American Actor Changes 19th-Century Theater – Who Knew?
October 27, 2020 • William Gillette, Arts, Popular Culture

William Gillette's Held by the Enemy. Copyright 1898 by The Strobridge Lith Co., Cin'ti & N.Y. - Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

…that stage actor and playwright, William Gillette, helped modernize theater by doing away with 19th-century melodrama devices and introducing realism into theater productions.

Hartford-born William Gillette, known best for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in film and theater, was also a successful playwright. His commitment to realism (in acting, sets, and costuming) in a time where melodrama ruled the stage helped usher in a new style of theater in the late 19th century. His 1886 Civil War drama, Held by the Enemy, epitomized this shift. This entirely American play earned accolades from British critics and audiences and helped change perceptions of American art forms “across the pond.”

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