Edwin Forrest as Macbeth

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014

 

Edwin Forrest as Macbeth
Unknown Photographer, before 1872
New York Public Library Digital Gallery

In 1849, as Forrest played Macbeth, upwards of 10,000 New Yorkers took to the streets of lower Manhattan in an ugly mood, determined to defend his reputation against the visiting British actor William Charles Macready, starring in the same role in a rival production at the Astor Place Opera House. As bricks and paving stones sailed through the air, Macready escaped in disguise. Ordered to defend the Opera House and those inside, the police and the New York militia fired into the crowd, leaving at least 25 dead and many more injured.

The Astor Place Riot remains one of the worst urban riots in American history — and a prime example of the legendary curse of “The Scottish Play.”

I couldn’t resist including the story of the riot in Haunt Me Still, especially after I discovered that the site of the old Astor Place Opera House is now occupied by a new condo building, complete with a Starbucks. Kate simply had to go there, though at first I had no idea how or why. I did, however, send some New Yorker friends scouting the streets of lower Manhattan for me. (Thanks, Eric, Bill, and Rene.)

A great read on the subject is Nigel Cliff’s The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama, and Death in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Random House, 2007).




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