Dagger worn by Sir John Martin-Harvey and Samuel Phelps as Hamlet
Hamlet : Hamlet
Hamlet : Hamlet
Steel dagger with imitation jewels in steel and leather hilt
"THE READINESS / IS ALL", "TO MY RICHARD / APRIL 13TH 1910" (engraved on sides of blade near hilt)
Samuel Phelps; given by Henry Plowman FSA to Sir John Martin-Harvey; presented by Lady Martin-Harvey to John Clements; sold by John Standing at Christies, South Kensington, London "Film and Entertainment" 16th December 2003 (lot45), where purchased by the Garrick Club
Gift 1028 [with M0156]
The dagger is accompanied by the following letter to Sir John Clements:
"Dear John, this is the dagger I had made for Sir John as a first night gift when he played Richard III. The design is after a very famous Tudor dagger and was carried out by Spencer of the Artificer’s Guild. He was a great artist and designer. Sir John always used the dagger in “Richard” and I hope that some day it will be used by you. I would like to feel that you will have it in memory of Sir John.
There is one stone missing from the hilt and I think you should have the scabbard more secure.
I would like to say it gives me great happiness to send it to you.
May 17th 1948”
However an accompanying orange tag printed “Sir John Martin-Harvey” is inscribed:
“WORN BY PHELPS AS HAMLET. GIVEN ME BY HENRY PLOWMAN. F.S.A.”
Although both do seem to appear to relate to the same dagger, the Martin-Harvey’s appear to be contradicting each other. Further research however has shown that it is Sir John’s tag that is perhaps more correct.
Photographs of Martin-Harvey as Hamlet clearly show him wearing the dagger as Hamlet, as does a portrait in oils by Arthur Hacker RA, whereas his appearances as the Duke of Gloucester show a different dagger. In his “Autobiography” published in 1933 we learn that he first played “Hamlet” on 21st November 1904 at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. He remembers that his wife presented him “with a sword belt, which she had had made by Mr. Spencer at the Artificers’ Guild and which was formed of leather mounted with bosses of Fiji shell. Thus I was hung about with affectionate tokens for my first plunge into the great part.” [Edward Spencer (1873-1938) was for a while chief designer at the Artificers’ Guild in Maddox Street, a workshop inspired by the ideas of Ruskin.]
Although he makes no mention here of the dagger once worn by Phelps, we can see that Lady Martin-Harvey, writing later in 1948, has clearly become confused. It was a sword belt she had given to her husband not the dagger. [This belt may be the item in the Eric Jones-Evans Collection at the University of Bristol EJE/000013, described as “Girdle inlaid with purple stones worn by John Martin-Harvey in Hamlet.”] The event that is perhaps confusing her is that referred to on the blade, namely her husband’s first appearance as Richard III, which took place as the inscription states on April 13th 1910, importantly also at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, when presumably she had arranged for the further engraving to be carried out for this occasion.
The inscription “The Readiness is All” comes from “Hamlet”, Act V, scene II, and is spoken by the Dane just prior to his fatal duel with Laertes, so it was originally intended to be a Hamlet dagger. However what is interesting is that John Martin-Harvey described his first “Hamlet” as an archaeological production, and as such the Tudor styling of this dagger is slightly incongruous with the rest of the costumes, so perhaps it was being worn as a relic from Phelps, who was a great hero and inspiration for Sir Martin-Harvey. Unfortunately no picture or mention of Phelps with the dagger has yet been found, and the identity of the artist Henry Plowman F.S.A. remains elusive.
The dagger is accompanied with a further letter from Lady Martin-Harvey to John Clements and dated 6th Jan. 1949, however this does not relate to the dagger:
“The precious book has arrived. I am delighted with my gift & am longing to hear the play.
This is only to tell you, of its safe arrival dear Sir John.
Lovingly, Lady Nell.”
[The letters and label are held in the Garrick Club Library.]