David Garrick

Definition

Theater

  • (1717 - 79) An extraordinary actor and director who ruledthe British stage for some 30 years and who has been called "thefirst modern superstar". He introduced a more naturalistic styleof acting to England and led the movement away from the coarsenessof Restoration drama. He was also the author of more than40 plays.

    In 1737 the young Garrick travelled to London with his friendSamuel Johnson, intending to study law. Instead, he became a winemerchant near Covent Garden, only later drifting into playwritingand acting. Drury Lane produced his first comedy Lethe, or Esopin the Shades in 1740; he made his acting debut there in 1742,playing 19 parts - including Lear and Hamlet - in hisfirst season. Standing a mere 5 ft 4 in, he was an intenselyactive man, described by George III as "a great fidget who couldnever stand still".

    In 1747 he became the artistic and administrative directorof Drury Lane. In this role Garrick is said to have beena harsh critic and a hard taskmaster. Playing opposite a new leadinglady, whose delivery he considered too deadpan, he savaged her inrehearsal: "Can you chop cabbage?" he responded to her mostpassionate line, mimicking her lack of intonation. Under his management,Drury Lane competed fiercely with Covent Garden; the theaterscontinually attempted to poach each other's actors and on one occasionstaged Romeo and Juliet simultaneously, with Garrick claimingvictory as his production lasted one day longer. His management wasnot without its disasters. In 1755 mobs wrecked the theater afterGarrick presented a French ballet when Britain and France were onthe verge of war. More riots followed in 1762, after he abolishedthe traditional admission reductions for those who came late or leftearly.

    Offstage, Garrick had a reputation for extreme parsimony - he had known real poverty in his youth - and often exasperated hisfriends with his vanity, social climbing, and love of praise. One friend,Oliver Goldsmith, wrote:

    On stage he was natural, simple, affecting.
    'Twas only that when he was off he was acting.
    Retaliations

    Garrick is buried in the Poets' Corner in WestminsterAbbey.

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