The Second Mrs Tanqueray

Last updated

Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Paula Tanqueray in the 1902 Broadway revival Players and plays of the last quarter century; an historical summary of causes and a critical review of conditions as existing in the American theatre at the close of the nineteenth century (1903) (14581482057).jpg
Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Paula Tanqueray in the 1902 Broadway revival

The Second Mrs. Tanqueray is a problem play by Arthur Wing Pinero. It utilises the "Woman with a past" plot, popular in nineteenth century melodrama. The play was first produced in 1893 by the actor-manager George Alexander and despite causing some shock to his audiences by its scandalous subject it was a box-office success, and was revived in London and New York in many productions during the 20th century.


Background and first performance

The English dramatist Arthur Wing Pinero had won fame as a writer of farces and other comedies, including The Magistrate (1885), Dandy Dick (1887) and The Cabinet Minister (1890). [1] Wishing to write about serious subjects, he wrote The Profligate (1889), in which past misdeeds come to haunt a seemingly respectable man. Pinero intended the central character to kill himself at the climax of the play, but the actor-manager John Hare persuaded him to tone down the ending to avoid alienating his respectable society audience. [2]

When his next such drama – The Second Mrs Tanqueray – came to be produced, Pinero remained firm: the play would, and did, end in tragedy. While he was planning it, several plays of Henrik Ibsen were presented in London for the first time, regarded by much of polite society as avant garde, blunt and shocking. [n 1] Seeing Ghosts led Pinero to reconsider his approach to playwriting, which now seemed old-fashioned by comparison. He was far from uncritical of Ibsen's plays, but recognised that if he was to be a serious dramatist he must treat social problems and human misconduct frankly. [3]

The Second Mrs Tanqueray centred on "a woman with a past". Hare thought it too shocking for his audience and declined to present it. George Alexander, the actor-manager running the St James's Theatre, to whom Pinero then offered the play, said, "Sorry, I daren't do it". [4] He had second thoughts, and accepted it. [4] It was presented at the St James's on 27 May 1893. [5] The cast was:

Punch cartoon showing Pinero's relief as the second Mrs Tanqueray (Mrs Patrick Campbell) successfully leaps over a hurdle marked "Convention", followed by George Alexander as Tanqueray Punch-cartoon-The-Second-Mrs-Tanqueray-1893.png
Punch cartoon showing Pinero's relief as the second Mrs Tanqueray (Mrs Patrick Campbell) successfully leaps over a hurdle marked "Convention", followed by George Alexander as Tanqueray
Source: The Era . [5]

The piece was a box-office success and was still playing to full houses when Alexander, who disliked acting in long runs, closed the production in April 1894. [6]

The play is referenced in Hilaire Belloc's poem, Matilda, in Cautionary Tales for Children . [7] 'It happened that a few Weeks later Her Aunt was off to the Theatre To see that Interesting Play The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. She had refused to take her Niece To hear this Entertaining Piece: A Deprivation Just and Wise To Punish her for Telling Lies.'


The play opens with a late night dinner between the widower Mr Tanqueray and some of his longtime professional friends. All are upper class members of British society, and the friends are disturbed when they learn of the forthcoming second marriage of Tanqueray to a Mrs Paula Jarman, a woman with a "bad reputation".

As the play progresses we see the misery of the mismatched couple and their shared efforts to foster a bond between Tanqueray's young and impeccably proper daughter Ellean and her young unhappy stepmother. This is compromised when Mrs Tanqueray learns the identity of her stepdaughter's fiancé; he is the man who ruined her, years ago. She reveals her knowledge to her husband, who prevents the marriage and alienates his daughter. This spreads and husband and wife, father and daughter, step-parent and child are all angered and alienated. When the daughter learns the reasons behind her disappointment she is struck with pity and makes a speech about trying again with her stepmother, only to go to her and find her dead, evidently by suicide.

Revivals and adaptations

Madge Kendal and her husband W. H. Kendal took the play on tour in Britain, and then to Broadway where self-appointed guardians of morality condemned it, and audiences flocked to see it. [8] There were London revivals in 1895 at the St James's, 1901 at the Royalty Theatre, 1903 at the New Theatre, 1913 at the St James's and 1922 at the Playhouse Theatre. [9] Eleonora Duse appeared in an Italian adaptation in 1905, [10] and the play was given in English in Paris in 1907 at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt. [11] The Internet Broadway Database records New York revivals in 1900, 1902, 1907, 1908, 1913 and 1924. [12] More recently, the play has been revived in the West End with Eileen Herlie in the title role in 1950, [13] and at the National Theatre in 1981, starring Felicity Kendal. [14]

The play was adapted for the cinema in 1916, with Alexander in his original role. [15] A later film version was released in 1952, with Pamela Brown as Paula and Hugh Sinclair as Tanqueray. [16] The BBC has broadcast several radio adaptations of the play, starring Margaret Rawlings and Nicholas Hannen (1940), Coral Browne, Malcolm Keen and Jack Buchanan (1944), Joyce Redman and André Morell (1951), Gladys Cooper and André Morell (1954), Margaret Robertson and Tony Britton (1967) and Michelle Newell and Gary Bond (1992). [17] A BBC television adaptation was broadcast in 1962, starring Elizabeth Sellars and Peter Williams. [17]

Notes, references and sources


  1. Ibsen's Ghosts , Rosmersholm , The Lady from the Sea and Hedda Gabler were all given in London for the first time during 1891 and 1892, mostly at special matinées. [3]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Wing Pinero</span> British playwright and actor (1855–1934)

Sir Arthur Wing Pinero was an English playwright and, early in his career, actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mrs Patrick Campbell</span> British stage actress

Beatrice Rose Stella Tanner, better known by her stage name Mrs Patrick Campbell or Mrs Pat, was an English stage actress, best known for appearing in plays by Shakespeare, Shaw and Barrie. She also toured the United States and appeared briefly in films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">St James's Theatre</span> Former theatre in City of Westminster, London, England

The St James's Theatre was in King Street, St James's, London. It opened in 1835 and was demolished in 1957. The theatre was conceived by and built for a popular singer, John Braham; it lost money and after three seasons he retired. A succession of managements over the next forty years also failed to make it a commercial success, and the St James's acquired a reputation as an unlucky theatre. It was not until 1879–1888, under the management of the actors John Hare and Madge and W. H. Kendal that the theatre began to prosper.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Hunter Kendal</span> English actor and theatre manager (1843–1917)

William Hunter Kendal was an English actor and theatre manager. He and his wife Madge starred at the Haymarket in Shakespearian revivals and the old English comedies beginning in the 1860s. In the 1870s, they starred in a series of "fairy comedies" by W. S. Gilbert and in many plays on the West End with the Bancrofts and others. In the 1880s, they starred at and jointly managed the St. James's Theatre. They then enjoyed a long touring career.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Alexander (actor)</span> English actor (1858–1918)

Sir George Alexander, born George Alexander Gibb Samson, was an English stage actor, theatre producer and theatre manager. After acting on stage as an amateur he turned professional in 1879 and, over the next eleven years, he gained experience with leading producers and actor-managers, including Tom Robertson, Henry Irving and Madge and W. H. Kendal.

<i>Mrs Danes Defence</i> (play) Society play by Henry Arthur Jones

Mrs. Dane's Defence is a society play in four acts by the British playwright Henry Arthur Jones.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Madge Kendal</span> English actress and theatre manager (1848–1935)

Dame Madge Kendal was an English actress of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, best known for her roles in Shakespeare and English comedies. Together with her husband, W. H. Kendal , she became an important theatre manager.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Hare (actor)</span> 19th/20th-century English actor

Sir John Hare, born John Joseph Fairs, was an English actor and theatre manager of the later 19th– and early 20th centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Sutton Titheradge</span> English actor

George Sutton Titheradge was an English actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toole's Theatre</span>

Toole's Theatre, was a 19th-century West End building in William IV Street, near Charing Cross, in the City of Westminster. A succession of auditoria had occupied the site since 1832, serving a variety of functions, including religious and leisure activities. The theatre at its largest, after reconstruction in 1881–82, had a capacity of between 650 and 700.

Michael Rudman was an American theatre director.

George Rowell was a British theatre historian, lecturer and authority on the 19th century. His specialisms included Victorian melodrama and the theatre of Henry Irving, W. S. Gilbert, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Wing Pinero.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lydia Bilbrook</span> English actress (1888–1990)

Lydia Bilbrook, sometimes credited as "Bilbrooke", was an English actress whose career spanned four decades, first as a stage performer in the West End, and later in films. She is best known to today's audiences as "Lady Ada Epping" opposite comedian Leon Errol in the Mexican Spitfire movie comedies of the 1940s.

<i>Dandy Dick</i> (play)

Dandy Dick is a three-act farce by Arthur Wing Pinero, first performed in London in 1887. It depicts the complications arising when a respectable clergyman is persuaded to bet on a horse race to subsidise building works on his church. The play has been revived several times and has been adapted for the cinema, radio and television.

The Second Mrs Tanqueray is a 1952 British drama film directed by Dallas Bower and starring Pamela Brown, Hugh Sinclair and Ronald Ward. It is based on the 1893 play The Second Mrs Tanqueray by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero; and marked the film debut of Virginia McKenna.

The Second Mrs Tanqueray is a 1916 British silent film directed by Fred Paul and starring George Alexander, Hilda Moore and Norman Forbes. It is an adaptation of the 1893 play The Second Mrs Tanqueray by Arthur Wing Pinero.

<i>The Schoolmistress</i> (play) Play by Arthur Wing Pinero

The Schoolmistress is a farce by Arthur Wing Pinero. It depicts the complications at a girls' boarding school when the headmistress is away, leaving her feckless husband in charge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Winifred Fraser</span> English actress

Winifred Fraser, née Day, was an English actress. After building a career in supporting roles in London and on tour from 1888 to 1910, she moved to the US, where she appeared in numerous Broadway productions in the 1910s and 1920s, before retiring to England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maude Millett</span> British actress (1867–1920)

Ethel Maude Millett was a British actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, known for her roles in drawing room comedies. She created roles in plays by Arthur Wing Pinero, Oscar Wilde and J. M. Barrie among others.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adolphus Vane-Tempest</span>

Francis Adolphus Vane-Tempest was an English actor of the late-19th and early 20th centuries. He was known for playing amiable but not over-bright upper class characters. Among the roles he created was Mr Dumby in Oscar Wilde's 1892 comedy Lady Windermere's Fan. His theatrical career continued until the First World War, when he joined the army. He did not return to the stage thereafter.


  1. Wearing, J. P. (2004) "Pinero, Sir Arthur Wing (1855–1934), playwright" Archived 12 November 2019 at the Wayback Machine , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 December 2020 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. Dawick, p. 159
  3. 1 2 Dawick, pp. 169 and 173–175
  4. 1 2 Dawick, p. 181
  5. 1 2 "The Second Mrs Tanqueray", The Era, 3 June 1893, p. 9
  6. Dawick, p. 200
  7. Rowell, p. 1
  8. Morley, pp. 206–208
  9. Gaye, p. 1780
  10. "Waldorf Theatre", The Times, 24 May 1905, p. 10
  11. "Miss Nethersole in Paris", The Times, 7 June 1907, p. 4
  12. "The Second Mrs Tanqueray" Archived 23 November 2022 at the Wayback Machine , Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 10 December 2020
  13. "Haymarket Theatre", The Times, 30 August 1950, p. 6
  14. Wardle, Irving. "New life in the dead sea", The Times, 16 December 1981, p. 13
  15. "The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1916)", British Film Institute. Retrieved 10 December 2020
  16. "The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1952)" Archived 16 June 2019 at the Wayback Machine , British Film Institute. Retrieved 10 December 2020
  17. 1 2 "The Second Mrs Tanqueray" Archived 23 November 2022 at the Wayback Machine , BBC Genome. Retrieved 10 December 2020