EESE 3/99

The Athenaeum, no. 2764 (16 October 1880), 507-508.

[...] Schiller's play was first seen in London on the 14th of December, 1819, with Miss Macauley, an actress of whom little has subsequently been heard, as the heroine. Her success must have been indifferent, since on the 29th of the same month the character was assigned to Miss Foote, subsequently Lady Harrington. In this version, assumably that of Mellish, a friend of Schiller, who is said to have lent him the prompt copy before it was printed, Mrs. Bunn was Queen Elizabeth, C. Kemble Sir Edward Mortimer, Terry Sir Amias Paulet, and Macready, who, however, forgets to mention the part in his diary, the Earl of Leicester.

The cause why the play has been so little of a favourite is found in its construction. It contains but two really strong situations: one, due to a deliberate if pardonable departure from history, in which Elizabeth and Mary are represented as meeting at Fotheringhay; a second, which in this country is always omitted in representation, wherein Mary before her death receives the sacraments from Melvil, who tells her he is a priest and brings forth the wine and the wafer. Whatever merit the remainder posesses consists in the clever if fanciful sketch of history which is supplied, and is anything rather than dramatic.

In subjecting this play to alteration and revision Madame Modjeska has been well advised. The changes that have been made by Mr. Wingfield are in the main judicious. Their effect is, with little if any violence to the story, to quicken greatly the action and strengthen somewhat the interest. In the early scenes Mr. Winfield mainly aimed at compression. He has sought to humanize the character of Elizabeth and to lighten somewhat the treachery of Leicester. To the bickerings and feuds between Burleigh and Leicester on the one hand and the same shrewd statesman and Shrewsbury on the other, he has, for the prupose of alleviating the gloom, given more prominence, and he has, perhaps for the reason that Mortimer is assigned to a juvenile exponent, cut out the scene of delirious passion in which Schiller sought to indicate the kind of intoxicating influence the charms of Mary were supposed to exercise. In the last act the alterations amount to reconstruction. Those concluding scenes which, in spite of Schiller's effort to show the commencement of Elizabeth's penitence, are an incumbrance upon the play, and assign the whole the character of an anti-climax, are omitted, and the act ends with the death of Mary, which is described by Leicester. At the commencement of the act Mary enters among the women, whom the sight of the executioner and of the scaffold has frightened, and distributes to them her parting gifts. To Melvil she entrusts her last messages, and she then receives the envoys from Elizabeth who bring her the warrant. The sight of Leicester disturbs the serenity which she has exhibited, and she freely accedes to his supplication for pardon. Then, following the uplifted cross in the hands of Melvil, she passes from the room into the adjacent courtyard, in which the scaffold is erected. On her way she repeats the Latin psalms for the dying, and her voice, heard through the open doorway, continues until its cessation, with the sharp spasm of Leicester, tells that all is over. From the dramatic standpoint this act is a great improvement upon that previously seen. Its effect is profoundly touching.

Madame Modjeska's representation of Mary Stuart is a singularly fine, intelligent, and suggestive piece of acting. It is decidedly in advance of her performance in 'Heartsease.' Though belonging to the realistic school of acting, it is illumined by flashes of imagination and poetic beauty, and is throughout varied in emotion and admirable in pathos and beauty. In the closing scenes pathos was the most striking quality; in the third act, however, the quick succession and throng of passions enabled the actress to show an extent of range and an adequacy of method rarely seen. The entire performance vindicates Madame Modjeska's right to the laurels which, on the strength of her previous performance, were generally awarded to her. Mr. Clayton assigned to Leicester a bluff manliness, not unmixed with plausibility and shiftiness, that suited the character. After the Mary Stuart this was the best piece of acting exhibited. Miss Louise Moodie was powerful in a stagey, conventional way; Mr. Craufurd showed power as Sir Edward Mortimer; and Miss Grahame was seen to advantage as Margaret Curl. The mounting and accessories are satisfactory, and the entire performance reflects credit upon the management.