If this young fellow be right, then we have all been wrong
April 3, 2008 7:27 PM   Subscribe

David Garrick (1717-1779) revolutionized acting technique in the eighteenth century. One of England's most influential actor-managers, he operated the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and exerted a profound influence on Shakespearean texts and performances alike; in fact, Garrick's Jubilee Celebration of 1769 is the ancestor of the modern Shakespeare festival (and inspired some fakery as well).

Read some of Garrick's Shakespeare adaptations: Florizel and Perdita; Romeo and Juliet; The Taming of the Shrew.
Try to decipher Garrick's handwriting.
Mary Darby Robinson's "Elegy."
Visit Garrick's Temple to Shakespeare, which remains open for business. (More at The Twickenham Museum.)
See many portraits of Garrick at the National Portrait Gallery.
And a bust of Garrick by Richard Westmacott.
Search the collections of the Garrick Club, founded in 1831.
posted by thomas j wise (8 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Garrick was a genius, but he did like to give the people what they wanted on occasion -- or perhaps, what he assumed they wanted. Case in point, the "improvements" he made to the afore-linked Romeo & Juliet, the (almost) last scene in particular ... which you can read right here.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:59 PM on April 3, 2008

He's probably best known to readers of modern literature from Hemingway's The Green Hills of Africa; Hemingway doesn't like one of the local guides his party has hired, and sarcastically names him Garrick because of his posturing.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:01 PM on April 3, 2008

The Great Garrick (1937), directed by James Whale, is a really great movie that unfortunately is not on DVD yet. It's based on an anecdote about Garrick's run-in with the Comedie Francaise.
posted by goatdog at 9:15 PM on April 3, 2008

Cool collection of links.
Shakespeare re-writes from the Restoration until the 19th-century could be... ugly. Happy endings to King Lear, all the naughty bits cut... bleh.
There's a great BBC TV (I think?) production of Nicholas Nickelby where they perform a re-written R&J (not the one grabbingsand posted, I think) where everyone comes back to life at the end, except Tybalt. Funny stuff.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:31 PM on April 3, 2008

He also shows up quite often in James Boswell's Life of Johnson. Johnson taught Garrick at a school he kept for a short period of time; a few years later, they travelled to London together. Johnson felt he had the right to insult Garrick but he didn't allow others in his group (let alone strangers) to follow his example.
posted by watsondog at 10:14 PM on April 3, 2008

Thanks for this post. It is full of goodness! I've always been interested in Garrick.

Garrick was the 18th century's greatest Hamlet (and always considered one of, if not the greatest Hamlets of all time). He chose Hamlet to be his final role before he retired. And from what we know, one of the highlights of 18th century theater at the Drury Lane Theater was Garrick's Hamlet's start when he first saw the ghost of King Hamlet.

In the Act I Scene IV, Garrick would be dressed in the "customary suit of solemn black" to show his woe as he mourned his slain father. He would have a heavy full length cloak on over his black suit. He would have a black hat on, as well.

He would be strolling the stage giving a meandering, convoluted (and nonsensical?), and overly high-brow speech on Aristotle's theory of hamartia:

"So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin--
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,--
Their virtues else--be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo--
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal."

As Garrick would be walking upstage at the end of this ramble, with his back to the audience, Horatio would cry out:

"Look, my lord, it comes!"

At this Garrick would violently spin around. The heavy cape would fly and swing out as he turned. Garrick would be leaning so far forward in a start of excitement that he would almost be falling on his face if the other actors didn't hold him up. He would have his hand's up with palms out as if to hold the Ghost back. And in this position with the shocked visage, staring wide-eyed that the Ghost, Garrick would boom:

"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!"

This was one of the most famous acts in theater at the time (Lichtenberg, described it as "one of the greatest and most dreadful [scenes] of which, perhaps, the stage is capable.") But it was also subject to much criticism, especially to Samuel Johnson.

Boswell to Dr. Johnson: "Would not you, sir, start as Mr. Garrick does if you saw a ghost?"
Johnson: "I hope not. If I did, I should frighten the ghost."

Garrick's flair in that scene has been one of the more famous actions for the various other great Hamlet's to measure up to or put their own spin on. I wish I could have seen the original.
posted by dios at 8:32 AM on April 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

How do you make out the 'dram of eale', dios? Looking on the web 'eale' has been variously interpreted as ill, evil, ease, Scotch ale, and as a metaphor for semen.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:00 PM on April 4, 2008

There seems to be a resurgence of interest in Garrick: there's a new study of Shakespeare and Garrick, out this month, and Michael Caines, assistant editor at the TLS, is writing a biography of him. I expect Caines will be reviewing the Shakespeare and Garrick book for the TLS; it will be fascinating to see what he has to say.

Garrick's Hamlet comes into one of my favourite Golden Age detective novels, Michael Innes's Hamlet Revenge! (1937), where the murder takes place in the middle of a performance of Hamlet. The actor Melville Clay (a sort of Henry Irving figure with touches of John Barrymore) plays the leading role -- but he doesn't just play Hamlet, he plays Garrick playing Hamlet:

With the rapidity of an athlete Clay had whirled round upon himself and stiffened as instantly into a convention of retarded motion at once wholly theatrical and wholly terrifying. The hat had slipped to the ground, the cloak fallen back. Legs straddled, left arm flung wide and high, right arm bent with the hand hanging down and the fingers wide apart, the whole trembling figure of the man answered to the fixed, glaring terror on the face. Second after second of absolute silence crawled by. Then, on the hiss of an outgoing breath, came speech:

"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!"

With what seemed shattering rapidity there followed Melville Clay's own musical laugh. The lights snapped on. The actor was putting Noel's hat into shape with ironical precision. He had not turned a hair. "Garrick," he said, "was more effective, of course; but that was the idea."

'Dram of eale': yes, this is one of the most famous cruces in the whole Shakespearian canon. According to the New Arden edition (2006): 'The general meaning is clear: a very small quantity (dram) of badness can damage a good thing or person (noble substance) to the extent of bringing it or them into disrepute (scandal). But it is difficult to derive this meaning very precisely from the words on the page ..' Er, quite. 'Eale' is usually emended to 'evil', as in another passage later in the play where 'deale' is emended to 'devil'. The odd spelling may well have been Shakespeare's own, as the manuscript of Sir Thomas More (generally believed to be partly in Shakespeare's hand) has 'deule' for 'devil'. More on this at the BL website, where you can look at Garrick's own copies of the early editions of Hamlet. (By the way, Garrick himself would probably have said 'dram of ease', as this is the reading in the third quarto, which was the earliest edition he owned.)
posted by verstegan at 4:32 AM on April 11, 2008

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