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William Smith

(1730—1819) actor


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(1730–1819), English actor, known as ‘Gentleman’ Smith on account of his elegant figure, fine manners, and handsome face. He made his first appearance at Covent Garden in 1753, and remained there until 1774, then going to Drury Lane, where he created the part of Charles Surface in Sheridan's The School for Scandal (1777). He also played Macbeth to Mrs Siddons's Lady Macbeth when she first appeared in the part in 1785, and alternated Hamlet and Richard III with Garrick, whom he greatly admired, though his own style of acting approximated more to that of Quin. He was playing most of the big tragic roles when John Philip Kemble first went to Drury Lane in 1783, and continued to appear in them until his retirement in 1788. In an age which expected its actors to turn their hands to anything from tragedy to pantomime—even Garrick is said to have once played Harlequin—Smith's proudest boast was that he had never blacked his face, never played in a farce, and never ascended through a trap-door. He would also never consent to appear at the theatre on a Monday during the hunting season, as he was a zealous rider to hounds.

From The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Theatre.


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