Browning at King Lear

  • Sidney Colvin


One of my vividest recollections is of an evening when [Browning] made one of a party of three to see the great Italian tragedian Salvini play King Lear.1 Every one had seen Salvini play Othello, his most usual Shakespearean part; but this performance of Lear was new to us all. It turned out to be overwhelming, an absolute, ideal incarnation of ruined age and outcast greatness and shattered reason and unchilded fatherhood and fallen majesty in despair. Browning sat there between us, his face set firm and white like marble, but before the end tears were coursing down it quite unchecked. He seemed unconscious of them, and as we came out could only murmur with a kind of awe, ‘It makes one wonder which is the greater, the poet or the actor.’2


  1. 2.
    Browning told William Michael Rossetti that Salvini’s Oedipus ‘was absolutely the finest effort of art he had ever beheld; not only the finest in the art of acting, but in any art whatsoever, including painting, music, etc.’ (Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti, 2 vols (London, 1906), i.189).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Sidney Colvin

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