Friday, January 11, 2019

Signed and Delivered

While in London, I wandered into the Bookshop Theatre and made some interesting finds. One of them was an acting version of Henrik Ibsen's play The Pretenders published for the Yale University Dramatic Association in 1907.

The translation they used was that by the British theatre critic William Archer, who was one of Ibsen's early champions. Growing up, Archer had spent time with family in Norway, so he was able to read Ibsen in the original and translate his plays into English.

Most intriguing to me was the bookplate, which states that the volume was presented to London's Academy of Dramatic Art by none other than Mr. William Archer himself in October 1908. The handwriting looks like other samples of Archer's writing that I've seen digitized. So is this actually a signed copy of a translation by one of the most important theatre critics of the turn of the century? It looks like it.

According to the book's introduction by William Lyon Phelps, the Yale Dramatic Association was founded to "produce only dramas of great literary value, and only those which were seldom or never played on the regular professional stage." Well, that certainly sounds like Ibsen's The Pretenders! Few people perform the play even now, in spite of Ibsen's considerable reputation.

Phelps goes on to say that on January 19, 1907, the Association presented Arthur Wing Pinero's comedy The Amazons to a crowded theatre. The play was such a success and made such a profit that they were then able to present The Pretenders in the spring. The play had five performances, one in Hartford, two in New York City, and two in New Haven. Phelps claims this was the first time the play was performed on an American stage.

I was pleased to pick up the volume, which has now made the long journey back to America.