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George Frederick Cooke as Hamlet
The following article was originally published in Hamlet From the Actor's Standpoint. Henry P. Phelps. New York: Edgar S. Werner, 1890.

George Frederick CookeGeorge Frederick Cooke (1756-1812) attempted Hamlet for the first time in London, September 27, 1802, and failed. He says himself:

"On Monday, the 27th, I acted Hamlet to a very numerous audience. Next day the newspapers, some of whom I believe were prepared for the business, attacked me in a manner that would have been deemed impossible to have happened to anyone who had ever received the slightest approbation from an audience--a London one, I mean. I repeated it once, but never since [written in 1807]. I do not doubt but I had faults in abundance, but had I acted it as well as I had seen it acted by Garrick, my reception in that character would have been much the same. I believe the second night was worse than the first, and the cause is too obvious to mention."

Dunlap, his biographer, adds:

"Mr. Kemble was at this time absent from England, and he was, in the opinion of the greater part of the public, the only possible representative of Hamlet. Now Hamlet was looked upon as Mr. Kemble's property; and it would be felt, if not thought dishonest, to seize it in his absence. It was like taking possession of a man's house while he was making a journey. Under these circumstances, it was an ill judged attempt of Mr. Harris, and must have failed, even if Mr. Cooke had been much better qualified to contend for the character of Hamlet, I am assured, though I may be wrong to ascribe the cause to any natural deficiency. Had Cooke become the favorite of the London audience in 1780, instead of 1800--at the age of 25, instead of 45--had he been free from the habits which twenty years of low society had 'buckled upon him,' we might have seen in him a Hamlet though essentially different, not inferior to Kemble's, or to Garrick's."

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