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Dukes, Ashley (1885-1959)
by Gaipa, Mark

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Ashley Dukes 1885-1959

Theater manager, playwright, drama critic. Dukes was an active presence in English theater for over half a century. Born in Bridgwater, Somersetshire—in Southwest England—Dukes was the son of a minister, the Reverend E. J. Dukes. He graduated from the Silcoates School, and also from Manchester University with a degree in science. After his schooling, Dukes became a university lecturer in science in London, as well as a member of the Fabian society; but his attraction to theater, which had begun in his late teens and was later honed by the experimental theater of Maeterlinck and D'Annunzio, soon convinced him to leave his job—and England—for Germany in September 1907, where Dukes sought post-graduate work in Munich. After a stay of two years, he returned to England with a Continental point of view and a depth of knowledge about European drama that would inform his professional interests for the rest of his life.

Upon returning to England, Dukes also became the regular drama critic for The New Age. His association with the paper actually began two years earlier, when he contributed an article (“Pomp and Pageantry”) to the new series' inaugural volume; Dukes also contributed a handful of articles to the paper while living overseas. But the bulk of his contributions—which number nearly 70 articles over a five year period—occurred between 1909 and 1911, when the young Dukes (in his mid twenties) wrote a drama review nearly every week for volumes 6-8. Years later, Dukes boasted that the 10 shillings he received each week for his review was the only payment that Orage ever made to a regular contributor of the paper.

In 1910, Dukes had a play of his, Civil War, produced for the first time by the Stage Society. In 1924, he wrote the drama for which he is most admired, the comedy The Man With a Load of Mischief. However, Dukes found success in the theater not as an original playwright but rather as a producer and, especially, adapter of French and German drama to the English stage. In 1933 Dukes used his own earnings to construct and manage a small playhouse called the Mercury Theatre, which specialized in modern drama and adaptations of foreign plays. Dukes championed verse drama in both his writing and in the performances he staged at the Mercury; Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral was one of his productions in 1935. Dukes also brought ballet to the Mercury, and for ten years he collaborated with his wife, Marie Rambert, who had danced in Diaghilev's company and now acted as artistic director of the Ballet Club. In 1937 the Royal Society of Literature honored Dukes by making him professor of drama.

Besides his journalism for The New Age, Dukes wrote drama criticism for Vanity Fair, Star, and Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. He also acted as English editor at TheatreArts Monthly, an American journal. Other plays that Dukes wrote or adapted include: From Morn to Midnight (1920), Song of Drums (1926), One More River (1927), The Dumb Wife of Cheapside (1934), Squaring the Circle (1934), and Return to Dane's Hill (1958). His books include Modern Dramatists (1911), The Youngest Drama: studies of fifty dramatists (1923), The World to Play With (1928), and Tradition and Experiment in Present Day Literature (1929). In 1942, Dukes wrote his autobiography, The Scene Is Changed.

—Mark Gaipa


  • Contemporary Authors, volume 110 (1981)
  • Obituaries from the Times: 1951-1960 (1979)
  • The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, Fourth Edition (1983).
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