Cover image for Junius Brutus Booth theatrical Prometheus
Junius Brutus Booth theatrical Prometheus
Publication Information:
Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, c1992.


Physical Description:
xiv, 346 p. : ill.
Added Corporate Author:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Ebook XX(1399241.1) 1

On Order



In this, the first thoroughly researched scholarly biography of Junius Brutus Booth, Stephen M. Archer reveals Booth to have been an actor of considerable range and a man of sensitivity and intellect. Archer provides a clear account of the actor s professional and personal life and places him in relationship to his contemporaries, particularly Edmund Kean and William Charles Macready.

Indeed, he begins the book on February 20, 1817, as Booth first confronts Kean on the Drury Lane stage. Archer then provides a chronological account of Booth s life, summarizing and assessing his career by drawing upon the opinions of his fellow actors as well as of the critics and scholars of the day. From 1817 to 1852 Booth toured throughout North America, enjoying a reputation as the most distinguished Shakespearean tragedian on the American continent. Still, he yearned for success on the British stage, a goal he never attained. His public image as a drunken, dangerous lunatic obscured a private life filled with the richness of a close and loyal family and an appreciation for living.

The worldwide fame assured for the Booth family by John Wilkes Booth s bone-shattering leap from the President s box had eluded Junius Brutus Booth throughout his lifelong exile in America. But from that event until today, no American family of actors not the Barrymores, the Drews, the Jeffersons, not even the Fondas has stimulated such scrutiny as the Booths.

After Junius Brutus Booth s death, the actor s wife, in an attempt to preserve family dignity and privacy, burned the bulk of his letters and papers. In spite of this, Archer has done a remarkable job of reconstructing Booth s life and career. Eight years of research, pursuing Booth from Amsterdam to San Francisco, has resulted in an accurate, fascinating narrative that both records and illuminates the actor s life with objectivity and perception. Archer follows Junius Brutus Booth in unprecedented detail as the actor deserts his wife and child to come to America with a pregnant Covent Garden flower girl. His American adventure lasted thirty-five years and ended with his death on a steamboat on the Mississippi River after having played his final engagement in New Orleans.

Archer concludes by tracing the lives and fortunes of Booth s immediate family. He also provides a complete performance record, including every known performance of Booth s, indicating date, place, theatre, whether or not it was a benefit, and the terms under which the actor appeared.

This riveting and absorbing work will interest scholars of American theatrical history, the history of Shakespeare on stage, and American cultural history."

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The most enduring legacy of Junius Brutus Booth, an unsuccessful rival to Edmund Kean in his native England who became America's first and foremost tragedian, was his two actor sons, one famous and one infamous: Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. The theatrical career of the elder Booth, of whom many an embellished tale was told but whose personal records were destroyed by his widow, has been reconstituted by Stephen Archer in impressive detail, including an appendix listing every known performance from 1815 to 1852. Archer is disappointingly, perhaps intentionally, reticent in assessing Booth the man and artist. The reader is often left to interpret the abundantly quoted evidence of letters, contemporary estimates, and reviews as to the nature of this complex, troubled man. High-strung perhaps to the point of madness, Booth was a devoted family man and farmer almost perpetually on the road, an intellectual most at ease with ordinary folk, an abstemious vegetarian and pacifist except for the many times when drink made him violent and unaccountable. Even in a brief coda Archer relies primarily on the words of Edwin Booth and others to flesh out and articulate the bare factual bones. An abundance of well-chosen illustrations and amplifying notes that identify the many theatrical names in the text enrich this informative if somewhat tedious narrative. Advanced undergraduate; graduate; faculty. J. Ellis; formerly, Mount Holyoke College

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. xiii
1 A Gentleman of the Name of Boothp. 1
2 Showdown at Old Druryp. 21
3 This Englandp. 47
4 An Object of Interestp. 68
5 The Fire Must Burnp. 105
6 An Apparent Heirp. 144
7 No More in This Worldp. 177
8 Codap. 224
Appendix Recorded Engagementsp. 243
Notesp. 279
Works Citedp. 327
Indexp. 339