Andrew Dickson at Literary Hub:
The saga began several years earlier, in 1845, when the volatile Philadelphia-born star Edwin Forrest—the American in question—was on tour to the UK. Stung by a poor reviews in London (the Spectator yawned that his Othello was “affected” and said his “killing of Desdemona was a cold-blooded butchery”), Forrest became paranoid that his great rival, the eminent English actor William Charles Macready, was orchestrating a campaign against him. The following March, Forrest bought a ticket for Macready’sHamlet in Edinburgh; just as the play-within-the-play scene began, Forrest hissed, loudly and publicly. The affair became a scandal, particularly when Forrest sent a letter to the London Times pouring scorn on Macready’s “fancy dance” of a Dane. Back in the US, Forrest—narcissistic even by the standards of most actors—exulted that he had struck a blow against anti-American prejudice.
Macready, an altogether quieter and more uptight character, was shocked, but had little sense how things would escalate. On his own return tour to the US in the fall of 1848, he was astonished to discover that many American reviewers—who had praised him to the rafters on previous visits—had mysteriously turned against him. When he reached Forrest’s hometown of Philadelphia, he was dismayed to find that his enemy had arranged to perform many of the same dates in direct opposition. One night, Macready’sMacbeth was interrupted when the audience began fighting amongst itself. As the curtain came down, Macready protested, only to find when he opened the paper the next day that Forrest had printed a furious take-down of his “narrow, envious” rival. The dispute simmered: in Cincinnati a few months later, half a sheep was thrown at Macready’s feet.