Robert Coates

Robert Coates Brief Biography

Robert "Romeo" Coates (1772-1848) was an English eccentric, best remembered for his career as an amateur actor. His self-image included a highly mistaken belief in his own thespian prowess. Born in Antigua in the West Indies, the only surviving child of a wealthy sugar planter, and educated in England, he began to appear in plays in Bath in 1809, and became notorious for his fondness for appearing in leading roles. His favourite part was the male lead in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, hence his widely used nickname. After professional theatrical producers failed to cast Coates in roles prominent enough to satisfy him, he used his family fortune to subsidise his own productions in which he was both the producer and the lead actor.

Coates claimed to be the best actor in Britain. He would appear in bizarre costumes of his own design, invent new scenes and dialogue mid-show, and repeat parts of the play he particularly liked"?usually dramatic death scenes"?up to three or four times a night. His fame quickly spread and people flocked to see whether Coates was really as bad as they had heard. They laughed and jeered at him; Coates sometimes turned to the audience and answered in kind. By 1816 audiences had tired of mocking Coates, and theatre managers were no longer willing to let him use their premises. After some years living in France to avoid creditors, he returned to England, married in 1823, and had two children who both predeceased him. Coates died in London in 1848, aged about 76, after a Hansom cab hit him outside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

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