My 19th-century blogger, Miss Frances William-Wynn, is today proving again her credentials as a theatre critic, commenting on a performance of Lear by one of the era’s great actor managers, William Charles Macready. That link has a couple of images of Macready, which suggests that he certainly wasn’t classically handsome – it also explains her comment about playing all of Shakespeare’s words, since apparently around her time there was a fashion for grand spectacle and long set-changes, which required cuts in the words to reduce length.
Miss Williams Wynn says:
It is Shakespeare’s Lear: not a word is added to the text; the painfully fine catastrophe is acted; and the play, in the regular theatre phrase, well got up, excepting in the female parts, which were almost as ill dressed as they were acted. I cannot conceive a better model for a painter of Lear than Macready exhibited in face, figure, dress, and apparent age.
The latter seems to me the leading point of his representation of the character, in which he substitutes the imbecility of age for insanity, which I have hitherto considered as the leading feature of Lear.
Wikipedia has a good roundup of Macready’s career, including his involvement in a performance of “the Scottish play” in New York at which 23 were killed and 100 injured in a riot. That’s what you call taking your theatre seriously.