Sir Henry Irving's Faust Prompt Book

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1333
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      273 x 212 mm. 1 vol., iv + 61 ff. Medium: paper. Binding: boards covered in green buckram, titled in gilt on the front cover.
  • Location
      Available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

This prompt book is one of only three copies of William Gorman Wills's script of Faust, printed in 1885 for Wills, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. This copy, prepared by the Lyceum's prompter, James H. Allen, in 1894, records amendments to the text, from the original 1885 production to the revivals in 1894 and 1902, as well as cues inserted by Allen. Many printed lines of Wills's verse have been excised and new verse speeches have been inserted by several hands including Irving's and Allen's. The volume includes the Witch's Kitchen scene added in 1886. From the detailed text Allen would follow each performance, prompting forgetful actors and cueing each of the many technical effects. Annotations in red indicate incidental music cues, while sound effects and lighting cues are in black or blue ink. There are also manuscript notes on actors' business, such as gestures, movements and facial expressions. In addition, Allen made detailed drawings of scenes and the actors' positions within them. The printed list of dramatis personae at the front of the volume has been annotated by Allen to record the names of the actors in the orginal production and in the 1894 revival.

The volume is an essential source for a full understanding of the spectacle of an Irving production, illustrating the means by which new effects were achieved, and allowing researchers to reconstruct the play as it was performed and was experienced by Victorian audiences. So explicit are the lighting and sound directions that it is possible to see how Irving transformed the text from the borders of melodrama to something truly chilling and deeply unsettling. The item also has wider significance for studies of Victorian theatre production and performance, translation studies, and art history and visual studies.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Henry Irving (real name John Henry Brodribb), was born at Keinton Mandeville, Somerset, on 6 February 1838. He moved to London in 1849 and left school at the age of thirteen to become a solicitor's clerk. He quickly developed an interest in the theatre (thereby incurring his mother's lasting disapproval) and in 1856, after some elementary training and amateur work, he joined E.D. Davis's company at the Lyceum Theatre, Sunderland. He spent thirteen years touring Britain with repertory companies and playing more than 700 parts, enduring periods of considerable hardship. He returned to the capital in 1869 and the following year he appeared in a new play, Two Roses, by James Albery, which ran for almost 300 nights and secured Irving's place as a leading actor. For the next few years he was the principal actor at the Lyceum Theatre under the management of his friend, the American impresario Col. Hezekiah Linthicum Bateman, until Bateman's widow sold the business to Irving in 1878.

Irving was at the helm of the Lyceum Theatre for the next twenty-three years, a period in which he achieved legendary status for his Shakespearean productions and notoriety for his relationship with Ellen Terry, who played several of Shakespeare's heroines as well as less taxing roles in melodramas. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'Irving spent without stint on everything that was needed to make his presentations perfect'; he employed leading artists as designers, such as Lawrence Alma Tadema and Edward Burne-Jones; Charles Villiers Stanford and Arthur Sullivan, amongst others, composed incidental music for him; and he was pioneering in his use of lighting effects. He surrounded himself with an exceptional team of staff, including Abraham (Bram) Stoker as his business manager, and H.J. Loveday, his stage-manager. The Lyceum was the first theatre company to tour with its own costumes and sets (almost all the sets were destroyed by fire in 1898). Eight tours of the United States between 1883 and 1903 met with huge critical acclaim, but they were a financial drain, and Irving was forced to relinquish control of the Lyceum, turning it into a joint-stock company administered by a syndicate.

Henry Irving was the first actor ever to be knighted, in 1895. He died on 13 October 1905, just after performing Tennyson's Becket in Bradford. A week later he was buried in Westminster Abbey, beside the statue of Shakespeare and the grave of David Garrick.

Source: Robertson Davies, 'Irving, Sir Henry (1838-1905)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2008.

Irving's production of Faust was his greatest commercial success and the culmination of his skills in artistic invention and staging. While fully satisfying the public taste for romantic spectacle, Faust received considerable critical acclaim for its highly creative staging, lighting, scenery and costume. Irving commissioned the translation/dramatization of Goethe's play from William Gorman Wills, who visited Nuremberg with Ellen Terry to absorb local 'colour'. Faust was undoubtedly the most 'Irvingesque' of all the Lyceum productions, with spectacular Gothic scenery by Hawes Craven. Audiences thrilled to Irving's demonic portrayal of Mephistopheles and were greatly affected by the pathos of Terry's Margaret. The play was first produced on 19 December 1885 and ran until 1888. It was revived in 1894 and the 500th performance took place on 30 June 1894. It is likely that Irving's prompter, James H. Allen, prepared this very finished and professional prompt book to mark the occasion, as a tribute to 'the Guv'nor'.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The manuscript was purchased from Motley Books Limited of Mottisford Abbey, Romsey, Hampshire, in November 1981, for £2,950, with the aid of a grant from the Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.

Alternative Form Available

The manuscript has been fully digitised and is available on Luna at

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the manuscript can be supplied for private research and study purposes only, depending on the condition of the manuscript.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the manuscript. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The manuscript was sold at auction at Sotheby's, New Bond Street, on 21 July 1981 (lot 425), one of several lots from the papers of the actor, dramatist and theatrical agent Arthur Bertram (1868-1955), who was Irving's business manager; sold to Motley Books.


Sir John Martin-Harvey, The Autobiography of Sir John Martin-Harvey (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1933).

Edward Gordon Craig, Henry Irving (London: J.M. Dent, 1938).

Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: The Actor and his World (London: Faber and Faber 1951).

Robertson Davies, 'Irving, Sir Henry (1838-1905)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2008.