Archer, William (1856–1924) By Postlewait, Thomas
Born in Edinburgh, William Archer served as a London theater critic from 1881 to 1920. He retired from weekly reviewing when his melodrama The Green Goddess was a major success in New York (1920–1922) and London (1923–1924). His translations of Henrik Ibsen’s plays began to be published in 1888 and culminated in The Works of Henrik Ibsen (twelve volumes, 1906–1908). He translated and helped to stage the first London productions of A Doll’s House (1889), Ghosts (1891), and Rosmersholm (1892), and in close partnership with the actress Elizabeth Robins co-directed the productions of Hedda Gabler (1891), The Master Builder (1893), Little Eyolf (1896), and John Gabriel Borkman (1898).
He also translated and published plays by Maurice Maeterlinck and Gerhart Hauptmann. In his advocacy for modern English drama, Archer supported the plays of Arthur Wing Pinero, Oscar Wilde, James Barrie, Harley Granville Barker, and Bernard Shaw. He led the British campaigns against stage censorship and for a national theater. In 1907 he and Barker published A National Theatre: Scheme and Estimates. In the mid-1880s he and Shaw drafted a play entitled Rhinegold that Shaw later transformed into Widowers’ Houses (1892), the play that launched his playwriting career. Between 1892 and 1924 Archer wrote well over 100 articles and reviews on Shaw and his plays. Although he criticized some of the plays, he repeatedly praised Shaw as a modern dramatic genius. Their abiding friendship thrived on their debates about all aspects of modern drama, including Shaw’s plays. In 1923 Archer published The Old Drama and the New, a historical survey of British drama with a lengthy (and still argumentative) section on Shaw.