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At last Henry Irving is to be the 'half-divine' ruler and founder of the Table Round; at last Ellen Terry is to be the Queen Guinevere we have pictured in our imaginations these countless years! ... Everyone known and unknown had a dreamy, undetermined view of how "King Arthur" ought to be done. The poets, the sentimentalists, and the aesthetes pestered poor Mr Irving with their ideas; some would have been too medieval, some too diffuse, some demanded Vivien, others insisted on Elaine, all naturally clamoured for poetical and pictorial effect. The disciples of Tennyson clung with desperation to the poem of Guinevere as the one thing essential ... but these things were not to be. Mr Comyns Carr cut the Gordian knot; he had to make a play ... We must not cry our eyes out because here and there modernity supplants medievalism, and imagination is sacrificed for theatrical effect. We come to the theatre with our minds steeped in the Tennysonian version of the Arthurian legend... and the disappointment that we do not get the King Arthur of Tennyson or the Queen Guinevere of Tennyson, that we do not see the pictures that have been presented to our minds for a lifetime, is inevitable.
— Clement Scott, Daily Telegraph, 14 January 1895
It must be firmly recorded that whatever Mr Carr's conception of drama may be, he has not come within measurable distance of constructing one. In development and construction the play is about the level of a precocious child's powers of composition; in characterisation it is scarcely better. There are, in fact, no characters at all . . . at such moments of crisis each one lifts up his voice to generalise the situation for the benefit of those who are listening. . . Take the blank verse for a beginning. It is distinguished by the manner of Shakespeare; it contains lofty moralities and thunderous adjectives, and it rolls along with the ease and facility of a billiard ball. It is unfortunate that its obscurity is not compensated by intelligence... If Mr Carr would sedulously study Milton and the blank verse of, say, Keats, and produce himself in occasional blank verse poems of not more than fifty lines, he may possibly write something not unworthy of perusal; but though he said nothing at all at the end of that period, he would have gained much.
Mr Irving was something more beautiful and picturesque than ever; he had no opportunity, certainly for acting... Scarcely less noble in appearance was Mr. Forbes Robertson, whose most beautiful voice was deplorably wasted... Miss Ellen Terry declaimed her blank verse with the emphasis of a metronome, and appropriate gestures.
Sir Arthur Sullivan's incidental music unfortunately sympathises rather with Mr Carr's actual literary work than with the Tennysonian tradition. We have so much kindness for Sullivan's music of later days that we are fain to suppose he has drenched himself with the spirit of his author of this particular play. His music has brightness, but its rhythm is far too marked and emphatic. It was unfortunate, for a beginning, that his subject was identical to some extent with Wagner's greatest work; and even the distant chorus of knights had reminiscences, so far as the subject was concerned., with Taennhauser. It was, therefore, only natural that Sullivan's determined desire to follow his own lighter operatic bent, and Mr Carr's triviality of emotion, should have made his music seen, in the circumstances, somewhat uninteresting, and in itself trivial... though we are willing to admit that this musician is, in some respects, an exquisite writer of humorous opera, he is, for serious incidental music, no better fitted in his personal art than he was fitted for the composition of an opera to the libretto of such a work as Ivanhoe. We admire his genius none the less for it; we do but choose to define certain limitations.
— Pall Mall Gazette, 14 January 1895.
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