Henry Harris (c. 1634 – 1704) was an English stage actor and theatre manager. Initially a painter he was a founder member of the new Duke's Company in 1660 following the Restoration which established itself at the old Salisbury Court Theatre before moving to the new Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre shortly afterwards. Due to his background Harris may have been a set designer and painter during his early years with the company. However, by 1661 he was acting, and his first recorded role was in William Davenant's The Siege of Rhodes that summer. He quickly established himself as the second actor in the troupe after Thomas Betterton.[1]

Henry Harris
Harris as Cardinal Wolsey by John Greenhill, 1664.
Died3 August 1704
OccupationStage actor
Years active1661–1681

In 1663 he was briefly arrested, likely due to an attempt to change allegiance to the rival King's Company which was illegal at the time. The dispute seemed to be over pay, and he remained with the Duke's Company. In these years he also mentored an emerging actor Joseph Williams who would go on to have a long stage career of his own. In 1664 Harris played Cardinal Wolsey in a revival of Henry VIII, a widely celebrated performance.[2] He befriended Samuel Pepys in 1667–68 and features in his diary.[3]

When William Davenant died in 1668, Harris and Betterton took over management of the Duke's Company. In 1671 they led the company to the new Dorset Garden Theatre, and Harris took an apartment in the same building.[4] In 1673 he was involved in onstage accident when fellow actor Philip Cademan was seriously injured during a swordfight.[5] Harris was known for his fast living and enjoyed mixing in high society, running up heavy debts. Increasingly during the late 1670s several of his roles were taken over by William Smith, who succeeded him as manager of the Company in 1681 when Harris stepped back from active participation in the theatre. However he continued to remain a shareholder in the Dorset Garden venue although this brought him less revenue due to the merged United Company basing itself at Drury Lane.[6]

In his later years he mostly survived on government sinecures. He died on 3 August 1704 and was buried at St Paul's in Covent Garden, a church closely associated with actors.[7]

Selected roles edit

Dorset Gardens Theatre. Harris was a major shareholder in the venue which hosted the Duke's Company from 1671

References edit

  1. ^ Highfill, Burnim & Langhans pp. 123–25
  2. ^ Highfill, Burnim & Langhans p.125
  3. ^ Highfill, Burnim & Langhans p.127
  4. ^ Highfill, Burnim & Langhans pp. 128–29
  5. ^ Highfill, Burnim & Langhans p.129
  6. ^ Highfill, Burnim & Langhans pp. 130–31
  7. ^ Highfill, Burnim & Langhans p.131

Bibliography edit

  • Highfill, Philip H, Burnim, Kalman A. & Langhans, Edward A. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660–1800. SIU Press, 1982.
  • Van Lennep, W. The London Stage, 1660–1800: Volume One, 1660–1700. Southern Illinois University Press, 1960.