There was one thing on which people on both sides of the pond and on both sides of the class divide could agree in the mid-19th century: they loved the Bard. Though long-dead, Shakespeare was the Steven Spielberg of the day, and with theater tickets available for a very reasonable price (Hamilton producers, look to your thespian ancestors), playhouses were democratic spaces where those from all walks of life came together to see a good show. 

Because theater was the closest equivalent to popular entertainment at the time, the stage actors responsible for delivering the Bard’s rhymes were the culture’s A-listers. 

In the 1840s, a feud for the history books broke out between two of these leading stars—one from America, one from England. Like all good celebrity gossip, this rivalry played out in the newspapers of the day; and like all good culture wars, the issue at hand went way beyond two famous narcissists trading barbs.