While using the Australian newspaper archive site Trove to research Rusty Wescoatt’s Australian wrestling tour, I realized that the site would also be a logical resource to retrieve additional information on Australia’s own C. Montague Shaw. A search on Shaw’s real name of Charles Montague Discombe Sparrow produced several interesting clippings pertaining to Shaw’s years as a Shakespearean actor.
First, this 1908 item from a Sydney newspaper, which refers to Shaw, under his real name of Charles Sparrow, signing with F. R. Benson’s Shakespearean acting troupe. Benson, who founded his company in the 1880s, was one of the key figures in the history of stage Shakespeare, emphasizing a return to Shakespeare’s original texts after years of altered and abridged versions, and staging many of the more obscure plays in the Shakespearean canon which had been neglected by prior actor-managers.
Next, a clipping from a 1908 Perth newspaper describing Shaw’s recitations, which he had performed before signing with Benson and evidently still pursued as a sideline after going in to repertory:
Next, a 1919 Adelaide item about Shaw’s international Shakespearean touring, his elocution teaching in South Africa, and his World War 1 service:
Finally, a pair of photos of Shaw on the stage as a member of the Benson company, in the title role in Julius Caesar and as Orlando in As You Like It.
Of the roles mentioned in these pieces, it’s easy to picture the impressively dignified Shaw as Caesar, the Ghost in Hamlet, or Theseus; it’s somewhat harder to imagine him as playing romantic leads like Bassanio or Orsino (from Twelfth Night), and even harder to picture him as Hamlet’s comic Gravedigger–but then, repertory actors are typically allowed to avoid typecasting of the kind that besets movie actors. One wonder if Shaw, during his latter-day film career, ever wished for a chance to play something other than the upright officials or scientists he typically portrayed in serials; about the closest he came to breaking out of his movie typecasting was as Dr. Huer in Buck Rogers (quirkier and more eccentric than the average Shaw character) and as the crafty, conniving Pablo in Zorro’s Fighting Legion.