Engraving of John Philip Kemble as Mentevole

Engraving of John Philip Kemble as Mentevole

After the excitement caused by his Drury Lane debut in 1783, John Philip Kemble's progress was slightly hindered by theatrical etiquette. He had to wait 'in line' behind the established actors of the company, Tom King (the manager) and 'Gentleman' Smith (a favourite in comedy). He worked consistently but could not leapfrog into the major roles. However, three years later Smith decided to retire, and in the same 85-86 season Henderson, his chief rival as tragedian of the day, suddenly died at the age of only 39. From then on Kemble sometimes appeared as often as six times a week in repertoire, in roles such as Macbeth and Othello, and his reputation was secured. This lithograph shows him in the role of Mentevole in Jephson's tragedy Julia, or The Italian Lover. Mentevole was an Italian of 'darkly designing subtlety', given to fits of 'ungovernable passion', and Kemble made a great impression in the role. Sadly he worked so hard in preparing for Julia that 'a severe indisposition was the consequence, which procrastinated its future representations'.