Theatre costume

Cloak for Irving in 'Becket'

1893 (made)


Length: 140 cm

S.2798-2010 T&P

Cloak, worn by Henry Irving as Becket in Tennyson's 'Becket' at the Lyceum, under his own management, in 1893.

Circular cloak of black broadcloth with small standing collar, with button fastening. Extremely worn with several tears.

This costume was worn by Henry Irving (1838-1905) in 1893, in the title role of Becket by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). The events of the play focus on the historical figure of Thomas Becket (1118-1170) during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended with his murder. The success of Irving's production led him to keep it in his repertory of plays, and it was the last role he performed before his death. His last words on stage were those of the dying Becket, saying "Into thy hands, O Lord, into thy hands". Later that evening Irving collapsed and died in the entrance hall of the Midland Hotel in Bradford. Irving became a professional actor in 1856, and learned his trade in regional theatres until 1866, when he came to London. He joined the Lyceum Theatre company under the management of H. L. Bateman in 1871, winning great acclaim that year for his psychologically developed characterisation of the guilt-ridden inn-keeper Mathias in Leopold Lewis’s melodrama The Bells. He took on the responsibilities of ‘actor-manager’ in 1878 when he assumed the management of the Lyceum, and remained there until 1902, enjoying star status with his leading lady Ellen Terry (1847-1928). Irving produced a diverse range of old and new plays at the Lyceum, including Shakespeare, historical drama, and literary adaptations. His tireless work to elevate the status of the theatrical profession was rewarded in 1895 when he became the first actor ever to receive a knighthood for services to the Theatre. Irving specialised in spectacularly staged productions with large casts of performers. He commissioned designers and composers to create appropriate scenery, costume and incidental music, played by a full orchestra. Although electric lighting was available from the 1880s, Irving preferred the softer effects of gas, with lime light to focus attention at key points in the play. Irving toured complete productions outside London, taking the full company, scenery and costumes throughout the United Kingdom and across the United States and Canada. The development of the railway system made his the first generation able to achieve this level of touring productions.

Museum of London note: 'Worn by Irving with a black cowl over his dalmatic (56.4/40i) and tunic (56.4/40b) in the Northampton scenes, and over a plain white Augustinian habit in the later part of the play.' [Since 56.4/40i is a bracelet, this presumably relates to 56.4/40e (S.2753:5-2010), the dalmatic in this ensemble.]

Location: In Storage

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