Born in 1754, the son of a tallow chandler in Clerkenwell, William Farren was apprenticed to a banker, according to one source, or to a tin-man, according to another. In any case, he was attracted to the stage, influenced by his friendship with the actor Richard Yates, who took William as an apprentice. It is likely that his stage career began in Yates’s company in Birmingham as early as 1774. Again helped by Yates, Farren made his London debut at Drury Lane, on 20 March 1775 as Jason in “Medea”. One critic thought William’s appearance was decent but hoped he would gain variety and expressive powers and learn to walk erect. Farren’s engagement at Drury Lane lasted until 1784 and consisted chiefly of playing such secondary roles as Salarino in “The Merchant of Venice”, Macduff in “Macbeth”, Tybalt and Paris in “Romeo and Juliet”, the Ghost and Horatio in “Hamlet”, Sebastian in “Twelfth Night” and Buckingham in “Richard III” – to name a few of his Shakespearean characters. His salary in 1779-80 and the following years was a modest £4 per week.
Farren (no relation to the actress Elizabeth Farren) also filled in at Covent Garden on occasion and acted in the provinces, but his Drury Lane career was standing still, and in 1784-85 he joined the Covent Garden company, playing first Othello on 27 September 1784 and then following it with some of his old Drury Lane characters; he did not show much progress by his change in company. Over the years he was given occasional leading roles – Captain Absolute in “The Rivals” in 1792, for example – but most of his career was spent as a useful secondary player. William Farren died of pneumonia on 9 May 1795 at the age of 41. He left a common law wife, Mary, née Orton, and several children, one of whom, William Farren the younger, had a considerable career as an actor and manager. (BDA) [EAL]