chapter  2
Aged customs: negotiating traditions of Shakespearean performance
Pages 32

I Sir Henry Irving received his knighthood in July 1895. He was the first actor to have the honour bestowed upon him, though he had refused it twelve years earlier when proposed by his friend and Prime Minister, William Gladstone.4 As with so many other aspects of Irving’s career, this was a fact not lost upon Lord Olivier, of whom it is said that his desire for a peerage resulted to some extent from a need to go one better than the man who had died two years before Olivier’s

birth. In On Acting he recalls in his early thirties seeing an actor perform an impression of Irving, only to declare:

I vowed to eradicate all knowledge of the Old Man [Irving] from the public’s memory forever. I was determined to become the Old Man myself. Let them impersonate me fifty years after my death. I was determined to become the greatest actor of all time.5