American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Favorite Shakespeare Play

Poster for Thomas Keene in Richard III
Poster for Thomas Keene in Richard III
Cleveland: W.J. Morgan,1884
Color lithograph
Prints & Photographs Division (1)

The first American production of Richard III occurred in New York in 1750. In the nineteenth-century it was one of the most popular plays by any author and was performed by traveling companies in saloons and mining camps as well as in elegant city theaters. Thomas Wallace Keene (1840-1898), best known for his portrayal of Richard III, began acting as a teenager in New York. In the early 1870s, he toured England and the American West with companies that included noted contemporaries such as Edwin Booth (1833-1893) and Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876). Famous for his Shakespearean roles, which also included Othello, Hamlet, and Romeo, Keene toured widely for more than twenty years, performing in smaller cities across the U.S. Keene did not have the stature of Edwin Booth or other great tragedians of the late nineteenth century. However, his performances attracted a mass following when, before the invention of movies, theater going was a favorite form of entertainment of most Americans.

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