He was the greatest actor of the Victorian age and transformed the theatre from something marginal and a bit seedy into a respected, uplifting art form. In 1895 he became the first actor to receive a knighthood. This gives not just an account of Irving and his career but discusses his impact on Victorian life as a whole.
Sir Henry Irving was the greatest actor of the Victorian age and was thought of by Gladstone as his greatest contemporary. He transformed the theatre, in Britain and America, from a disreputable and marginal entertainment into a respected, civilising and uplifting art form. Irving's enthusiastic supporters, eager to see his every appearance, ranged from Queen Victoria to working men and housewives. At the Lyceum Theatre from 1878 to 1902, he set new standards in acting, often partnered by Ellen Terry, and in production. In 1895, he became the first actor to receive a knighthood. His tours to America brought a revolution in acting practice to the New World. In "Sir Henry Irvine: A Victorian Actor and his World", published to mark the centenary of Irving's death, Jeffrey Richards gives an account not only of Irving himself but also of his impact on the Victorian theatre and on Victorian life as a whole.