Stage Reform.

Vanity Fair (UK), February 9, 1905

(Mr. James J. Corbett, ex-champion heavy-weight of the world, has been playing Hamlet in a touring company in the States. It is his opinion, he told an interviewer, that “people like a Hamlet with a good punch.”)

   When I watched you deal your blows,
And observed your foe absorb it
   (So to speak) upon the nose,
Then I hailed you as an artist:
   And I’m glad that you have starred
In what’s quite the slickest, smartest,
   ’Cutest drama of the Bard.

We are weary of the mummers
   Who are things of skin and bone,
And we welcome later comers
   With a biceps of their own.
We’ll applaud you as you enter,
   And our cheers will never cease
Till you’ve “mixed it up” (left centre)
   With the villain of the piece.

When with feinting you have tricked him,
   And you deal the corkscrew punch
In the region where your victim
   Has deposited his lunch;
When, in spite of his defiance,
   In the eighth—and final—round
You have knocked him out with science,
   How we’ll make the place resound!

May your excellent example
   Make your rivals strive to shine:
Let Fitzsimmons give a sample
   Of his talent in the line.
His King Lear, with any luck, would
   Make the season’s biggest hit:
And imagine, too, what Puck would
   Be, if played by Hackenschmidt.

If the movement should continue,
   And our actors all, like you,
Be remarkable for sinew,
   What will gallery critics do?
No more boos, the ear-drum rending!
   They will cease those little games.
One thinks twice before offending
   Men of your description, James.

P. G. Wodehouse.





“Gentleman Jim” Corbett (1866–1933) was an Irish-American boxing champion noted for his scientific approach and innovations in technique; after Corbett retired from the ring in 1903, he maintained a respectable acting career. His publicized desire to play Hamlet inspired others beside PGW, including an unsigned poem on the same topic in the March 1, 1905 issue of Punch titled “Hamlet – Prince of Bruisers.” No evidence that Corbett actually ever played Hamlet has surfaced.


John Dawson