The Struggling Actor


A barn (not with a theatre inside!) painted by Henry Davy.

Snippets 144.  Joseph Shepherd Munden was a well-known actor during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, known principally for his comedy performances.  His son Thomas wrote his very entertaining biography, Memoirs of Joseph Shepherd Munden.  The following anecdotes concern his early career:

From Liverpool he repaired to Rochdale, where he had relations, and joined a strolling company. A laughable circumstance is related of this company, which took place during the performance of the Fair Penitent. In the scene where Calista is seated in all the dignity of grief, beside the clay-cold corse of the false Lothario, it unfortunately happened, that the person who lay as the lifeless form of the gay perfidious, was neither more nor less than a footman in the neighbourhood. His master happened accidentally to be at the theatre, and presented himself behind the stage to the great discomfiture of poor John, who, hearing his voice, speedily started up, to the surprise of the audience, and immediately took to his heels.

A far cry from his later success, Munden’s early actings jobs often proved to be a disappointment:

At this moment of necessity, Munden became acquainted with the manager of a strolling company, then assembled at Letherhead, in Surrey: he entered his name among the list; and under the banner of this theatric monarch, he set off, possessed of the amazing sum of thirteen pence.

As the reader may reasonably suppose, the thirteen pence was nearly exhausted in a journey of eighteen miles. He found the theatre a barn, — the stage manager making the necessary arrangements, whilst the prompter was occupied in sweeping down the cobwebs, and clearing away the refuse of corn and straw on the floor. Munden wanted money: the manager had none, and the actor’s watch was pawned for support.

The following night was appointed for a performance; the rehearsal over, the barn floor cleared, planks erected, and saw-dust strewed for the expected company: but in vain was the barn floor cleared, in vain the saw-dust strewed, — the audience were— nil!

If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Autobiographies, Books, England, History, Humor, Humour, Memoirs, Snippets, Travel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Struggling Actor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s