William Charles Macready, an English actor, born in London, March 3, 1793, died at Weston-super-Mare, Somersetshire, April 29, 1873. His father, the lessee and manager of several provincial theatres, having designed him for one of the learned professions, he was placed at 10 years of age at Rugby school, where he attained considerable reputation as a classical scholar; but about 1810 he was induced by his father's pecuniary embarrassment to go upon the stage. He made his debut at the Birmingham theatre in June of that year as Romeo, and soon acquired a respectable position upon the provincial boards. He made his first appearance in London at Covent Garden theatre, Sept. 16, 1816, as Orestes in Phillips's tragedy of "The Distressed Mother," and was pronounced by Hazlitt "by far the best actor that had come out in his remembrance, with the exception of Mr. Kean." From that time forward he continued to rise steadily in the public estimation, until he was generally recognized as the first of English tragedians. Among his most successful personations aside from the Shakespearian plays were Virginius, Caius Gracchus, and William Tell in Knowles's dramas, Melantius in "The Bridal," Rob Roy, Gambia, Werner, and Richelieu. As a delineator of Shakespeare's heroes he attempted a wide range of characters, but was most successful in Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, Coriolanus, and Leontes. In 1826 he made a successful tour through the United States, and in 1828 visited Paris, where he was received with great favor.
In 1837 he undertook the management of Co-vent Garden theatre, but retired at the end of the second season, and for two seasons commencing with 1840 he had charge of Drury Lane. As a manager he did much to elevate the standard of dramatic representations, and to relieve the theatre of its reputation for immorality and profligacy. The enterprise nevertheless was pecuniarily unsuccessful. In 1843-'4 he played a series of engagements in the United States, which he again revisited in 1848. In consequence of a misunderstanding of some years' existence between Edwin Forrest and himself, the friends of Forrest threatened to prevent the appearance of Macready in New York. He nevertheless played for a number of nights at the Astor Place opera house in October, 1848; but upon commencing a farewell engagement there in the succeeding May he was menaced by serious opposition. On Monday, May 7, when he appeared as Macbeth, such was the confusion that the manager was obliged to order the curtain to fall before the termination of the performance.
Mac-ready was thereupon inclined to resign his engagement; but upon the publication in the newspapers of a card signed by many citizens, requesting him to remain, and promising to protect him in the discharge of his professional duties, he consented to reappear on the following Thursday. On that evening, owing to the precautions taken to preserve order in the house, he succeeded in performing his part. Outside of the theatre the friends of Forrest, after vainly endeavoring to effect an entrance, commenced an attack upon the building with stones and other missiles. The police being unable to restrain the mob, the military were called out, and after several volleys of musketry, by which 22 persons were killed and 36 wounded, the riot was quelled. Though assured of ample protection, Macready determined to make no further attempt to act in New York, and soon after left the country. In 1850-'51 he performed a series of farewell engagements in England, and on Feb. 26,1851, took a formal leave of the stage at Drury Lane theatre. On March 1 a complimentary dinner was given to him in London, which was numerously attended.
His rank as an actor was due principally to intelligent study, his genius being the reverse of impulsive, and his imagination not of that plastic nature which can instantly seize and embody impressions. Many excellent plays of Bulwer, Talfourd, Knowles, Browning, Marston, White, Taylor, and others, were brought out under his auspices; and his exertions to elevate his art, and to suppress the vicious tendencies connected with it, had a beneficial effect. - See his "Reminiscences and Diary," edited by Sir Frederick Pollok (1874).