Since his death on April 23, 1616, William Shakespeare has continued his reign as the most famous playwright of all time. Countless film adaptations, not to mention stage performances, have been made of his work. In the 20th century, no one was more famous for staging Shakespeare than Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. They performed in seven of the Bard’s most famous comedies and dramas during their 23 year relationship. Some of their joint endeavors were better critically received than others, but their command of the language and ability to surprise and move audiences proved successful. Actor Peter Wyngarde once said of Vivien and Larry: “The Oliviers brought speech to the English stage. Vivien was visual and Larry was oral. She learnt about ‘the word’ from him.”
Though Laurence Olivier almost unanimously received praise across the board for every Shakespeare play he ever did, critics were harder on Vivien. This was especially true of The Observer critic Kenneth Tynan who seemed determined to point out that Vivien was not in the same league as her husband when it came to the classics. Despite such reviews, Larry thought otherwise, saying in his book On Acting that Vivien was perfect for Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and was the greatest Lady Macbeth he’d ever seen. He would know.