Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Scanderbeg on the English Stage

I continue to be on the lookout for unusual or little-known facts about Albania and the Albanians that I can share, especially, with non-Albanians. I was delighted, then, when I received the very informative article below about Albania's 15th Century folk-hero, Scanderbeg, by London's Peter Rennie.

Our dear friend, Peter Rennie, is - and has been - a staunch friend of the Albanians who, for many years, was Secretary of the Anglo-Albanian Association founded in 1918. Two early supporters of Albania and the Albanians, Colonel Aubrey Herbert, served as the Association's first President, and Edith Durham, as its first Secretary.

A Frosina Infobit

Scanderbeg on the English Stage

by Peter Rennie
Anglo-Albanian Association/London

In the 18th Century when the Ottomans were suffering reverses in Central Europe, there was a revival of interest in the earlier struggle of the 15th century Albanian national hero, Scanderbeg, against them in Albania. Not only did Scanderbeg serve as the subject for operas by Vivaldi and two French composers, Francouer and Lacepede, but he was also the hero in three English plays described below dealing with his defence of the fortress in Kruje against the forces of Sultan Amurith in 1450.

Scanderbeg, or Love and Liberty (1727?)
by Thomas Whincop The first to be written, but never performed, was Scanderbeg or Love and Liberty by Thomas Whincop who was rector of a London church. According to the preface to the play, which was printed in 1747, the reason for its non-performance was due to the difficulties encountered by his widow in getting a theatre to put on a performance, and to the "caprices" of theatre managers.
An account of the life of Scanderbeg is given along with drawings of scenes from the play, one of which depicts Scanderbeg wearing a turban and mounted on a horse. Interestingly, the Albanian translator, Skender Luarasi, translated the text into Albanian in 1920, but it was not until 1967 on the eve of the 500th anniversary of Scanderbeg's death in January 1468 that it was published by the Naim Frasheri publishing house in Tirana.

Scanderbeg (1733)
by William Havad In 1733 William Havard (1710-1778) an actor and dramatist, son of a Dublin vitner, published his play entitled Scanderbeg. It was performed twice at the Goodman's Fields Theatre in London, but with little success. He faced allegations that he had stolen the plot from Whincop whose play was in the hands of the manager of Goodman's Fields. Havard is buried in the courtyard of St. Paul's, adjacent to Covent Garden, where his gravestone bore an epitaph written by the well-known actor David Garrick.

The Christian Hero (1753)
by George Lillo The third and best of a rather poor trio of plays on Scanderbeg was The Christian Hero by George Lillo (1693-1739), son of a London jeweller, and better known in English literature for his domestic drama entitled George Barwell. Encouraged by the success of this latter work he ventured upon a more exotic theme in his play on Scanderbeg, but after four performances at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1753 it sank into obscurity, having met with a mixed reception. In the first night review of the play the theatre periodical The Prompter thought it was not to the taste of the English audience, but a later Account of the English Stage published in 1832 said it deserved a much better fate and was the best of the three tragedies written on Scanderbeg.

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