Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2007
Harold Hobson, the first recipient of a knighthood for theatre criticism (in 1977) and the drama critic of The Sunday Times from 1947 to 1976, is best remembered today for his discovery of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, his critical jousting with his great rival, Kenneth Tynan of the Observer, and his championing of Absurdist drama, notably the work of Beckett. This article aims to demonstrate that these well-known preoccupations were less important for Hobson’s critical practice than his belief that it was his critical duty to provide a historical record of what he had witnessed and that the actor was the pre-eminent member of the theatrical triumvirate of actor, director and playwright. These two critical edicts are most evident in Hobson’s review of performances of Shakespeare.
Hobson's first actual review of a Shakespearian production, submitted as a freelancer to the Christian Science Monitor in 1930, shortly after corning down from Oriel College, Oxford, provides an early indication of his desire to elevate the importance of the performer above that of the director and even the playwright. The review, blandly entitled '“Macbeth” at Oxford', is a formulaic account of the Easter production of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, which commences with an extensive listing of all the participants.