Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Unheavenly Twins: the Haymarket Gemini

The zodiac sign for May is Gemini, or the Heavenly Twins, Castor and Pollux.  They are also described as 'comazants' (see Brewer's Dictionary) responsible for  St. Elmo's Fire, a natural electric phenomenon often seen at sea, and described in literature from Shakespeare's Tempest to Darwin, to Coleridge's Ancient Mariner.   

So Ariel describes creating the storm: 
"I flamed amazement: sometimes I'd divide
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
And the yards, and bore sprit, would I flame distinctly, 
Then meet, and join: … 

And the Ancient Mariner:
"About, about, in reel and rout*
The death-fires danced at night,
The water like a witch's oils
Burnt, green and blue and white." 

Some less heavenly twins appear in this Punch cartoon, of 1841, written perhaps by a fan of William Macready, the famous Victorian actor manager: It tells of "Illustrious Mac-,  Beth, or ready"  versus "small quack, Of plaudits greedy". 

"O, Gemini-Crimini! Nimini-Pimini...

Punch, August 1841, H. Beard collection ©V&A

Macready in his iconic Scottish role  
© V&A Museum

I could not find any reference to this Haymarket Theatre rival in Macready's Diary online, but his more famous rival was the American actor Edwin Forrest.  Forrest was feted when he came to London in his role as Spartacus in1834, but returning in 1845 as Macbeth, he was booed off.  He suspected Macready's influence and so a feud began.

When Macready himself was ending his tour as Macbeth at the Aston Park Opera House, New York, in May 1849, a large mob stoned the theatre and many were killed and injured in the ensuing riot.  Forrest was blamed and Macready fled back to England.  This Aston Park Riot is well documented, but  perhaps some theatre historian can tell me more about the Haymarket actor?

*  Was Coleridge unconsciously echoing Shakespeare?

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