"...Booth, to a majority of us, is Hamlet,' stated a reviewer in 1870. Thousands of playgoers agreed, and only regretted that Shakespeare himself could not see Booth perform.
Booth's Hamlet became a national institution, a legend. He was for America the final major 'starring tragedian' of his kind, who brought two centuries of tradition to a culmination and end.
Charles Shattuck here presents the complete life of the Hamlet role as Both played it from 1852, when his famous father told him he looked like Hamlet, to his weary farewell matinee in Brooklyn in 1891. He relates Booth's attempt to find his acting style and establish himself as a star, and observes the personal and intellectual forces which shaped his 'gentle and genteel' conception of Hamlet.
The author details the emergence of Hamlet as Booth's acknowledged masterwork, examines his definitive production of the play at his own theatre in 1870, and traces the fortunes of Booth's Hamlet as it developed, matured, and finally declined. Whenever Booth's critics defined his Hamlet which 'especial acuteness,' Shattuck gives them room to speak, and Booth himself often speaks from notebooks and letters.
For those who wish to realize Booth's Hamlet in the 'utmost possible immediacy,' Shattuck presents Charles Clarke's factual and interpretive record of Booth's 1870 performance-scene by scene, word by word, every gesture, expression and vocal nuance. This engrossing 'reconstruction' helps us 'see' Booth as Hamlet, and almost hear him.
Booth's was not the 'psychological Hamlet' of the 20th C...He conceived of him as a man of very strong intellect and very weak will, but at no point insane. His intention with Hamelt was not to creat mystery, but to dispel it, to make the play 'crystal clear' to every hearer.
Taken as a whole, this volume is a fascinating study of the tastes and culture of 19th C America.