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Pope, Alexander

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Born on 24 March 1762, according to ‘The Manager’s Notebook,’ Alexander Pope was probably from Cork and was certainly the son of Thomas Pope, a miniaturist. Trained as an artist, Alexander was also attracted to the stage and made his first professional appearance as Oroonoko on 10 October 1781 in Cork. There he also acted Charles Surface in "The School for Scandal" and continued his two careers in the years immediately following. On 8 January 1785 Pope made his London debut, again as Oroonoko, at Covent Garden. The "European Magazine" branded his type of acting as ‘the art of recital,’ and critics during the ensuing years found Pope at fault in almost every category of the player’s art. He had an expressionless, mawkish countenance, said the German visitor Brandes in 1785; his face was ‘as hard, as immovable, and as void of meaning as an oak wainscoat,’ wrote Leigh Hunt in "Dramatic Essays"; he had an awkward strut, stiff speech, and was seldom in character, claimed Henry James Leigh in 1786; he rants and writhes, declared John Williams in 1788; he has too much sameness, complained Waldron in 1795; ‘Mr Pope has attained to that point, which he will never surpass – mediocrity,’ carped Thomas Dutton in 1800 – and so on. Pope had some advocates, but few players of his day received such harsh criticism and still survived in the London theatre world. He survived in the theatre chiefly by making himself useful, as so many secondary actors did, and settling for a modest salary (£12 weekly at Covent Garden in 1796-97, £14 by 1806-7), spending many of his summers labouring in provincial theatres, and marrying well or well enough, thrice. His first wife, almost twice his age, was Elizabeth Younge, who also had twice his acting talent and twice his salary; they married in 1785; she died in 1797. His second wife was Maria Ann Campion, an actress of promise, like Alexander; she brought him £200 annually when they married in 1798; she died in 1803. His third wife, Clara, whom he married in 1807, was an accomplished painter, who exhibited 41 paintings between 1808 and 1833; she outlived him. Pope, who had studied for a while with Hugh Douglas Hamilton in London, practiced miniature painting and exhibited 59 pictures at the Royal Academy between 1787 and 1821. Despite the critics, Alexander’s acting career encompassed dozens of important roles, such as Shore and Hastings in "Jane Shore", Alexander the Great, Othello, Richard III, Romeo, Hotspur in "Henry IV part 1", King Lear, Hamlet (G0677), Cato, Aimwell in "The Beaux’ Stratagem", and Macbeth – but seldom was he distinguished. In 1820 at Drury Lane, according to Winston’s "Drury Lane Journal", Pope proudly told the audience he had acted for them for 35 years, ‘never neglected his duty, could not retire the stage, and performed such parts as were allotted him …’ The theatre had little use for Pope toward the end of his career; he became a pensioner of Covent Garden Theatre, where he had kept up his Fund payments for 44 years. Alexander Pope died at 73 on 12 March 1835. (BDA) [EAL]
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