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Herbert Beerbohm Tree
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (17 December 1852 – 2 July 1917) was an Englishmarker actor-manager.

Life and career

Born in Kensingtonmarker, Londonmarker as Herbert Draper Beerbohm, Tree was the second son of Julius Ewald Edward Beerbohm (1811–1892), of Dutch, Lithuanian, and German origin, who had come to England in about 1830 and set up as a prosperous corn merchant. He married an Englishwoman, Constantia Draper, and the couple had four children. His younger brother was the author and explorer Julius Beerbohm, and his sister was author Constance Beerbohm. A younger half-brother was the parodist and caricaturist Max Beerbohm. (Max jokingly claimed that Herbert added the "Tree" to his name because it was easier for audiences than shouting "Beerbohm! Beerbohm!" at curtain calls. The latter part of his surname, "bohm", is north German dialect for "tree".)

Educated in Germanymarker, he went on the stage in 1876 on his return to Englandmarker, performing with amateur troupes. In 1878 he played Grimaldi in Dion Boucicault's The Life of an Actress; shortly after, he began his professional career. For the next two years he performed mainly in the country. His first London success came in Charles Hawtrey's The Private Secretary in 1884. In 1886 he played Iago with F. R. Benson's company at Bournemouthmarker.

By 1887 he was running the Haymarket Theatremarker in the West End of Londonmarker. His tenure there restored the Haymarket to its mid-Victorian prestige. While popular melodramas like Trilby anchored the repertoire, Tree also encouraged the new drama associated with Ibsen, staging such plays as Wilde's A Woman of No Importance and Maeterlinck's The Intruder. Tree also mounted critically-acclaimed productions of Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor. In 1889 he produced Charles Haddon Chambers' play The Tyranny of Tears.

Ten years later, he helped fund construction of His Majesty's Theatremarker, also in the West End. The repertory at the new theatre was at least as varied as that of the Haymarket. The theatre opened with a dramatization of Gilbert Parker's The Seats of the Mighty. Dramatizations of novels by Dickens, Tolstoy, and others formed a significant part of the offerings. Tree staged many of the verse dramas of Stephen Phillips. The classical repertory included Molière and others. But the theatre was most famous for its work with Shakespeare. Tree's productions were exceptionally profitable; they were famous, most of all, for their elaborate and often spectacular scenery and effects. In this respect, Tree continued and perfected the realistic tradition of Charles Kean. He played many of the leading roles in his own elaborate productions, which included the premiere of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, in 1914. In the last decade of his career, the experimental and historical method of Poel and others made Tree's spectacles appear somewhat outdated; still, his productions remained well attended and profitable.

As an actor, Tree was noted for his versatility. He made his name first as a character actor able to adopt widely varying styles; he continued, with liberal use of makeup, to take on a great variety of roles. He was especially noted for his attention to gesture and demeanor. Indeed, criticism of Tree often focused on what was perceived as an excessively external, superficial approach to character. Tree was tall, but his voice was thin, and he was sometimes criticized for struggling to project his voice in a manner that made his performance seem unnatural. He was perhaps most famous for roles as eccentrics such as Malvolio; in the great tragic roles he was largely overshadowed by older actors such as Henry Irving.

Tree founded RADA in 1904.


Tree married Helen Maud Holt (1863-1937) in 1882; she often played opposite him. Viola Tree (1884-1934) (actress), Felicity Tree (1895-1978) and Iris Tree (1897-1968) (actress and poet) were their daughters. Tree also fathered several illegitimate children with May Pinney and other mistresses, including film director Carol Reed and Peter Reed, the father of the late actor Oliver Reed.

He was the grandfather of Hollywood screenwriter and producer Ivan Moffat and the late British actor Oliver Reed and also the great-great-grandfather of actress Georgina Moffat.

Tree directed and starred in the earliest surviving film of an excerpt from a Shakespearean play: King John in 1899. He founded the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 1904 and was knighted in 1909. He also starred in an early film version of Macbeth, in the 1916 film Macbeth, which is now considered a Lost film. He died in 1917 of blood clots. According to Vera Brittain he died suddenly in the arms of her friend, the novelist Winifred Holtby, then aged 19 and working as a nursing assistant at a fashionable London nursing home where Sir Herbert was recuperating from a broken leg.


Tree recorded five 10" records for the Gramophone Company (afterwards HMV, couplings as E numbers) in 1906.
  • 1312 Hamlet's Soliloquy on Death - 'To be, or not to be' from Hamlet (Shakespeare) (3554/E162). (See external link)
  • 1313 Svengali mesmerises Trilby - 'The roof of your mouth is like the dome of the Pantheonmarker' from Trilby (G. du Maurier) (3751/E162).
  • 1314 Mark Antony's lament over the body of Julius Caesar - 'Oh pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth' from Julius Caesar (Shakespeare) (3557/E161).
  • 1315 (Richard II's) Soliloquy on the death of kings - 'No matter where - of comfort no man speak' from Richard II (Shakespeare) (3556/E163).
  • 1316 Falstaff's speech on Honour - 'Hal, if thou see me down in battle/'Tis not due yet...' from Henry IV, Part 1 (Shakespeare) (3555/E161).

Popular culture references

See also


  1. Obituary, The Times, Tuesday, July 03, 1917; pg. 11
  2. Entry for "Bohm" in the Duden dictionary
  3. "Gilbert's New Play; The Fairy's Dilemma Is Brilliantly Nonsensical", The New York Times, 15 May 1904, p. 4
  4. Portrait of the Actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the Cyranos film website, accessed 23 September 2009
  6. Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship (1940), p. 60 in Virago paperback edition.
  7. Source: J.R. Bennett, Voices of the Past - Catalogue of Vocal Recordings from the English Catalogues of the Gramophone Company, etc. (Oakwood press, c1955).

External links

  • Beerbohm Tree is heavily featured in a the most recent book to be published about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor written by

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