"He gives me a sort of sense of looking like an actor"
Charles Kemble and Harriet Smithson as Romeo and Juliet, 1828
Public DomainCharles Kemble and Harriet Smithson as Romeo and Juliet, 1828 - Credit: François-Antoine Conscience

In the popular imagination, actors were as far removed from the Victorian ideals of propriety and respectability as it was possible to be. The decadent lifestyle assumed to be characteristic of the profession flew in the face of the austere standards that prevailed elsewhere, and the theatre was seen as a hive of sophistry and immorality.

As the Victorian actor, playwright and theatrical manager-director Robert Courtneidge observed in his memoirs (I was an Actor once, 1930), "Contrasted with types of honourable men in business or the various professions, the dissolute actor stood out in bold relief as characteristic of his fellows". This degeneracy was often seen as specifically sexual in nature, a prejudice which ties in with Mrs Grose's descriptions of Quint as having been "much too free".

Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra, 1891
Public DomainSarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra, 1891 - Credit: Napoleon Sarony