Frank Benson as Shylock

Frank Benson as Shylock

Frank Benson was an actor-manager who's touring company and acting school were important influences on contemporary theatre. Not the least of his contributions is that out of the week long summer Shakespeare Festivals which he presented at Stratford-upon-Avon grew the permanent Shakespeare company that we now know as the RSC. His ideal was 'to train a company, every member of which would be an essential part of a homogeneous whole, consecrated to the practice of the dramatic arts and especially to the representation of the plays of Shakespeare'.

Benson made his debut 1882, under Henry Irving, but formed a company of his own the very next year. His wife Constance, whom he married in 1888, acted in his company and played leading parts with him. From the outset of his career, Benson devoted himself largely to the production of Shakespeare's plays. From 1888 he organised 26 of the annual Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare festivals. He founded an acting school in 1901 and was knighted in Drury Lane Theatre in 1916, during the Shakespeare Tercentenary performance of 'Julius Caesar'. George V did the honours using a 'property' sword.