OTD: Edwin Booth Returns to the Stage

On this date, January 3rd, in 1866, famed tradegian Edwin Booth returns to the stage for the first time since his brother’s crime.

Edwin Booth Returns

After Lincoln’s assassination Edwin had vowed to end his theatrical careeer forever. However, the allure of the stage was too much for the actor. Edwin’s return appearance as Hamlet at the Winter Garden Theatre envoked an ovation of applause and cheers that lasted four full minutes. The theater going public never blamed him for his brother’s act, and continued to support him for the next twenty five years.

Edwin Booth reciting part of Othello Act I, Scene III:

“Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approved good masters,
That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her:
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more. Rude am I in my speech,
And little bless’d with the soft phrase of peace:
For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field,
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle,
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnish’d tale deliver
Of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,
What conjuration and what mighty magic,
For such proceeding I am charged withal,
I won his daughter.”

Then Booth skips some dialog from other characters
and finishes with:

“Her father loved me; oft invited me;
Still question’d me the story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed.
I ran it through, even from my boyish days,
To the very moment that he bade me tell it;
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field
Of hair-breadth scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history:
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
It was my hint to speak,–such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline:
But still the house-affairs would draw her thence:
Which ever as she could with haste dispatch,
She’ld come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse: which I observing,
Took once a pliant hour, and found good means
To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart
That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,
Whereof by parcels she had something heard,
But not intentively: I did consent,
And often did beguile her of her tears,
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffer’d. My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore, in faith, twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful:
She wish’d she had not heard it, yet she wish’d
That heaven had made her such a man: she thank’d me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story.
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I loved her that she did pity them.”

References:
My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth that Led to an American Tragedy by Nora Titone (2010) Page 374
Sound recording of Edwin Booth and transcript from Archive.org

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “OTD: Edwin Booth Returns to the Stage

  1. J. Beckert

    I don’t know where you find these pictures, Dave, but I’ve never seen that photo of Booth before. Great job. I think Booth’s return to the stage was more for monetary reasons at that point in his life. The acceptance he got must have greatly inspired him. He was broke after he built and tried to make a go of the Booth Theater in N.Y., but he always landed on his feet. His talent was never out of fashion and a tour could replenish his finances anytime he needed it. Despite his brother’s crime, he died a well respected, rich man.

  2. J. Beckert

    Great job with the transcript, too. Makes it a lot easier to understand!

    • Wish I could take credit for it, but I just copied the transcript someone else provided on the recording’s Archive.org page.

      The same user that provided the transcript also lamented the quality of the recording stating that it “sounds like a recitation from behind a running woodchipper.”

  3. Thank you so much Dave! You know I love my Edwin 🙂 . I have this cdv of him amongst other items I have collected over the years. He returned to the stage to play Hamlet on this date at his Winter Garden Theatre – I also have the playbill from this performance.

  4. Wonderful, Dave – I have part of this recording but never heard this longer version of it. It’s also very good to see the actual words to one can follow along. Wish there was a way to “clean up this recording to make it even clearer – but you’ve done a masterful job! Bravo!!

  5. Donna Peterson

    This website is so fancinating, I love it. I am a docent at the Dr. Mudd Museum in Waldorf, Md and was given this site by one of the visitors to our Christmas Weekend and I have been looking forward to the posts ever since. All of these wonderful facts give me fodder to use on my tours. Thanx so much

    • Donna,

      Thank you so much for your kind words about the site. It’s a labor of love, I assure you. Elsie, the woman who told you about the blog, has inadvertently become my own personal PR person. She advertised the site at the Mudd house one weekend and then at the Port Royal Museum a short time after. Hopefully she won’t ask me for a finder’s fee for the new traffic she brought in.

      Incidentally, we actually met briefly at Michael Kauffman’s talk at Sotterley. I was introduced to you by my girlfriend, Lindsey who used to be a docent at Mudd’s and now works at Surratt. I was the tall, nerdy guy excited to listen to the big guy speak.

      ~Dave

      • Donna Peterson

        Yes Dave, I remember you. What a great thing you are doing. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to the site. Best , Donna

  6. Laurie Verge

    I’m a little late in joining in, but the photos of Edwin never cease to amaze me at how good looking a gentleman he was – even into his later years. I’m surprised that more mention of his “beauty” is not made. Perhaps it is because he didn’t have the same spark of everyday “fire” that JWB seemed to exude?

    P.S. to Donna: To really get a well-rounded “education” in this field, join Lincoln Discussion Symposium along with monitoring this great site. You will be learning from some of the best in the Lincoln and the assassination fields. I’m addicted to both sites.

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