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Diary: Memorable Kemble the duelling gentleman

It’s a scabbard for Tabard this week, as an unusual piece of theatre memorabilia is due to go up for auction next week.

To be precise, it’s a black leather scabbard, containing a stage sword once owned by the notable Georgian actor John Philip Kemble.

In the various portraits of Kemble that have survived, he was often depicted carrying his sword – and used one in the roles of Hamlet, Cato and Richard III ( above).

When Kemble retired from acting in 1817 he gifted it – as an inscription on the sword says – to someone called J Cooper.

Also inscribed on the sword is the legend “nemo me impune lacessit” which, if Tabard remembers correctly from GCSE Latin, means ‘no one pisses me off and gets away with it’.

Well, Tabard certainly wouldn’t have messed with Kemble. And not just because of the feisty motto: aside from his illustrious acting career, Kemble was famous for having a duel with an Irish actor called James Aickin back in 1792.

After a set-to over working practices at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where Kemble was the manager, Aickin aimed at Kemble – and missed. Rather than shooting back, Kemble decided to be a gentleman. The two duellists had a civil chat and resolved their differences amicably.

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