Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The show must go on!

I'll return to Napoleon and the intertwined absurdities and glories of the Congress of Vienna later this week, but for now I want to pause for a note on professionalism.

Our lesson is drawn from a footnote to Claire Tomalin's keen investigation of the life of Dickens's mistress, Nelly Ternan, The Invisible Woman (1990). Dickens met Ternan in the course of one of his adventures in semi-pro theatre with Wilkie Collins (and, Tomalin argues convincingly, he hid her away for years afterwards in part because of that connection to the still-disreputable stage), and the note below is appended to Tomalin's description of a production in which Ternan acted earlier in her career:
The Keans paid Ellen Terry* 15s. a week for her Puck until one night when her toe was caught in the trap and Mrs Kean promised to double her salary if she would stop screaming and finish her speech. She did stop screaming, and she did have her salary doubled.
Ah, declaiming Shakespeare for hazard pay while one's foot is being crushed by a trapdoor--how often do you get the English commercial spirit and the stiff upper lip wrapped up in one anecdote?

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