dresses was ever to be seen on the stage. Kean was magnificent as Cardinal Wolsey, Mrs. Kean a worthy successor to Mrs. Siddons in Queen Catherine, and all the accessories without exception were good – but oh, that exquisite vision of Queen Catherine! I almost held my breath to watch: the illusion is perfect, and I felt as if in a dream all the time it lasted. It was like a delicious reverie, or the most beautiful poetry. This is the true end and object of acting – to raise the mind above itself, and out of its petty everyday cares – never shall I forget that wonderful evening, that exquisite vision – sunbeams broke in through the roof, and gradually revealed two angel forms, floating in front of the carved work on the ceiling: the column of sunbeams shone down upon the sleeping queen, and gradually down it floated a troop of angelic forms, transparent, and carrying palm branches in their hands: they waved these over the sleeping queen, with oh! such a sad and solemn grace. So could I fancy (if the thought be not profane) would real angels seem to our mortal vision, though doubtless our conception is poor and mean to the reality. She in an ecstasy raises her arms towards them, and to sweet slow music they vanish as marvellously as they came. Then the profound silence of the audience burst at once into a rapture of applause; but even that scarcely marred the effect of the beautiful sad waking words of the Queen, “Spirits of peace, where are ye?” I never enjoyed anything so much in my life before: and never felt so inclined to shed tears at anything fictitious, save perhaps at that poetical gem of Dickens, the death of little Paul.

Comments: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), who wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll, was a British mathematician, photographer and children’s author, best known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The production of Shakespeare and Fletcher‘s Henry VIII that he saw at the Princess’s Theatre in London was produced by the theatre’s manager, Charles Kean (son of Edmund Kean). It was one a number of spectacular Shakespearean revival presented at the Princess’s, which placed emphasis on historical ‘authenticity’. Queen Katherine was played by Ellen Tree, Charles Kean’s wife. Away with Melancholy was a one-act farce written by John Maddison Morton, best known for Box and Cox.

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