David Garrick, 1717–1779: A Theatrical Life exhibition material

This article offers a descriptive list of items included in David Garrick, 1717–1779: A Theatrical Life, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger.

This online exhibition showcases some of the Folger Shakespeare Library's extraordinary wealth of Garrick-related printed texts, manuscripts, images, and objects in order to tell the story of his “theatrical life” both in the sense of David Garrick’s contributions to modern drama, and the drama that was his real life.

The exhibition material is grouped into five major themes: The Man; The Actor; The Entrepreneur; The Playwright and Adapter; and Garrick's Legacy.

The Man

Garrick’s personal qualities have been much praised (“The chastity of Mr. Garrick…and his exemplary life as a man have been a great service to the morals of a dissipated age,” wrote Sir John Fielding), but he had his quarrels and his behavior was not without flashes of professional jealousy. His sense of humor still comes across in his letters, and he took ribbing about his modest height in stride. Plagued by ill-health much of the time, he neverthless enjoyed life to the fullest.

Childhood and Youth

David Garrick was born in Hereford in 1717, son of Peter Garrick (a Huguenot refugee who arrived in England as an infant and grew up to become an army officer) and his wife, Arabella Clough (a vicar-choral’s [1] daughter from Lichfield). Peter Garrick’s regiment was based in Lichfield, Staffordshire, and David grew up there with his six brothers and sisters. In 1737, he left Lichfield for London, over 100 miles to the south-east, traveling with his friend and (briefly) schoolmaster, the young Samuel Johnson.[2] In London, twenty-year-old David Garrick considered a law career, then set himself up as a wholesale wine dealer with his elder brother, Peter. Over the next few years, Garrick’s long-held interest in acting and the theater grew. In 1740, two comic pieces[3] he had written appeared on stage, and he acted the title role in an amateur performance of Henry Fielding’s The Mock Doctor. The respectable career in the wine trade wished for by his family became less and less attractive to him.

Items included

  • Samuel and Nathaniel Buck. The South West Prospect of the City of Lichfield. Engraving, ca. 1732. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.203.
  • William Holl after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Samuel Johnson LLD. Engraving, 1814. Call number: ART File J69 no.12 (size M) and LUNA Digital Image.

Debut on the Stage

By his own account, Garrick made his professional stage debut anonymously and in disguise March 1741, taking over for an indisposed actor at Goodman’s Fields[4] without the audience knowing. His first full performance took place that summer, in Ipswich. Unwilling to associate his good family name with acting, he appeared under the pseudonym “Mr. Lyddall” (the maiden name of the manager’s wife).

On October 19, 1741, Garrick made his formal debut on the London stage and soon became the talk of the town. The little east-end theater of Goodman’s Fields began to draw crowds, including the likes of Alexander Pope and William Pitt.

Still concerned for his family’s reputation, Garrick’s name did not appear on the playbills—at least, not at first. The part of Richard III on October 19, 1741 was played by “A Gentleman,[5] (Who never appeared on any Stage).” Garrick triumphed as Richard III, acting with a naturalism audiences had not seen in the role before, and was next advertised as “the Gentleman who perform’d King Richard.” At the end of November, 1741, he finally went public as an actor, allowing his name to appear on the playbills.

By the end of the 1741–42 season, Garrick had made the leap to the west end, debuting at Drury Lane on May 26. Letters to his family reveal Garrick’s breathless enthusiasm for the theater as well as a genuine concern to re-assure them that he has met with great success, and is confident he can make a living as an actor. He went on to spend a triumphant summer season at the Smock Alley theater in Dublin before returning to Drury Lane in the fall.

William Capon (1757–1827) drew this watercolor of the theater in Goodman’s Fields in 1801. In addition to careful drawings like this, intended to preserve a record of local architecture, Capon worked as a scene painter, and as a theater designer. In 1794, he began painting scenes for Drury Lane, and became particularly known for his historically informed medieval buildings. The drawing comes from a collection of Garrick material compiled by writer and book collector George Daniel (1789–1864). Among the books Daniel collected was a First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s works now housed at the Folger. A digital edition[6] created by Octavo appeared in 2001, and now in our Digital image collection.

Items included

  • William Capon. Theatre, Great Alie Street, Goodmans Fields where Garrick first appeared in London. Watercolor, 1801. Call number: ART Vol. d94 no.85a and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Unknown artist. The Old Theatre in Tankard Street Ipswich. Watercolor, late 18th century. Call number: ART Vol. d94 no.84a and LUNA Digital Image.
  • James Winston, compiler. David Garrick, a collection of engravings, manuscripts, playbills ... Manuscript, compiled ca. 1830. Call number: W.b.481.

Eva Maria

Engraved portrait of Eva Maria Veigel, 1802. Folger Digital Image 6353.

David Garrick was acting in Dublin when the Viennese dancer Mlle Eva Maria Veigel, “La Violette” made her London debut at the King’s Opera House (in Haymarket) on March 11, 1746 in a run of celebrated performances that led Horace Walpole to describe her as “the finest and most admired dancer in the world.”

After arriving in England in February 1746, La Violette signed a contract with the Italian company at the King’s Opera House. She moved to Drury Lane later that year, dancing to this minuet at her first appearance, a Command Performance with Giuseppe Salomon and others on December 3, 1746, the year before David Garrick and James Lacy became joint-patentees of that theater. Garrick was still at this point acting at Covent Garden, in this week playing the role of Lothario in The Fair Penitent.

Garrick was smitten from the beginning: when he first saw her perform at the King’s Opera House, he was observed switching to the Prince of Wales’ box for a better view. Although their professional paths apparently never crossed, and despite the early disapproval by Eva Maria’s patron, Lady Burlingon, the two were married on June 22, 1749 and honeymooned at the Burlington’s villa in Chiswick. Once married La Violette gave up her dancing career and they are said to have never spent a night apart.

This hand-colored engraving is after a portrait of a youthful Eva Maria done in crayon by Katherine Read (1723–1778). Read was a successful theatrical portraitist known for her work in pastels who also made portraits of Susanna Cibber [7] and Peg Woffington.[8] The original pastel is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a miniature copy can be found at the Garrick Club.

Items included


This playful portrait shows the couple with Garrick poised to write. Hogarth kept the original painting, and his widow gave it to Eva Maria when she herself was widowed. The Garricks had no children, so it went to auction when Eva Maria died at age 98 and is now in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. The chair[9] that Garrick is depicted sitting in is itself in the Folger collection.

Garrick had a number of literary and theatrical friendships with women of social and cultural distinction. The hand-colored engraving depicting Peg Woffington is tipped in to Arthur Murphy’s[10] biography of Garrick opposite words, “Previous to this match [with Eva Maria], it is certain that Garrick was on the point of marrying Mrs. Woffington.” The truth is a bit more complex than this perhaps fairly typical “talk of the town.” In fact the affair had cooled in 1745, before Mlle Eva Maria Veigel’s arrival in England. Mrs. Woffington continued to act under Garrick’s management at Drury Lane in later years.

The inscription on the Folger’s copy of An Ode to Garrick, Upon the Talk of the Town, says “Written, I believe, by Mr. Garrick himself” and is signed J.P.K. [i.e. by the actor John Philip Kemble (1757–1823)]. Garrick often published anonymous criticism of his own performances and management in order to take some of the wind out of the sails of his critics. But this title is in fact by Edward Moore (1712–1757), a writer whose first play, The Foundling, was “met with universal applause” according to the prompter at Drury Lane. It played there for thirteen nights in February 1748, with David Garrick acting in the role of Young Belmont and Mrs. Woffington achieving great success acting the part of Rosetta. Stanza XV of Moore’s Ode notes the public’s admiration for Garrick’s fiancee Eva Maria, but also their love for gossip about Garrick:

A Pox upon the tattling Town!—
The Fops that join to cry you down
Would give their Ears to get her.

The marriage certificate seen here documents the second ceremony, a Catholic service held at the chapel of the Portuguese Embassy at No. 74, South Audley Street. Presiding over the service was the English Carmelite and reviser of the Douay Bible, Chaplain-Major Francis Blyth (1705?–1772). David and Eva Maria were first married at 8:00 a.m. that morning by David Garrick’s friend the Reverend Thomas Francklin (1721–1784) in the chapel in Russell Street, Bloomsbury.

On July 18, 1749, Garrick wrote this letter to Dorothy Boyle, Countess of Burlington. The Countess, Eva Maria's patron, was not initially inclined to see her protégée marry an actor. Yet this letter, written just weeks after the wedding, reveals some of the thaw that must have taken place: "she has more than once confess’d to Me, that tho She lik’d me very well, & was determin'd not to marry any body else, yet she was as determin'd not to Marry Me, if Your Ladyship had put a Negative upon Me."

Items included

  • John Sartain after William Hogarth. Mr. and Mrs. Garrick at home. Hand-colored engraving, 19th century. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.33 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Peg Woffington. Hand-colored etching, 18th century. in The life of David Garrick, illustrated with additional proof ... autograph letters by Arthur Murphy. Manuscript, 1801. Call number: W.a.167 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Edward Moore. An Ode to Garrick, upon The Talk of the Town. London, 1749. Call number: PR3605.M3 O41 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Garrick and Mademoiselle Violetti. Etching, 1749. Call number: ART File G241 no.3 (size XS) and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Official copy of the marriage certificate of David Garrick and Eva Maria Violette. Manuscript, 22 June 1749. Call number:Y.d.131 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • David Garrick. Collection of autograph letters signed (some incomplete) from David Garrick, Merton, Burlington House, London and Southampton St., London, to the Countess of Burlington. Manuscript, 18 July 1749 – 4 November 1749. Call number: Y.c.2600 (23) and LUNA Digital Image.

Grand Tourist

ca. 1765 French caricature satirizing Garrick's fame. Folger Digital Image 6352.

On Drury Lane Theatre’s opening day of September 15, 1763, Garrick set out with Eva Maria for the Continent on a trip that was to last until the spring of 1765. Drury Lane Theatre was left in the hands of his partner James Lacy, his brother George Garrick, and his friend and theatrical collaborator George Colman the elder. Mr. and Mrs. Garrick both suffered chronic illnesses while abroad, but the trip was a great success. The Garricks were welcomed on their travels with enthusiasm by literary, theatrical, and high society.

In this caricature "par un ami intime de Mr. G," Garrick is assaulted by representatives of Paris theaters and the press in response to his 1765 visit. Note the boy’s abandoned coat with papers inscribed ‘J.J. Rousseau’ and ‘Voltaire.’ There was a lively debate in France over the merits of Shakespeare, and in England over these opinions of the French. In a 1772 conversation with Richard Neville (1717–1793) Voltaire is quoted as saying: “I am vilified in London as an enemy of Shakespeare; it is true that I am shocked and discouraged by his absurdities, but I am no less struck by his beauties…”

Garrick’s health was always fragile, and in 1764 he was sick enough — being laid up for five weeks — to have cancelled a planned visit with Voltaire who had prepared a theater ready to receive him. He found the strength, however, to rework his own epitaph with multiple crossings-out and substitutions. Revisions to the last two lines include the crossed-out line

Fitzp — k was my foe,

referring to actor Thaddeus Fitzpatrick who organized "half-price riots" at Drury Lane and Covent Garden just before the Garricks’ departure in 1763 over attempts to abolish the practice of charging half-price entrance after the third act. Jump to The Audience and The Stage for more on these riots.

In July of 1763 the Comédie Française provided Garrick with this “freedom of the theatre” naming him ”le Premièr Des comédièns De londre.” Arriving in Paris on September 19, 1763, Mr. and Mrs. Garrick the following day saw Mlle Marie-Françoise Dumesnil act on that stage in Pierre-Claude Nivelle de La Chaussée’s La Gouvernante. Garrick noted in his Journal both his pleasure at receiving “…the freedom of the house not excepting the King’s box when unengaged by the Royal family…” and his displeasure with Mlle Dumesil’s acting, “…she is made up of trick; looks too much upon ye ground & makes use of little startings and twitchings which are visibly artificial….”

Items included

  • Ah le Bonhomme tout le Monde l'Aime, par un ami intime de Mr. G. Hand-colored etching, 18th century. Call number: ART 256917 (size S) and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Comédie-Française. Grant of the freedom of the theatre to David Garrick. Manuscript, 18 July 1763. Call number:Y.d.240 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • David Garrick. Journal of David Garrick's journey to France and Italy, begun at Paris, September 21, 1763. Manuscript, 1763–64. Call number: W.a.156 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • David Garrick. Garrick's epitaph written by himself in a fit of sickness at Munich in Bavaria. Manuscript, 1764. Call number:Y.d.120 (26) and LUNA Digital Image.
  • James McArdell after Jean François Liotard. David Garrick Esqr. done from the original picture painted at Paris. [11]Mezzotint, 18th century. Call number: ART Vol. d45 no.18.

Portraiture: The Most Painted Man in England

The portrait of Garrick holding a copy of Macbeth shown here is based on another painting by Nathaniel Dance (1735–1811), now lost. A pencil version can be found in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Garrick first met Dance in 1764 while in Rome on Grand Tour, describing him in a January 2, 1764 letter as “a great Genius, & will do what he pleases when he goes to London.” Garrick presented this portrait in 1774 to his friend the landscape artist John Taylor of Bath (1735–1806), whose inscription in the lower right describes the work as:

…in my own opinion, as well as every other person’s, allow’d to be the most true & striking likeness of that great Man, that ever was painted…

The gift to Taylor was in recognition of Taylor’s own generosity: to reciprocate for complimentary poetry Garrick had penned about his landscapes, Taylor presented the Garricks with a painting in 1772 which hung in the Hampton dining room. Garrick had this to say about Taylor’s gift:

We have scarcely look’d at any thing Else till this moment … It makes a most Noble figure—but my dear Sir—I am all gratitude, amazement & distress! What shall I do! & about ye elegant Frame! & what not!—My face will be but a poor return, tho’ surrounded wth solid brass…

The portrait shown here by Robert Edge Pine (1730? –1788) is one of several the artist made of Garrick. It is possible the Folger’s portrait, where Garrick is seen holding a book with fluttering pages, is the painting Pine chose to show at the Royal Academy in 1780. Pine painted Garrick in character only twice, as Jaques in As You Like It, and Don Felix, Garrick’s farewell role, in The Wonder. Pine exhibited in England and America and his 1784 show in Philadelphia was the first one-man art exhibition in this country (27 works, 11 on Shakespearean themes), and the earliest art exhibition catalogue to be published in America.

Garrick sat for all the great artists of his day. This painting, produced under Sir Joshua Reynolds’ supervision, shows Garrick contentedly sitting with hands folded and pen put away, poised to enjoy his retirement. Henry and Hester Thrale commissioned a similar version of it to display alongside a dozen other Reynolds portraits of their friends, including Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and Reynolds himself.

For more on the importance of portraiture to David Garrick, see Heather McPherson’s essay, "Garrickomania: Garrick's Image".

Items included

City and Country Homes

The homes of Mr. and Mrs. Garrick were well known by friends and visitors for their warmth and tasteful appointment. For twenty-three years they owned a home five minutes’ walk from Drury Lane, at 27 Southampton St. Perhaps a bit too near the business of the theater there, Garrick later bought both another city house at the fashionably high-society address of Adelphi Terrace, and a country home in Middlesex on the London road to Hampton Court. Entertaining by the Garricks was famous both for the literary and aristocratic company, and for their beautiful interiors and gardens. Samuel Johnson was to remark to Garrick upon seeing the estate at Hampton that “it is the leaving of such places as these that makes a death-bed terrible.”

The Adelphi

In March 1772 David and Eva moved from Southampton St. to a townhouse at no. 5 on the new Adelphi Terrace at Durham Yard on the Thames. Built by architect Robert Adam and brothers and furnished by Chippendale, Haig and Co., the home was sumptuously outfitted and in grand surroundings. Neighbors included: at no. 3, Topham Beauclerk, a Royal Society fellow and avid book collector and the great-grandson of Charles II and actress Nell Gwynne; and at no. 7, Dr. John Turton, physician to the Queen’s Household and the doctor who ministered to Garrick during his illness in Munich.

Hampton House

Garrick acquired Hampton House, his Thames-side villa, from Lacey Primatt in 1762 after renting it for the previous eight years. He had it remodeled in 1775 by architect Robert Adam (1728–1792) with designer Robert Chippendale (d. 1779) supplying furniture and landscape architect Lancelot (Capability) Brown (d. 1783) designing the gardens. A grotto tunnel under the Westminster-Hampton Court Road led to the Shakespeare Temple, inspired by the Temple at the Burlington’s Chiswick House and built in 1755–56 on the bank of the river. The home kept at Hampton by the Garricks was much admired by their contemporaries for its decoration and charm. One night at a Hampton House dinner with Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr. Charles Burney, Miss Hannah More, and other friends, James Boswell exclaimed:

I believe this is about as much as can be made of life!

The Garrick Chair

This elaborate chair was installed in Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare on the grounds of his house at Hampton and was depicted (with artistic license) in a painting by William Hogarth of Mr. and Mrs. Garrick. The history of this Early English Rococo piece was described in 1782 by Horace Walpole (1717–1797) who explained that William Hogarth “designed for him [Garrick], as president of the Shakespeare Club, a mahogany chair richly carved on the back of which hangs a medal of the poet carved by Hogarth out of the mulberry tree[12] planted at Stratford by Shakespeare.” But the surviving bas relief carving is of plaster. In 1794, Samuel Ireland called this piece “rather surcharged with ornaments,” and more recent art historians have described it as both “a kind of grim grotesque” and “demented baroque.” Despite these assessments, the “Garrick – Hogarth – Shakespeare Chair” was referred to in a 1779 inventory taken after Garrick’s death as “a very Elegant Antique Elbow Chair enriched with emblematical carved work.” Note the many symbols of literature, theater and the arts such as the surmounted dagger and sword representing the Tragedies and, alluding to the Comedies, satyr masks and cloven feet on the chair’s legs. Following the death in 1823 of Eva Maria Garrick, the chair went through several owners including Baroness Burdett-Coutts.[13]

Roubiliac Terracotta and Rondeau

This terra-cotta sculpture is the second and larger of two preparatory models made for the full-length marble, commissioned by Garrick for a niche in his Hampton House Temple to Shakespeare and bequeathed by him to the British Museum. Although the depiction here is of a moment of inspiration, the final marble presents a more reserved figure, with finger on chin rather than cheek. Another significant difference is the finished back of this piece, left uncompleted on the final version. Garrick is likely to have posed for this statue, although Roubiliac also relied on a copy of the Chandos portrait (the earliest possibly authentic portrait of Shakespeare) which he borrowed from the Duke of Chandos and which Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) made an additional copy of for Roubiliac. This maquette is depicted in a portrait by Adrian Carpentiers (ca. 1713–1778) showing Roubiliac at work.

Roubiliac was a friend of David Garrick's, and was part of the Slaughter's Coffee House literary circle which included William Hogarth. Roubiliac worked on other pieces for the Temple in addition to the statue of Shakespeare, including a bronze bas-relief bust of Garrick now in The Garrick Club. This Rondeau, in Garrick's hand (and idiosyncratic spelling), is one of just a few pieces of writing attributable to Roubiliac. In addressing Garrick directly, it refers to the Garrick Club bronze, created for the Temple as a gift for Mrs. Garrick:

Garrick Intendant du valon
Dont Shakespear a fait la moisson
Ton merit exempt de tout blame
pour la posterité réclame
De tes traits l'imitation;
En Bronze dans ce Medaillon
J'en ai tenté l'echantillon,
Et pour Cadeau l'offre a Madame Garrick—
Imiter du front au Menton,
N'est pas grand chose dira-t-on—
mais quand aux passions de l'ame
Ce qui nous glace, nous Enflame
Qui le peindra? chacun repond
Roubiliac Rondeau, in English Translation
Garrick, steward of the vale
cultivated by Shakespeare,
Your merit beyond reproach,
Posterity calls for
an imitation of your features.
In this bronze medallion
I have attempted a representation
And offer it as a gift to Mrs. Garrick—
Imitating a face
Is no great thing, of course—
But as for the passions of the soul
Which chill us, enflame us,
Who will depict that? Everyone replies

Items included

  • Unknown artist. A View of the Adelphi (late Durham Yard). Etching, 1771. Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.206 folder 13. LUNA Digital Image
  • Taylor. View of the seat of the late David Garrick, esqr. at Hampton, with a prospect of the Temple of Shakespeare in the Garden. Etching, late 18th century. Uncat. Garrickiana UCG-96. LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Hogarth. The President's Chair of the Shakespeare Club, designed for David Garrick's Temple to Shakespeare at Hampton. Mahogany, ca. 1756. Call number: ART Inv. 1044 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Louis François Roubiliac. Shakespeare. Terracotta, 1757. Call number: FSs1 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Louis François Roubiliac. Rondeau by Roubiliac the famous statuary with a bas-relief in brass for Mrs. G. Manuscript, in David Garrick's hand, ca. 1758. Call number: Y.d.198 and LUNA Digital Image.


The Garricks were formidable collectors of art and objects, and had an extraordinary private library. The Folger owns the original printing plate for Garrick's bookplate, designed by John Wood. The quotation is from volume four of Menagiana by Gilles Ménagé (1613–1692), encouraging the borrower of books to read and return as soon as possible.

The auction catalog seen here is one of three in the Library documenting the sale of their collection, sold after Eva Maria’s death by the firm known today as Christie’s London. Mrs. Garrick’s cultivated tastes shaped their collection of art and furnishings, prints and paintings. Among the latter, offered in this sale catalogue, were works by Watteau, Hals, Poussin, Gainsborough and Hogarth. Garrick’s library of dramatic literature (bequeathed to the British Library) was unrivaled, perhaps the largest private collection in 18th-century England. His acquisition of play texts served to enhance the repertory at Drury Lane and satisfy his bibliomania. The Folger owns 40 titles from Garrick’s library, including his copies of Donne, Dante, Marvell, Nicholas Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare (1709) and a splendid copy of the second Folio (1632) he bequeathed to his wife.

Maurice Morgann’s famous essay on Falstaff was never reprinted in his lifetime, but his appreciation of Falstaff greatly influenced literary criticism into the 20th century. Garrick never played Falstaff, and we know little about Morgann’s relationship with the actor, but the presentation copy from the author shown here is from the sale of Garrick’s library in 1823.

Items included

  • John Wood. [Book-plate]. Engraving, 18th century.Call number: ART File B724 no.25 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Christie, Manson, and Woods. A catalogue of the ... valuable collection of Italian, French, Flemish, Dutch, and English pictures, the property of the late David Garrick ... to be sold by auction ... June the 23d, 1823. London, 1823. Call number: Sh.Misc. 396 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Maurice Morgann. An essay on the dramatic character of Sir John Falstaff. London, 1777. Call number: PR2993.F2 M59 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.

Death of Garrick

Garrick died at home, in Adelphi Terrace on January 20, 1779, of a kidney ailment (“my old disorder”) that had plagued him for years. The autopsy revealed that he had been born with only one kidney, which had been either congenitally cystic or destroyed by infection. A team of distinguished doctors attended him to the very end, including Richard Warren, physician to George III. Mrs. Garrick wrote in her diary, “At a quarter before eight [am], my Husband sighed, and Died without one uneasy moment, the Lord be Praised.”


London mourned spectacularly. The funeral was as richly magnificent a spectacle as any Garrick had ever devised at Drury Lane: getting the body to Westminster Abbey cost £85,000. Attendance at the service in Westminster Abbey was by invitation, but 50,000 lined the streets for the spectacular funeral procession. A contemporary observer noted “The hearse was attended by two files of the Guards, one on each side, fifty mourning coaches and a greater number of noblemen and gentleman’s empty carriages followed in the procession to the Abbey…one of the most striking and awful spectacles that was ever exhibited.”

The Bishop of Rochester conducted the funeral service and the pallbearers included the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Camden, Lord Spenser, Lord Ossory, Lord Palmerston, Richard Rigby, Sir Watkin Williams Wynne, Hans Stanley, Albany Wallis and John Paterson—all aristocrats and all friends. Richard Brinsley Sheridan[14] was the Chief Mourner.


Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote the most famous of all the elegies composed in the years following Garrick’s death. It was elaborately staged at Drury Lane on March 11, 1779 with music by Thomas Linley[15] and scenery by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg.[16] The monody (a funeral song or oration for one voice) was spoken by Mary Ann Yates[17] and recited numerous times at Drury Lane over the next five years. Horace Walpole[18] thought Sheridan had overdone it and within months the monody was being wickedly satirized. The Apotheosis of Punch was one of the more condescending examples.

Garrick is buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, between Eva Maria Garrick and Dr. Johnson. His monument reads, “To paint fair nature by divine command …Shakespeare and Garrick like twin stars shall shine.”

Items included

  • G. Newport after W. Darling. Invitation to David Garrick's funeral. Engraving, 1779. Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.244. LUNA Digital Image.
  • Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan. Verses to the memory of Garrick. London: T. Evans, [1779]. Call number: PR3682.V4 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Inigo Barlow, after a sculpture by Henry Webber. Monument to the memory of David Garrick esqr. Engraving and etching. [London?]: W. Bent, 1797. Call number: ART File G241 no.43 (size XS) and LUNA Digital Image.

Notes for this section

  1. vicar-choral: A cathedral officer whose duty is to sing parts of the service.
  2. Samuel Johnson (1709–1784): author and lexicographer.
  3. Two comic pieces: Lethe was performed at Drury Lane on April 1, and The Lying Valet was performed at Goodman's Fields on November 30.
  4. Goodman's Fields: Henry Giffard (1699–1772), manager of Goodman's Fields, was permitted to evade the legal limiting of plays to only two houses (Drury Lane and Covent Garden) by calling the building a former theater, and nominally charging audiences to hear a concert. Each concert just happened to include a free-of-charge play. The government turned a blind eye as long as the plays remained politically tame. Drury Lane and Covent Garden made no complaint as long as their business risked no harm. Garrick's huge success prompted both theaters to urge a crack-down.
  5. "A Gentleman": An anonymous credit was not uncommon at the time. It alerted the audience to expect someone new, and permitted unsuccessful actors to retreat without publicly shaman their names. Being an actor was bad enough for one's reputation, being a poor actor was certainly worse.
  6. Digital edition: William Shakespeare, 1564–1616. Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies: published according to the true originall copies. (London, 1623). STC 22273 Fo.1 no.05 The First Folio, Folger copy no. 5: Digital edition by Octavo, in PDF format. LUNA Digital Image.
  7. Susanna Cibber (1714–1766): actress and singer married to Theophilus Cibber, best known for her tragic roles.
  8. Peg Woffington (1720?–1760): actress best-known for her comic roles; lived with Garrick in the early 1740's.
  9. The Garrick Chair: Designed by William Hogarth. Learn more here.
  10. Arthur Murphy (1727–1805): writer and actor. Published his Life of David Garrick in 1801. Like Garrick’s earlier biographer, Thomas Davies, he knew Garrick and his circle personally.
  11. Both Mr. and Mrs. Garrick had their portraits painted while in Europe. The portrait of Garrick by Jean François Liotard seen here in James McArdell's contemporary mezzotint was done in Paris.
  12. Shakespeare's mulberry was cut down in 1756 (apparently to discourage sight-seers) by the Reverend Francis Gastrell, then-owner of Shakespeare's New Place. An enterprising local tradesman named Thomas Sharp bought up the wood and thereby became the first wholesale purveyor of Shakespearean relics.
  13. Baroness Burdett-Coutts: Baroness Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts (1814–1906), celebrated Victorian philanthropist and collector of Shakespeariana. The Folger now holds many of the books, manuscripts, artworks, and objects from her collection.
  14. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1760): playwright, theater manager and politician; co-owner of Drury Lane after Garrick's retirement.
  15. Thomas Linley (1733–1795): composer and musician, co-owner of Drury Lane after Garrick's retirement.
  16. Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740–1812): innovative scene designer and landscape painter.
  17. Mary Ann Yates (1727–1787): actress famed for her tragic roles; married to comedian Richard Yates.
  18. Horace Walpole (1717–1797): writer, arts patron, and politician; son of Robert Walpole, prime minister.

The Actor

“Mr. Garrick is but of a middling Stature, yet, being well proportion’d, and having a peculiar Happiness in his Address and Action, is a living instance, that it is not essential to a Theatrical Hero, to be six Foot high.” So wrote an admirer early in Garrick’s career—praise for his vocal and physical abilities on the stage only grew over the years.

Acting Style

David Garrick’s manner of acting and speaking on stage stood in stark contrast to what came before (and was largely established by Thomas Betterton).[1] On today’s stage, Garrick’s innovations would certainly come across as emotional over-acting, but at the time they were revolutionary in their naturalism. Instead of reciting his lines with conventional rhetorical gestures and mannered elocution, as if presenting the text as poetry to the audience, he used tone of voice and facial expressions to seem to inhabit that character. Garrick’s style did much to elevate the profession of acting to an art that requires a spark of genius. Simply imitating other actors by going through the prescribed motions would not do.

Alexander Pope (1688–1744) commented prophetically, “That young man never had his equal, and never will have a rival.” When Garrick played Lothario opposite James Quin[2] in Nicholas Rowe’s The Fair Penitent in 1746, biographers recalled it as one of the great theatrical events of the century. Richard Cumberland[3] wrote that Garrick was “young and light and alive in every muscle and every feature” as he bounded onto the stage to meet a “heavy-paced” Quin: “It seemed as if a whole century had been stept over in the transition of a single scene.” Quin was not unaware that something momentous was taking place, saying, “If this young fellow be right, then we have all been wrong.” Other actors, justly famous, acknowledged Garrick’s superiority throughout his life and after. Eva Maria Garrick, who admired Edmund Kean[4] as Richard III, faulted him in another role her husband had made famous. “Dear Sir,” she wrote, “you cannot act Abel Drugger. Yours, M. Garrick.” A reply came by return post: “I know it. Yours, E. Kean.”

Old style vs. New

James Quin (1693–1766), seen here as Coriolanus, provides an extreme example of the stylized acting Garrick helped sweep away. He wears the formal costume of a Tragic Hero, and stands ready to recite his lines for the audience in proper declamatory fashion. It is not surprising that such a style prevailed in the first half of the eighteenth-century, when elite audience members still routinely walked around (and behind) the stage, talked with each other, and otherwise treated the performers as mere servants. Any subtleties of characterization would only be lost in that environment. Quin’s acting career continued until his retirement in 1757, and is forever associated with his portrayal of Falstaff, a comic role well-suited to his large, rotund physique and mannered way of speaking.

Inhabiting the character

In a letter to William Powell,[5] he advised the aspiring actor to “give to Study, and an Accurate consideration of Your Characters, those Hours which Young Men generally give to their Friends & fflatterers [sic]” because public favor “must be purchas’d with Sweat & labour.” An observer in 1742 gave the following example of Garrick’s range and depth in characterization: “In the Parts of Richard III, King Lear, the Lying Valet, and Bays in the Rehearsal, he is as different as they are opposite, and enters into their Spirit with great Justness and Propriety.” That is, he became the character.

This Worcester porcelain saucer depicts Garrick as King Lear, and forms part of a theatrical tea service painted in the London studio of James Giles.

Elevation of Action

Edmund Burke[6] wrote that Garrick “raised the character of his profession to the rank of a liberal art.” The naturalism of Garrick’s characterizations and his attention to ensemble acting helped achieve a presentation dependent on actions and glances creates something new, something that does not exist in the words as written. A letter in the Gentleman’s Magazine for October 1742 praises Garrick’s devotion to his art in terms that reveal what he was up against: “When three or four are on the Stage with him, he is attentive to whatever is spoke, and never drops his Character when he has finish’d a Speech, by either looking contemptibly on an inferior Performer, unnecessary spitting, or suffering his Eyes to wander thro’ the whole Circle of Spectators.[7] “In addition to showing Garrick in an ensemble, this drawing shows the contrast between his choice of an historically informed costume and Spranger Barry’s[8] choice of a conventional Tragic Hero costume, with its wide stiff skirt.

Items included

  • Mr. Quin. in the character of Coriolanus. Engraving. London: Carington Bowles, mid-18th century. Call number: ART Vol. d94 no.120a and LUNA Digital Image.
  • David Garrick as King Lear. Worcester porcelain saucer, ca. 1775. Call number: 241075 ART.
  • Benjamin Wilson. William Powell as Hamlet encountering the Ghost. Oil on canvas, ca. 1768–1769. Call number: FPa88 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Pritchard, Mr. Barry and Mr. Garrick in The Roman Father. Pen and ink drawing, ca. 1750. Call number: ART Vol. d94 no.78a and LUNA Digital Image.

Tragic Characters

Hamlet, King Lear, and Richard III comprised Garrick’s most frequently-acted tragic roles, with 90, 85 and 83 recorded London performances respectively. This might not seem like much today, when the same play is performed night after night for several weeks, but in Garrick’s time, a given play appeared only a handful of times each season.

Garrick as Hamlet

Garrick as Hamlet, with Mrs. Hopkins as Gertrude. Folger Digital Image 6502.

Garrick appeared for the first time as Hamlet in an August 12, 1742, performance at Smock Alley in Dublin. It grew to become one of his most celebrated roles and was his most frequently performed tragic role—performed ninety times during his career. According to the February 20–22, 1772 St. James Chronicle: “As no Writer in any Age penned a Ghost like Shakespeare, so, in our Time, no Actor ever saw a Ghost like Garrick.”

This mezzotint is after a painting, now lost, by Benjamin Wilson. Here we see a three-quarter length view of Hamlet in Act 1, scene 4, recoiling[9] in fear and astonishment at the sight of the Ghost on the ramparts. In an extreme example of the naturalism that typically characterized his manner of acting, Garrick as Hamlet provides a riveting portrayal of emotion. He exudes fear at the sight of the apparition, losing his hat and in some productions apparently using a mechanical “fright wig”[10] which could be manipulated to put all hair on end. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote of this scene in October of 1775 that “His whole demeanour is so expressive of terror that it made my flesh creep even before he began to speak.” In the words of Garrick’s contemporary and biographer Arthur Murphy, “On the first appearance of the Ghost, such a figure of consternation was never seen. He stood fixed in mute astonishment, and the audience saw him growing paler and paler. After an interval of suspense he spoke in a low trembling accent, and uttered his questions with great difficulty.” On the other hand, when Dr. Samuel Johnson (who delighted in criticizing his friend) was asked if he would react the same way upon seeing a ghost, he replied wryly, "If I did, I should frighten the ghost.”

For details of Garrick's controversial alteration to the play, jump to Hamlet in this online exhibition.

For a detailed description and an interactive "turn-the-page" display of a Garrick promptbook, see What Is A Promptbook?.

Garrick as King Lear

The version of King Lear acted on stage at the time differed significantly from Shakespeare’s text. In the words of Joseph Pittard in Observations on Mr. Garrick’s acting (1758): “This Play terminates happily, as it is acted different from the Manner in which Shakespear wrote it: Cordelia is made Queen, and Lear retires, to pass away his Life in Quietness and Devotion.”

Garrick’s portrayal of King Lear, as described by Pittard, provides an excellent illustration of his naturalism. Lear goes mad so gradually that “You scarce see where he first begins, and yet find he is mad before Kent says, ‘I fear’d ‘twould come to this; his Wits are gone.’ It steals so gradually and imperceptably, the Difference grows like a Colour, which runs on from the highest to the darkest Tint, without perceiving the Shades, but by comparing them at different Parts of the Whole.” This is not to say that such command of a character came easily. Garrick put great store in rehearsals and studying the text of a part.

Garrick as Richard III

Garrick’s debut character on the London stage was Richard III, and this is the role in which artists portrayed him twice as often as any other (Abel Drugger, Hamlet, and Macbeth tie for second place). David Garrick played Richard III throughout his career, from his first London performance on October 19, 1741 to his retirement from the stage in 1776. When Thomas Davies[11] described Garrick as Richard III, he wrote, “Mr. Garrick shone forth like a theatrical Newton; he threw new light on elocution and action.”

This version of Nathaniel Dance’s 1771 oil painting shows the moment when Richard shouts, “A Horse! A Horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Dance has created a history painting where Richard III has Garrick’s features, not a portrait of a stage production. The Battle of Bosworth Field rages in the middle ground while the doomed tyrant raises his sword and refuses to flee. Dance’s original painting is now owned by the Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council. This version, by an unknown artist, is probably copied from John Dixon’s 1772 mezzotint of the painting rather than the painting itself, since the coloring differs and appears quite harsh.

Like the generation before and generations after, the Richard III David Garrick performed was not Shakespeare’s original text, but Colley Cibber’s version, “altered from Shakespear, and cut for the Theatre-Royal, Drury-Lane.” This remained the main acting version of the play throughout the nineteenth century, and could still be seen on stage in the twentieth. Cibber composed half the lines himself, took about forty percent from Shakespeare’s Richard III, with the remaining bits and pieces coming from other Shakespeare history plays. The resulting plot-driven story was easier to follow than Shakespeare’s more poetic text, and introduced the immortal cliché: “Perish the thought!” (Act 5, scene 5).

The tent scene[12] in particular allowed Garrick to display the great range of emotion for which he was known. The Hogarth portrait of Garrick, as Richard III awakening after being visited by the ghosts of those he has killed, is an artistic composition rather than a record of actual performance practice. Nevertheless, William Hogarth[13] brilliantly captures the contradictory mixture of agitation and frozen horror Garrick showed on stage by creating a diagonal composition where roiled up fabrics contrast with a stark upraised palm and petrified face.

John Bacon (1740–1799) based the porcelain figurine seen here on Nathaniel Dance’s painting of Garrick. The same body mold continued to be used for porcelains well into the nineteenth-century, with changes to the head and coloring to portray both John Philip Kemble (1757–1823) and Edmund Kean (1787–1833) in the role.

Items included

  • James McArdell after Benjamin Wilson. Mr. Garrick in Hamlet. Act I. Scene 4. Mezzotint, 1756. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.146 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Johann Ludwig Wernard Fäsch. Mrs. Hopkins & Mr. Garrick in the Character of Queen Gertrude and Hamlet. Gouache on vellum, 18th century. Call number: ART Vol. d94 no.93d and LUNA Digital Image.
  • LOAN from private collection; Courtesy of Gary J. and Josephine S. Williams. James McArdell after Benjamin Wilson. Mr. Garrick in the Character of King Lear. Mezzotint, 1761.
  • Unknown artist after Nathaniel Dance. David Garrick as Richard III. Oil on canvas, after 1772. Call number: FPb18 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Shakespeare. The tragical history of King Richard III. Altered…by C. Cibber. Dublin, 1756. Call number: PR2821 1756 copy 1 Sh.Col. and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Hogarth and Charles Grignion. Mr. Garrick in the character of Richard the 3d. Engraving, 1746. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana UCG-123 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Modeled by John Bacon. David Garrick as Richard III. Derby porcelain figurine, ca. 1775–80. Call number: ART 241076 (realia) and LUNA Digital Image.

Comic Characters

Sir John Brute

Garrick’s comic genius was unrivaled and Sir John Brute (in The Provok’d Wife) was one of four or five characters for which he was most famous. Garrick was a superb character actor and sensational as Sir John Brute, shown here in drag as Lady Brute, swinging a club. It has been suggested that the The Provok’d Wife was particularly suited to Garrick’s comic genius.

The Provok’d Wife was written by Sir John Vanbrugh (1664–1726), but Garrick made changes to the text for over thirty years to keep it contemporary, and introduced cross dressing to the delight of 18th-century audiences. The controversial play (over 30 pamphlets attacking or defending the play’s “immorality” were published by 1700) was always a showpiece for great actors. It was first played by Garrick in the 1743–44 season, opposite Peg Woffington,[14] but Hannah Pritchard[15] and Susannah Cibber[16] were others who enjoyed success as Lady Brute. Thomas Betterton[1] may have been the first Brute (1697), and James Quin[2] and Colley Cibber[17] followed. But Garrick transformed the lead roles. Quin’s Brute was coarse and sottish; Garrick’s was subtle and rakish, and his Lady Brute was particularly admired. According to William Hopkins, prompter at Drury Lane, “when [Garrick] was in a woman’s cloaths he had a head drest with feathers and fruit, as extravagant as possible to burlesque the present mode of dressing. It had a monstrous effect.”

Abel Drugger

The Alchymist[18] was one of three Ben Jonson comedies that Garrick reworked, making Abel Drugger one of his earliest and most enduring comic triumphs. By adapting the role of Drugger to his own talents for character acting, he created a box office sensation. He performed the role eighty times from 1743–1776 and the play earned record receipts for a single performance of any play at Drury Lane. A contemporary account helps us appreciate Garrick’s impact in the role.

The moment Garrick came onto the stage [as Abel Drugger], he discovered such awkward simplicity, and his looks so happily bespoke the ignorant, selfish, and absurd tobacco-merchant, that it was not easily to be decided whether the burst of laughter or applause were loudest. (Thomas Davies,[11] Dramatic Miscellanies.)


The Suspicious Husband might be unknown in the annals of performance history had it not been for Garrick’s uncanny ability to mine the weakest texts for dramatic value. Garrick saw an opportunity for himself in the only known play of Benjamin Hoadly (1706–1757), an English physician and friend, enlivened the piece with a prologue and epilogue, and made it a triumph of the 1746–47 season at Covent Garden. Hoadly’s contrived plot, manufactured with his brother, was an unexpected success and Ranger, the amiable rake, became one of Garrick’s most enduring roles.


In Shakespearean comedy, Benedick, in Much Ado About Nothing, was the role Garrick performed most often. Critics will argue whether Lear or Hamlet was Garrick’s finest tragic role, but clearly Benedick was his favorite role in Shakespearean comedy, only exceeded by Ranger for most performances over the length of his career.

Garrick restored this Shakespeare play, which had only been staged 8 times since 1700, to a central place in the repertory. He spent months preparing for the role of Benedick, and cast Mrs. Pritchard[15] as a superb Beatrice, his “rival in every scene” according to Arthur Murphy.[19] Benedick was the last role he performed before his marriage to Eva Maria Garrick, and the first role after, when Garrick boasted “Here you see Benedick, the married man.” The Jubilee procession, a triumph of showmanship, was staged 91 times at Drury Lane, with Garrick parading as Benedick every time.

Jump directly to The Stratford Jubilee in the online exhibition for more on The Jubilee.


Garrick introduced changes and characters to Lethe endlessly over the years, including adding Lord Chalkstone sixteen years after the play's first performance, a character which became one of his most celebrated parts. Old, gouty Lord Chalkstone is the only one who refuses to drink the waters of Lethe, and Garrick gives the irascible Lord some of the best lines in the play. Chalkstone/Garrick delighted the pit with such lines as, “Who cannot Game, and Drink, and Whore/ Is not a peer of Taste.” And, with a twinkle: “Champagne excites Desire….” Audiences loved him.

The Folger’s first playbill with Garrick as Chalkstone is for a performance at Drury Lane on April 22, 1756. The playbill, seen here, "with the last new character" (Chalkstone), records a performance later in the same year.

For more on Lethe, jump directly to The Playwright and Adapter.

Items included

  • John Finlayson after Johann Zoffany. Mr. Garrick in the Character of Sir John Brute. Engraving, 1768. Call number: ART 242305.
  • Mr. Garrick in the Character of Abel Drugger in the Alchymist. Hand-colored etching, ca. 1769. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.193g and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Dixon after Johann Zoffany. Garrick as Abel Drugger. Mezzotint, 1776. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.151 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Garrick in the Character of Ranger. Etching, 1776. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.192e and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Garrick in the Character of Benedick. "Ha! The Prince and Monsieur Beu! I will hide me in the Arbour." Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Sc. 3. Engraving, 1778. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no. 192g and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Smith after Johann Zoffany. Mr. Garrick in the character of Chalkstone, in Lethe. Hand-colored etching, 1770. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.193m and LUNA Digital Image.
  • London, Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Amphitryon, Lethe. Playbill, 17 December 1756. Call number: BILL Box G2 D84 1756–57 no.3 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Hall after Edward Edwards. Chances, Act 1, Scene 3. Mr. Garrick in the Character of Don John. 18th century. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana UCG 1 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Garrick in the Character of a Drunken Sailor Speaking the Prologue to Brittannia a Masque. Engraving, mid-18th century. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.182 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Garrick in the Character of Lusignan in Zarah, Act II. Etching, 1770. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.193d and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Garrick in the Character of Bayes. Etching, 1777. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.192h and LUNA Digital Image.

Farewell Season

Garrick’s final season (1775–1776) included performances as Ranger, Abel Drugger, Lear, Hamlet, and Richard III, but he went out as Don Felix in his adaptation of Susanna Centlivre’s comedy, The Wonder! A Woman keeps a Secret, at Drury Lane Theatre on June 10, 1776. Audiences embraced him as Don Felix and he gave them an “inimitable performance.”

Final Performance

This is for me a very awful moment…

—Garrick’s farewell to the audience

Garrick’s final performance was an emotional evening. As recounted by Ian McIntyre in his 1999 biography:

When the play ended Garrick came forward on an empty stage and bowed. The speech he made was brief, and he was able to begin only after … a short struggle with nature. … There were sobs and tears when he had finished, and shouts of 'Farewell.' There was to have been an afterpiece—a ballad opera The Waterman had been billed—but the audience would have none of it.

Profits for the evening were donated to The Drury Lane Theatrical Fund. Jump directly to The Drury Lane Theatrical Fund for more information.

Garrick had less than three years to live.

Don Felix

This scene is captured from an earlier performance of The Wonder in which Ann Barry[20] played opposite Garrick. For his last performance Garrick brought back a very popular character, Don Felix, in a play that was clearly a favorite for theatergoers, but many could not believe the end had come. Kitty Clive[21] wrote from her retirement home in Twickenham, "Is it really true that you have put an end to the glory of Drury Lane?" Clive also chose The Wonder—with Garrick as Don Felix—for her final performance, in 1769.

The Wonder

The Wonder may strike us as a novel choice for a grand exit, but Garrick had a keen sense of what audiences wanted. “As it is acted at the Theatres-Royal in Drury-Lane and Covent Garden” suggests the immense popularity of the work the year before Garrick chose it for his farewell performance. The printed edition, shown here, with Garrick as Don Felix at Drury Lane, shows the cast list for a rival production at Covent Garden. The printrun also suggests a certain vogue. The Folger has seven editions of The Wonder, from that of 1725 (Dublin) to this one, printed fifty years later (London, 1775). Centlivre died nine years after the publication of the first edition, never knowing the fame her play would enjoy.

Items included

  • London, Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The Wonder (Mainpiece), The Waterman (Afterpiece). Playbill, 10 June 1776. Call number: BILL Box G2 D84 1775-76 no. 6 copy 2 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Unknown artist after Johann Ludwig Wernhard Fäsch. Mrs. Barry and Mr. Garrick in the Characters of Donna Violante and Don Felix in the Wonder. Done from an Original Picture in the Possession of Her Grace the Dutchess [sic] of Northumberland. Hand-colored etching, 1769. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.193k and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Susanna Centlivre. The Wonder! A Woman Keeps a Secret. London, 1775. Call number: 211508.6; displayed p. 7.

Notes on this section

  1. 1.0 1.1 Thomas Betterton (1635–1710): actor and theater manager, known for his strong voice.
  2. 2.0 2.1 James Quin (1693–1766): England's greatest actor when Garrick debuted. For more on Quin, read Old Style vs. New.
  3. Richard Cumberland (1732–1811): poet, playwright, and memoirist.
  4. Edmund Kean (1787–1833): leading actor in the years around 1820, famed for his tragic roles.
  5. William Powell (1734/5–1769) proved to be a sensation during his seven years on the stage. He was expected to have a long and great acting career, but died in his early 30's. Garrick's letter to Powell is dated 1764.
  6. Edmund Burke (1729–1797): politician, philosopher, and lifelong friend of David Garrick.
  7. Circle of Spectators: Conventional wisdom held that actors needed to cultivate their admirers, paying attention to them even during performances, in order to be assured of good ticket sales on their benefit nights.
  8. Spranger Barry (1717–1777): actor, and on-and-off competitor of Garrick on the stage. Known for his Othello, a role Garrick quickly abandoned, and for his Romeo, a role Garrick took up in a direct competition known as "The Rival Romeos."
  9. Recoiling: Garrick canonized the pose for Hamlet's "start" at seeing the ghost. Up through the nineteenth century this was one of the play's moments by which Hamlet actors were judged, often in comparison with Garrick's portrayal.
  10. Mechanics: Throughout the eighteenth century a number of mechanical items saw use in the ghost scenes. In addition to the fright wig, a trap was sometimes used for the ghost's appearance and exit. And a chair with tapered legs was sometimes used in the closet scene where Hamlet rises to his feet at the sight of the ghost, knocking the chair to the ground.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Thomas Davies (ca. 1712–1785): actor, bookseller and author. Davies knew Garrick and his circle personally, and wrote the biography Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick, first published in 1780.
  12. Tent Scene: According to Arthur Murphy, "When he started from his dream he was a spectacle of horror. He called out in a manly voice, 'Give me another horse,' he paused, and with a countenance of dismay, advancd crying out in a tone of distress, 'Bind up my wounds,' and then, falling on his knees, said in a most piteous accent, 'Have mercy heaven!' In all this the audience saw an exact imitation of nature."
  13. William Hogarth (1697–1764): painter and engraver, a friend of David Garrick. Hogarth hoped to elevate the reputation of English painting in part by combining portraiture (a traditional but lowly strength of the English School) with history painting, as seen here. The original Richard III painting, executed one year before the engraving, can be seen at the Walker, in Liverpool.
  14. Peg Woffington (1720?–1760): actress best-known for her comic roles; lived with Garrick in the early 1740s.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Hannah Pritchard (1709–1768): actress and singer, famed also for her Lady Macbeth and Beatrice opposite Garrick.
  16. Susannah Cibber (1714–1766): actress and singer, married to actor Theophilus Cibber, best-known for her tragic roles.
  17. Colley Cibber (1671–1757): actor, theater manager, and writer. Considered one of the great actors of his day, his mannered style was the antithesis of Garrick's emotive style. He is best-known today for his 1740 autobiography, rich in theater-lore, An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber. Not to be confused with his son, Theophilus Cibber (1703–1758).
  18. The Alchymist: Garrick had an eye for source material. The Alchymist has long been considered a great play. Samuel Pepys saw it in 1661 and labeled it "a most considerable play." Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it "one of the three most perfect plots in all literature," and it is still popular with today's audiences. But the work never enjoyed the vogue it experienced over thirty three years with Garrick in the role of Abel Drugger.
  19. Arthur Murphy (1727–1805): writer and actor. Published his Life of David Garrick in 1801. Like Garrick’s earlier biographer, Thomas Davies, he knew Garrick and his circle personally.
  20. Ann Barry (1733–1801): actress best-known for her tragic roles; married to actor, Spranger Barry.
  21. Kitty Clive (1711–1785): actress famed for comedic roles, and for speaking prologues and epilogues.

The Entrepreneur

Not surprisingly, Garrick's talents and ambition drew him quickly towards theater management, where he could shape the entire spectacle. He cut his teeth as co-manager of Smock Alley in Dublin for the 1745–46 season, with Thomas Sheridan.[1] Garrick then returned to London where he put in motion a plan to become co-manager of James Lacy's[2] Drury Lane by playing the 1746–47 season for Lacy's rival, John Rich,[3] at Covent Garden. Garrick's continued success under Rich had the desired effect, and he was able to strike a deal with Lacy for joint management of Drury Lane. He purchased a half-share of the patent for—and agreed to receive—£500 per year as co-owner, and £525 per year plus a benefit as a principal actor. Lacy took responsibility for everything relating to the building, while Garrick took responsibility for everything relating to productions.

Drury Lane Theatre

The theatrical steel-yards of 1750, a cartoon satirizing Garrick's management of Drury Lane. Folger Digital Image 6312.

The Licensing Act[4] of 1737 ensured that only Drury Lane and Covent Garden,[5] the two “Theatres Royal,” could regularly produce plays. The caricature seen here refers to a pivotal moment in the ongoing rivalry between Drury Lane and Covent Garden. During his first few years managing Drury Lane, Garrick was content to let John Rich[3] continue Covent Garden’s virtual monopoly on expensive, elaborate, crowd-pleasing pantomimes. Then on Boxing Day, 1750, Garrick risked a direct challenge with Queen Mab, a new pantomime by Henry Woodward.[6] As the caricature shows, the risk paid off, with Garrick easily outweighing the talents of Rich’s Covent Garden (Peg Woffington,[7] Spranger Barry,[8] James Quin[9] and Susannah Cibber[10]). Henry Woodward, in his harlequin costume, holds up “Queen Mab.”

No pictures of Drury Lane in Garrick’s early years of managment are known to exist. That theater was built in 1674, with a capacity of about 2,000. These images show Drury Lane after Robert Adam[11] modernized the building for Garrick in 1775. The renovation brought capacity to about 2,300, and added a fashionable neo-classical facade.

Garrick’s theater was the second of that name, the first having burned down in 1672. The renovated theater was completely replaced in 1794. The current Drury Lane is an 1812 replacement of the 1794 building.

Items included


Instead of a long run of the same play, audiences in Garrick’s time expected a variety each night and throughout the season. A typical season at Drury Lane might include fifty different mainpieces,[12] plus countless musical interludes, dances, afterpieces,[13] prologues and epilogues.[14] Playbills like this, posted in advance, advertised an evening’s “bill of fare” like a multi-course restaurant meal. The five-act mainpiece served as the main course, with a prologue as appetizer to set the stage, and music or dancing between the acts to cleanse the palate. The brief afterpiece—usually a farce or rollicking pantomime—provided an enjoyable dessert, the lighter the better if the mainpiece had been a heavy tragedy.

Printing expenses formed no small part of the Drury Lane budget, with each night’s playbill requiring a new press run. This bill is fairly typical, with thirty-four lines of type plus a horizontal rule. The mainpiece (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) is listed first, with the male roles in order of importance, then the female roles in reverse order of importance. Next comes a description of the “extras” in the mainpiece: a procession, a masquerade dance, a minuet, and a new prologue. Last comes the afterpiece (George Colman’s farce The Musical Lady), with its special feature (a country dance), followed by pricing, any special instructions, show time, and a note on an upcoming performance.

For a comprehensive list of Garrick bills in the Folger collections, see: Guide to the Playbills in the Folger Shakespeare Library Relating to the Theatrical Career of David Garrick, 1741–1776, compiled by Joe Donohue.

Items included

The Audience and the Stage

This engraving shows the interior of Drury Lane being admired after the 1775 renovations, with the different seating areas clearly visible. The most expensive seats, the Boxes, form the bottom tier and sides. In front of them, starting below stage level, is the slightly less expensive Pit. Next in price comes the First Gallery, or middle balcony, and cheapest of all is the Upper Gallery, at the very top. On benefit nights,[15] Garrick sometimes still permitted audience members who paid a premium to sit onstage. He had put an end to regular seating on the stage as soon as he became manager, at which time he also banned all audience members from being “admitted behind the Scenes.”

Action still usually took place at the front of the stage, with entrances and exits from large proscenium doors like the one on the right of the print, though characters were also revealed further back stage by painted wings, drops and flats[16] being pulled apart.

Audience members brought certain expectations to the theater, and did not hesitate to express themselves when expectations went unmet. Sometimes this disapproval took the form of hissing and booing. Occasionally, things became violent. Garrick encountered public wrath most famously in 1755, when he hired Jean-Georges Noverre (1727–1810) and his French dancers to perform a grand afterpiece, The Chinese Festival. On the eve of the Seven Years’ War, anti-French sentiment ran high, and performances led to riots at Drury Lane. In 1763, riots were threatened at both theaters because half-price admittance after the third act of the mainpiece was no longer allowed. The half-price riot[17] shown here happened at Covent Garden. Garrick and the other managers did not want to back down, maintaining that audiences’ increased expectations for quality costumes, scenery and showmanship could not be met without the extra income from full-price admission. But in the end they capitulated. Both houses returned to a half-price policy, and charges were dropped against the Covent Garden rioters (where the damage had been most severe).

Items included

  • Benedetto Pastorini. Interior view of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Engraving, 1776. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.214 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Half-price riot at Covent Garden during a performance of Artaxerxes. Engraving, 1763. Call number: ART Vol. d94 no.80b and LUNA Digital Image.


A 1772 caricature satirizing Garrick's showmanship. Folger Digital Image 6349.

Not everyone appreciated David Garrick’s showmanship. This caricature shows him paying too much attention to spectacle and costumes while trampling on the works of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Nicholas Rowe. Drury Lane’s scenemakers pull him to their side while Tragedy and Comedy try to summon him back. James Messinck,[18] the man on the far right, holds a proclamation reading “Processions for Ever.” Purists disliked having a lavish funeral procession added to Romeo and Juliet, for example, but Garrick needed to provide entertainment for all sectors of his paying audience.

Before 1765, stage lighting in England consisted of visible chandeliers above the stage and a row of footlights along the front of the stage. The footlights could be raised and lowered from a trough, hence the phrases “lights up” and “lights down.” In 1765, Garrick introduced variable hidden lighting of the kind he had seen in France. The hidden lights were placed in vertical strips behind the wing[19] fronts, providing light from the side that could be dimmed by shutters. Sunrises, sunsets, and other occasions for changing light suddenly appeared in Drury Lane productions, and actors were able to use more of the stage, since shadows no longer hid the rear.

More striking changes to Drury Lane spectacle came after 1771, when Garrick hired the French artist Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740–1812) to implement an integrated program of lighting, scenic design, stage mechanics, and costume. Using variable lighting and painted transparencies, de Loutherbourg created dynamic color and scenic effects.

Items included


Pages of a Drury Lane journal give financial details for the theater. On Wednesday, January 3, 1750, with Hamlet as the mainpiece and Savoyard Travellers as the afterpiece, Drury Lane took in £102 6s. 6d. On Thursday, January 4, with The Rehearsal and The Chaplet, revenue came to £165 8s. 6d. Expenses those days included extra musicians, contributions to Christmas boxes for the servants of important theater-goers, printers’ bills, and “a coffin for Ophelia.”

Overhead was high, and Garrick’s financial sucess at Drury Lane was no easy feat. Account books reveal regular expenditures for such staples as pens and candles, not to mention salaries. While the exact number of employees varied from season to season, Garrick’s company ranged between seventy-five and one hundred performers (not only actors, but also dancers and musicians) and between forty and seventy-five “house servants” (everyone behind the scenes, from carpenters to the head prompter).

The Drury Lane prompter kept a notebook of "Plays etc." performed at the theater. In it, he noted whether particular performances went over well or not in order to help Garrick plan a profitable season.

Items included

  • Drury Lane Theatre. Journal – receipts and payments. Manuscript, 30 October 1749 – 28 April 1750. Call number: W.a.155.
  • Richard Cross. Diaries of Drury Lane Theater performances kept by Richard Cross and William Hopkins. Manuscript, 1775–76. Call number: W.a.104 (13) and LUNA Digital Image.

The Stratford Jubilee

In 1769 the town of Stratford sought Garrick's help in dedicating and decorating their new town hall. In return for a grant of freedom of the town—presented in a mulberry wood chest—Garrick supplied a statue of Shakespeare for an exterior niche, and paintings of both Shakespeare and himself. But Garrick did not stop there. He planned, financed, and was master of ceremonies for a three-day grand Shakespeare Jubilee. Satirized and eulogized almost in equal measure, torrential rains and flooding marred a festival that was an expensive pilgrimage of pomp and worship marked by serenades and recitations, fireworks and balls, horse races, commemorative memorabilia... but not a single play performed. A tribute to the memory of the man rather than the writings and performance, the Jubilee is perhaps the most important cultural event in the history of Shakespeare's reputation. This event marked the creation of Shakespeare as England's national poet, and the beginning of an industry of "bardolatry" that continues to this day.

Jubilee in Song

Charles Dibdin (1745–1814) started his career as an actor and singer, but went on to compose almost two hundred works for the stage, and over eight hundred songs. His music for the Jubilee was one of his first assignments after being hired away from Covent Garden to be house composer for Drury Lane. Primarily written in traditional ballad form, Dibdin’s work fit the patriotic spirit of the Jubilee’s pageantry. But this didn’t stop Garrick from sending some of the songs to be set by William Boyce[20] and Theodore Aylward[21] with the intention of choosing the best composer. In the end Dibdin was the choice, although Thomas Arne[22] composed the accompaniment for Garrick’s Ode. Dibdin composed for both the Stratford festival and the Garrick farce performed later that fall. But he enjoyed neither the writing nor his working relationship with Garrick, writing in his autobiography that:

I was a slave to it for months, I set and reset songs to it till my patience was exhausted, which were received or rejected just as ignorance or caprice prevailed.

Dibdin had made plans to stay away from Stratford, feeling insulted at Garrick’s shopping for composers. But he relented, showing up at the last minute with the Drury Lane musicians in disguise, and in time to serenade the delighted Garrick on dawn of the first day, Wednesday September 6, 1769.

The broadside Warwickshire Lads provides words to a song that was to be both immortalized and widely parodied. The tune by Charles Dibdin was played at Stratford by the band of the Warwickshire Regiment[23] and was later adopted as their regimental march. The version performed in Garrick’s stage production of The Jubilee included this satiric reply to the last stanza, commenting on the exorbitant prices charged for lodging and services:

The devil burn me, but I believe you are all Tieves [sic].
Jubilee thief,
‘Tis my belief,
The thief of all thieves is a Jubilee thief.

During his time, Garrick was well known in pubs and coffee houses for his song lyrics. Shakespear's Garland[24] is a wordbook of Jubilee songs including lyrics by Garrick, Isaac Bickerstaff[25] and others, “to which are subjoined, Testimonies to the Genius and Merits of Shakespeare.” This Dublin printing appeared soon after the Jubilee, perhaps in 1769 or 1770. The woodcut depicts the Westminster Abbey memorial statue. Prospero’s lines from Act 4, scene 1 of The Tempest which here appear below the engraving are carved on the scroll in the Westminster version; they have been here replaced with the printed word “Jubilee.” Many of the songs included here were also printed as slipsong broadsheet ballads both with and without the music. The final song of this collection includes another satiric reply to “Warwickshire lads,” ending:

A thief!—who can bear the invective?
A thief!—pray speak hence more respective!
For, if you persist
To brawl as you list
This cudgel shall prove a corrective.

The Procession

As part of the extensive advance publicity, these plates were engraved prior to the Jubilee and published just afterwards, in the September and October 1769 issues of Oxford Magazine. The engravings depict the procession of Shakespearean characters planned for the late morning of the second day. But the assembled actors, dressed in elaborate (and expensive) costumes mostly borrowed from Drury Lane, waited for hours for the clouds to clear. When they did not, the planned parade was first postponed a day, then cancelled. Samuel Foote[26] characteristically quipped as Garrick left the improvised green room to deliver the Ode: “It is God’s judgment on vanity and idolatry!”

But the procession was praised by critics and audiences alike when Garrick recreated it in October on the Drury Lane stage. It was called “splendid beyond conception” by The London Magazine. The reviewer for The Town and Country Magazine said it “must be allowed superior to that at Covent Garden,” where George Colman was staging his own satiric comedy Man and Wife; Or, The Shakespeare Jubilee.

On the first print: Mistress Quickly, Lord Bardolph, Sir John Falstaff, Pistol, Four Witches, Malvolio, Caliban, Richard III, Tom o’ Bedlam, the Ghost.

On the second print: A Gravedigger, Friar Lawrence, Prospero, Benedick, Beatrice, Apothecary, Shylock, Queen Katherine, Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey.

The Beginnings of a Cultural Industry

While Thomas Sharp had locked up the Stratford market for trinkets hand-carved from Shakespeare’s “true mulberry,” Garrick shrewdly arranged in the summer of 1769 for the casting of medals by a Mr. Westwood of Birmingham. Jubilee visitors bought and wore “Shakespeare favours” such as this medallion, designed by Garrick himself, and available in a variety of metals and with or without ribbons. The Jubilee represented the start of something new in the history of Shakespeareana: mass-production of trinkets for the tourist-pilgrim wanting a remembrance of the “god of our idolatry.” Assorted Shakespearean key-chains, mugs, neckties, etc. found in gift shops today have their common ancestor in the literary relics of the first Jubilee.

The Linking of Garrick and Shakespeare

‘Tis he! ‘tis he!
The god of our idolatry!
To him the song, the Edifice we raise;
He merits all our wonder, all our praise!

In these lines, Garrick recites his Ode upon dedicating a Building,[27] and erecting a Statue to Shakespeare,[28] at Stratford-upon-Avon. He addressed a huge audience of cold and wet people (some put the number at close to two thousand) in a temporary—and leaking—rotunda set up expressly for the recital. Despite the weather Garrick electrified the crowd with his performance. Musical accompaniment was composed by Thomas Arne,[22] who also conducted the orchestra. Although the Ode came to be celebrated in numerous engravings, poems, and other contemporary accounts, it wasn’t long before the critics and satirists also weighed in. One of the more widely disseminated parodies was called An Ode on dedicating a Building and erecting a Statue to Le Stue, Cook to the Duke of Newcastle, at Clermont. This engraving was made for the September 1769 Town and Country Magazine, which covered the Jubilee—and its critics—in great detail.

Engraved admission tickets provided access to the first day’s Oratorio (Judith, by Thomas Arne) and Grand Ball; and to the second day’s Dedication Ode and a seat in the Great Booth for the Fireworks display: all for one guinea. Signed by David’s brother George Garrick to guard against counterfeits, the ticket depicts the Westminster Abbey memorial statue of Shakespeare. He here points at excerpted lines spoken to Jessica by her lover Lorenzo in the final scene of Merchant of Venice:

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

The talk in London was of nothing else after the Jubilee with an outpouring of newspaper feuds between Garrick's enemies and friends, and satiric poems and plays mocking the Jubilee, Garrick, and Shakespeare himself.

Rescued by Farce

At one point in Garrick’s Vagary a Jubilee reveler recounts seeing “Great Shakespeare’s Shade” return from Elysium and sing from the top of Stratford Church:

Obey me, ye Fairies,
Whose Reign o’er the Air is,
And drive Clouds scattered together.
Stratford afflict with foul Weather….

Most poetic or theatrical critiques of the Jubilee—the anonymous Vagary included—were not well received by the critics. The Gentleman’s Magazine described the Vagary as “without the least shadow of poetical merit.” The London Magazine asserted that it “will be read by few besides the unfortunate reviewers.” Additional send-offs of the Jubilee were written by Francis Gentleman[29] and George Colman. But the most successful Jubilee farce to appear on stage was Garrick’s own comedic afterpiece and grand spectacle which opened October 14, 1769 at Drury Lane and played for ninety-two consecutive nights.

Garrick spared nothing in ridiculing his own event, from the attitudes of the townspeople to the crowded and expensive lodging arrangments, from the weather to the mulberry trinkets. This manuscript provides drafts for the "Proseshon in the Jewbley," the centerpiece of the Jubilee as performed at Drury Lane. The grand procession of Shakespeare characters that had been rained out in Stratford here begins with a team of "surprising & learned littell horses."

An additional manuscript draft of Garrick's farce The Jubilee is in the Kemble-Devonshire Collection of plays at The Huntington Library.

Items included

  • Charles Dibdin. The overture, songs, airs, and chorusses, in the Jubilee or Shakespear's Garland as performed at Stratford upon Avon, and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. London, 1769. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.196; displayed title page.
  • Warwickshire lads. London?, 1790?. Call number: PR2923.1769.G2sw Cage and LUNA Digital Image.
  • David Garrick. Shakespear's Garland. Being a collection of new songs,… &c. Performed at the Jubilee. Dublin: John Mitchell, [1770?]. Call number: PR2923 1769 G2sa Cage; displayed title page and frontis.
  • The Procession at the Jubilee at Stratford Upon Avon. Engraving. [London, 1769]. Call number: ART Vol. d57 no.43a and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Continuation of the Procession of Shakespear's Characters. Engraving. [London, 1769]. Call number: ART Vol. d57 no.43b and LUNA Digital Image.
  • [Medal of Shakespeare] We shall not look upon his like again, Jubilee at Stratford in honour and to the memory of Shakespeare, Sept. 1769, D.G., steward Engraving. [Great Britain?], 1769. Call number: ART File S527.7 no.1 (size XS) and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Medallion commemorating the Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford-upon-Avon, 1769. ART 241260 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Garrick reciting the ode, in honor of Shakespeare, at the Jubilee at Stratford, with the musical performers, &c. Print, ca. 1769. Call number: ART File G241 no.2 (size XS) and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Shakespeare (opposite side shows David Garrick as Hamlet). Double-sided enamel pendant, 1769. Call number: 241260 ART (realia) and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Shakespears-Jubilee, the 6th and 7th of September, at Stratford-upon-Avon. Ticket signed by George Garrick. Copper-plate engraving, 6 September 1769. Call number: Y.d.283 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Garrick's vagary, or, England run mad. With particulars of the Stratford Jubilee. London, 1769. Call number: PR2923 1769 G5 Cage; displayed title page.
  • David Garrick. Autograph manuscript of The jubilee, a farce. Manuscript, 1769. Call number: W.a.160 and LUNA Digital Image.

Notes on this section

  1. Thomas Sheridan (1719–1788): actor/manager and father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
  2. James Lacy (1696–1774): sole manager of a struggling Drury Lane from 1744–1747.
  3. 3.0 3.1 John Rich (1692–1761): pantomimist, manager of Covent Garden from 1732 until his death.
  4. Licensing Act: legislation passed in 1737 restricting performances to licensed theaters only, and requiring that scripts be pre-approved by the Lord Chamberlain. With the ability to comment directly on sensitive social and political issues thus curtailed, productions became tamer, or at least, more subtle. Censorship by the office of the Lord Chamberlain survived until 1968.
  5. Covent Garden: Known now and since 1891 as the Royal Opera House, this theater opened in 1732 as Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and from 1847 to 1891 was called the Royal Italian Opera.
  6. Henry Woodward (1714–1777): actor and pantomimist who performed at Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Smock Alley.
  7. Peg Woffington (1720?–1760): actress best-known for her comic roles; lived with Garrick in the early 1740s.
  8. Spranger Barry (1717–1777): actor, and on-and-off competitor of Garrick on the stage. Known for his Othello, a role Garrick quickly abandoned, and for his Romeo, a role Garrick took up in a direct competition known as "The Rival Romeos."
  9. James Quin (1693–1766): England's greatest actor when Derrick debuted. For more on Quin, read Old Style vs. New.
  10. Susanna Cibber (1714–1766): actress and singer married to Theophilus Cibber, best known for her tragic roles.
  11. Robert Adam (1728–1794): architect who also renovated Garrick's country house at Hampton; built his town house at Adelphi.
  12. Mainpiece: the principal comedy or drama performed on a given evening, typically five acts.
  13. Afterpiece: one- or two-act farce, pantomime, or other light entertainment used to close the evening. Introduced during the Restoration and common through the early nineteenth century.
  14. Prologues and epilogues: direct addresses to the audience before and after the mainpiece, sometimes in character, sometimes not. Management used prologues to comment on the play text, the production, current events, house policy, etc.
  15. Benefit nights: on a person’s benefit night, he or she paid the costs of the production, but kept all remaining profits from ticket sales. Authors of new plays generally had a benefit every fifth night of production; actors and other entitled employees had their benefits at the end of the season, and relied on them for the lion’s share of their income.
  16. Wings, drops and flats: two-dimensional illusionistically-painted scenery designed to fit in and above a series of grooves on the stage.
  17. Half-price riots: Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, a drama critic who had once been on the Drury Lane "free admittance" list, organized and acted as spokesperson for a public enraged by this break with precedence. Fitzpatrick had been parodied years before by Garrick as the character Fribble in the farce, Miss in Her Teens. Jump directly to Grand Tourist in the online exhibition for more on Fitzpatrick as Garrick's "foe."
  18. James Messinck (1701/2–1789): Drury Lane machinist; responsible for pageant floats, special effects, trap doors and other technical matters.
  19. wing: two-dimensional illusionistically-painted piece of scenery fitted into a groove on the stage with the back edge hidden offstage.
  20. William Boyce (d. 1779): a composer, organist, and music editor. Boyce wrote songs and incidental music for thirteen different Drury Lane productions under Garrick's management.
  21. Theodore Aylward (d. 1801): also composed music for the 1763 Drury Lane production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Thomas Arne (1710–1778): prolific theater composer whose "Rule Britannia" from the masque Alfred is still well-known; brother of actress Susannah Cibber.
  23. Warwickshire Regiment: first raised as "Lillingstone's Regiment" in 1674 to fight against the French in Holland. The successors to the Warwickshire Regiment were absorbed into what is now the Royal Regiment of Fuseliers in 1968.
  24. Shakespear's Garland: the wordbook had a successful publishing career, being first sold in Stratford by Garrick's friend Thomas Beckett, who was both the official Jubilee bookseller and publisher of most of the Jubilee titles.
  25. Isaac Bickerstaff (1733–ca. 1808): a librettist and writer of musical theater. One of his most successful pieces was the comic opera Love in a Village, set to music by Thomas Arne.
  26. Samuel Foote (1720?–1777): actor and playwright whose career was marked by feuds with London literary figures.
  27. Building: The new Stratford town hall, finished in 1769 and dedicated at the Jubilee.
  28. Statue to Shakespeare: a full-length leaden statue by John Cheere (1709–1787).
  29. Francis Gentleman (1728–1784): playwright and essayist, author of the playgoer's guide The Dramatic Censor.

The Playwright and Adapter

Garrick’s activity as a writer and adapter of plays was an essential part of his working life, perhaps because England’s greatest actor-manager flourished in an age of eminently forgettable dramas. Aside from a few works by Richard Brinsley Sheridan,[1] author of The Rivals and School for Scandal, and Oliver Goldsmith,[2] author of She Stoops to Conquer, there is little from the era of Garrick that survives in today’s repertory.

Throughout his career Garrick revived Shakespeare’s plays, in the process making careful use of the work of such contemporary editors and scholars as Samuel Johnson,[3] Bishop William Warburton,[4] Edward Capell,[5] George Steevens,[6] and others. But his reshaping of the plays also helped Garrick reshape Shakespeare’s image by personalizing and popularizing the characters. As a result, many pieces panned by critics and scholars were supported enthusiastically by the public. Garrick produced twenty-six Shakespeare plays, in the process performing seventeen roles himself.


Lethe was Garrick’s first play, written for Henry Giffard’s[7] benefit night at Drury Lane, April 15, 1740, and its success encouraged the young author to continue writing for the stage. In it, characters are ferried across the river Styx to Elysium, where Aesop decides whether or not they may drink from the waters of Lethe to forget their troubles. A sequence of satirical portraits makes up the farce, with fools and fops coming forward for comic turns.

Brief as it is, the jeu d’esprit gave the leading actors of the day opportunities to shine. This early printing of Lethe, from before Chalkstone was created, shows Garrick in the roles of Poet, Frenchman, and Drunken Man. The character of Chalkstone was added in 1756, sixteen years after the first performance of Lethe.

Jump directly to Comic Characters in the online exhibition for more on Garrick's portrayal of Lord Chalkstone.

Items included

The Clandestine Marriage

The Clandestine Marriage, co-authored by David Garrick and George Colman, was one of the great comedies of the 18th century. It opened on February 20, 1766 and was the major event of the 1765–66 Drury Lane season. Written in the style of a Restoration comedy of manners, laughter was the primary goal, and the authors succeeded marvelously. The piece was an instant success, playing thirteen consecutive nights before capacity crowds. Garrick had just returned from two years abroad and audiences were anxious to see him on stage again, though he disappointed Colman by refusing to play Lord Ogleby. Insecure after a long absence, Garrick was not looking for new roles.

To learn about about Folger Theatre's production of The Clandestine Marriage, April 15–May 22, 2005, jump directly to Garrick Performed Today in the online exhibition.

Garrick and Colman

George Colman was Garrick’s closest friend among contemporary playwrights, though the two could disagree, as when Garrick declined the role of Lord Ogleby (written expressly for him), and when Colman invested in the rival theatrical company, Covent Garden,[8] within a year after the success of The Clandestine Marriage at Drury Lane. There were also arguments over the authors’ respective contributions to The Clandestine Marriage.

The first printed edition of The Clandestine Marriage, seen here, shows both authors’ names on the title page, but the matter of primary responsibility was debated. The Folger’s manuscript of the play, mostly in Garrick’s hand, suggests Garrick had the larger authorial role, but when the text was published, the advertisement mischievously reads: “Some friends, and some enemies, have endeavored to allot distinct portions of this play to each of the authors. Each, however, considers himself as responsible for the whole.” After their early squabble—Colman thought Garrick was taking too much credit—the authors closed ranks and let London’s literati guess. At issue initially was Colman’s contention that Garrick defied the spirit of their agreement:

I cannot help being hurt…I understood it was to be a joint work…and never imagined that either of us was to lay his finger on a particular scene, and cry, This is mine! (Colman to Garrick, December 4, 1765)

Garrick took offense but made amends and the two were on best of terms when the play opened in February, 1766. Harry William Pedicord and Fredrick Louis Bergmann (The Plays of David Garrick, 1980) and, more recently, Ian McIntyre (Garrick, 1999) determined that Garrick wrote larger share.


The role of Lord Ogleby first went to Thomas King,[9] who made it one of his triumphs. King was brilliant and his interpretation of Ogleby held the stage. But Garrick grew increasingly impatient over the lasting praise for King, perhaps wistful that he did not have sole ownership of the role. In retirement, Garrick protested, “But it is not my Lord Ogleby—the only character in which I should now wish to appear.”

That Garrick saw only himself in the role is not surprising, for it was Garrick Colman had in mind when sketching the character. In Ogleby we see affinities with some of Garrick’s most famous roles: the amorous old rake Lord Chalkstone in Lethe, the coxcomb Bayes in The Rehearsal, and Abel Drugger, the simpleton in The Alchymist. Ogleby is cut from the same cloth. But upon his return from Europe,[10] Garrick was in no shape, physically or mentally, to tackle a new character. While there were good reasons for turning down the role that Colman offered, Garrick must have felt an opportunity had been lost when he saw King’s success in a role written expressly for him.

The Manuscript

Page 15 of the Folger's manuscript of The Clandestine Marriage. Folger Digital Image 6257.

The Folger owns a manuscript of The Clandestine Marriage, mostly in Garrick’s hand. Working versions of play show that the character name “Lord Ogleby” evolved first from the Earl of Oldsap, to Earl of Kexy (seen here in Garrick’s early version of the cast list). Later, Kexy becomes “Lord Ogleby” for the first time (seen here in a draft of Act 2) and a star is born. The title of the play changed too. The earliest surviving draft of the drama, at The Garrick Club in London, is entitled The Sisters.

Items included


Garrick’s “Frenchifying” alteration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (first performed on December 18, 1772) became as controversial as his acting was celebrated. In one of his many neoclassical critiques of Shakespeare, Voltaire had famously called the play “a vulgar and barbarous drama which would not be tolerated by the most ignorant audiences in France or Italy.” Garrick corresponded enthusiastically with numerous theatrical friends in France about his “bold deed,” that he “dar’d to alter Hamlet ” to bring the play more in line with classical norms by removing most of Act 5 and including having “destroy’d ye Grave diggers (those favourites of the people).” But Garrick also wrote to Sir William Young on January 10, 1773 describing this tampering with the play as “the most imprudent thing I ever did in all my life.”

Despite criticism that Garrick’s alteration revealed him as too much influenced by French tastes, it was popular with the crowds and held the stage for years. Garrick’s last performance of Hamlet was on May 30, 1776, in a performace that completely sold out in about two hours. But since his retirement, Garrick's 1772 version has never again been staged. Jump directly to Garrick as Hamlet for more on his portrayal.


This preparation promptbook for Garrick's revision of Hamlet in the 1772–73 season establishes many of the changes he made to the play. He did not use his own previously-published acting edition first printed in 1763, but instead marked up this 1747 copy of the standard text of the time (edited by John Hughes and Robert Wilks), in some places pasting in leaves from his own 1763 text. Page 74 and the tipped-in printed and manuscript pages immediately following show Garrick’s preparatory mark-ups of alternate endings, combining bits of the original Acts IV and V while adding lines of his own. Instead of the "rubbish" (as he called it) of the gravediggers and fencing scene, he considered multiple possible endings, some of which are on this unfolded leaf in Garrick's hand.

For a more detailed description and an interactive "turn-the-page" display of this preparation promptbook, see What Is A Promptbook?.

"As it is now acted"

Editions of Hamlet such as the one seen here, advertising “as it is now acted at … Drury-Lane,” in fact do not represent the changes made in the text by Garrick. He never permitted his 1772 alteration of Hamlet to be printed, nor did he allow anyone outside of Drury-Lane to examine the prompt copies. Therefore, the letter to Suzanne Necker (1739–1794) seen here takes on special importance.

Mme Necker, salon hostess and wife of Louis XVI’s finance minister, Jacques Necker (1732–1804), came with her husband to London to see Garrick act Hamlet before he retired. Garrick warns Mme Necker in this April 26, 1776 letter not to rely on printed editions of the play:

“[the Copy of the play You] have got from the Bookseller will mislead You without some direction from Me — the first Act which is very long in the original, is by me divided into two Acts— the 3d Act, as I Act it, is the 2d in the Original — the 3d in the original is the 4th in Mine, and ends with the famous scene between Hamlet and his Mother — and the 5th Act in my Alteration, consists of the 4th & 5th of the original, with some small alterations, and the omission of some Scenes, particularly the Grave diggers … .”

He goes on to assure her that he is offering her “the most commodious box” at the theater. Garrick wrote this letter on a single, folded leaf.

The Gravediggers Restored

Although David Garrick rejected Richard Cumberland’s[11] debut play, the 1759 tragedy The Banishment of Cicero, Cumberland went on to become a regular playwright at Drury Lane. The document seen here is endorsed by Garrick as “Cumberlan’s compl. to me about ye alteration of Hamlet.” The final lines on this first page slyly refer to Garrick’s Drury Lane Theatrical Fund in addressing the effect on other company actors of cutting the popular Act 5 gravediggers’ scene, one in which Garrick never himself acted:

1st Gra. I won’t be amiss however to keep ye Grave open. T’will stand in place of a Theatrical Fund, and be a certain provision for actors retiring from the stage.

Complaints about Garrick’s cuts did not begin and end with critics and rival playwrights. The edition of Hamlet pictured here is based on the version running at the rival Covent Garden Theatre, that included the gravediggers’ scene. Act 5 here begins with a footnote commenting on the scene:

These gentry, and their quibbling humour, certainly trespass upon decorum; but the moral reflections occasioned by the grave, &c. make ample amends. … Mr. Garrick has too politely frenchified his alteration by endeavoring to annihilate what, though Mr. Voltaire could not like it, has indubitable merit.

Items included

Midsummer Night’s Dream

Samuel Pepys[12] remarked in the mid-seventeenth century that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was “the most insipid, ridiculous Play that I ever saw in my life.” After that 1662 performance and until Garrick’s 1755 operatic version The Fairies, only one other performance is recorded, and the play saw just eight stagings in the eighteenth century. Some of these revivals achieved a degree of critical and popular success. Others failed completely, closing after a single night. The mid-eighteenth-century Drury Lane Dreams described here coincide with rivalries in spectacle and elaborate stagings between Garrick and John Rich, manager of Covent Garden.

The Fairies

The Fairies opened at Drury Lane on Monday February 3, 1755. This was Garrick’s third alteration of a Shakespeare play, after his successful work the previous decade on Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fairies fit the mood of a theater-going public interested in spectacles, operas, and dance by providing an all-sung full-length opera, the first to be seen on a London stage for many years. The opera was performed eleven times over two seasons. To the accompaniment of music newly composed by John Christopher Smith, a student and copyist of George Frideric Handel, the dialogue was sung in recitative and included twenty-eight added airs, duets, and choruses. Many of these were borrowed from other authors including John Dryden, John Milton, and Edmund Waller. As was often the case with his adaptations, Garrick was coy about openly admitting authorship. However, he skillfully reminded his public both of his own link with Shakespeare and his composer’s link with Handel in the last lines of the prologue, which Garrick wrote and recited:

The pupil wrote—his work is now before ye,
And waits your stamp of infamy, or glory!
Yet, ere his errors and his faults are known,
He says those faults, those errors, are his own;
If through the clouds appear some glimm’ring rays,
They’re sparks he caught from his great master’s blaze!

While extensive cuts were required to remake the drama in libretto form, Garrick’s limiting of the piece to the fairy and crossed lovers scenes of the first four acts retained intact large sections of Shakespeare’s language. The six-line Scene 4 “Air” condenses but changes little of Helena’s Midsummer Night Act 1, scene 1 language.

Also displayed was Theophilus Cibber’s[13] famous denunciation of The Fairies as a “minc’d and fricasseed” version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This reaction was not entirely uncommon among critics at the time despite the popularity of the opera when first performed. However, the critics were not altogether negative. Working to stir patriotic support for more English-language opera, The Tuner, Issue Five described The Fairies as “a laudable attempt to encourage native musical Productions.”

"Alterations Innumerable"

The success of The Fairies with the theater-going public (although not quite with the critics) led Garrick to attempt a revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Work towards this end included collaboration with George Colman. Much of that work is revealed in this preparation copy for a performance held while Garrick was on Grand Tour. In Garrick’s absence Colman came to make “alterations innumerable” to Garrick’s casting suggestions and to their agreed-upon text, according to William Hopkins (Drury Lane’s head prompter from 1760–1780). The production was acted only once, on November 23, 1763. Hopkins reported in his diary that “Upon the whole, never was anything so murder’d in the Speaking.” The St. James Chronicle called it both “flat and uninteresting” and a “heap of rubbish.”

Colman tried to rescue the situation three days later by staging A Fairy Tale as an after-piece farce based on the Dream, which went on to be performed seventeen times that season. Garrick followed the London papers while away and thus knew about both the failure and the somewhat more successful farce; he wrote to his brother George from Naples to “tell Colman that I love him more & more, & thank him most cordially for his fairy tale.” The Folger promptbook and accompanying manuscripts for the Garrick-Colman Midsummer Night’s Dream reveal complex and fascinating details about preparation for performance, prompting calls, casting decisions, cues for effects, and other stage business.

Garrick’s first head prompter Richard Cross made various marginal notations in the printed text of this promptbook. Cross died in 1759, which indicates that Garrick and his company worked on this play for a number of years prior to the opening. Among the notes are:

  • “PS” at the top of page eight indicating that the player of Helena—Miss Young,[14] in the end—is to enter on the “Prompter’s Side,” which at Drury Lane is presumed to be stage left.
  • A list marked “4” at the top of page nine prompts the Clowns to make the fourth entrance of the Act. The entering Clowns are listed by actor name in the separate manuscript callbook.
  • “x Song” marks three spots where a song should be sung. Many of these were re-used from Garrick’s Fairies and are separately listed in Garrick’s hand in the song list.

The callbook shown here provides a list broken down by Act, within each Act giving performer names with entrance numbers. From the callbook we learn that when Hermia takes her leave of Lysander and Helena on page nine of the promptbook the Clowns all enter stage left (“PS” for “Prompter’s Side”). Other scenes call for entrances “OP,” meaning “Opposite Prompt” or stage right at Drury Lane. Note that a Mr. [Charles] Blakes[15] has rehearsed the role of Quince, who enters with “papers” according to the Prompt, or with “Paper + parts” in the Callbook. It is from this prop that Quince will (as Bottom puts it) “read the names of the actors, and so grow to a point.”

From the songlist in Garrick’s hand we learn that Helena gets a song “O Hermia Fair,” followed shortly by Hermia’s song “Before the time.” In the left margin Garrick suggests Miss Pope[16] and Mr. Vernon[17] for Helena and Lysander. With dashes he indicates no decisions yet about who should be cast for Hermia and Demetrius. Note also that Lysander and Hermia are each to get “4 Songs, 1 Duett,” with Helena singing “3 Songs.”

The two manuscript cast lists are full of substitutions and differ from the dramatis personae in the 1763 printed edition shown here. For example, the role of Lysander was in the end played by Mr. [Joseph] Vernon. But Lysander was first assigned in the manuscript to Mr. [William] O’Brien, who was a favorite with London audiences and had been personally recruited from the Dublin stage in 1758 by Garrick. Vernon is one of the few actors noted in manuscript that matches the final printed cast list.

Items included

More adaptations

The closing of the theaters between 1640 and 1660 not only created a gap in the production of English drama; it changed the course of its development as well. Restoration playwrights felt obliged to re-write earlier work, including Shakespeare’s, to appeal to the literary tastes of more civilized audiences. William Davenant (1606–1668), John Dryden (1631–1700), and Nahum Tate (1652–1715) were among those who thought they were improving Shakespeare by sanitizing the language, cutting scenes and re-writing endings. For over 100 years no text was sacred on the English stage. Garrick’s adaptations followed an accepted, even expected, practice and it saved him valuable time. Altering previously published work for conditions at Drury Lane meant he could introduce a succession of new plays in any given season without having to create them from scratch.

Garrick and Jonson: Every Man in His Humour

Garrick’s adaptation of Every Man in His Humour by Ben Jonson (1572–1637) demonstrates how source material was re-packaged to suit contemporary taste. Garrick cut over 700 lines of Jonson’s text, reduced the number of scenes by half, and rewrote Act 4 in order to highlight Kitely’s jealous nature. He removed obscure puns and sanitized Jonson’s language—the odd mention of dung disappears as does a line about urination. Garrick reworked a distinctly earthy drama full of invective into the most important and ambitious production of the 1751 season, while creating a spotlight for himself. He played Kitely 81 times over 24 years, and only once gave up the role to another actor.

Garrick and Motteux: The Lying Valet

Garrick’s adaptation of a two-act farce by Pierre Antoine Motteux[18] (All Without Money, which forms Part II of The Novelty) was first staged at Goodman’s Fields on November 30, 1741 and continued to be produced throughout Garrick’s lifetime. In Garrick’s words:

‘Tis a general Roar from beginning to End.

Its title character, Sharp, was one of Garrick’s enduring roles. “The Dublin triumph” of Lying Valet, with Margaret “Peg” Woffington[19], is touted on the title page of this rare edition of the play, loosely stitched and never bound.

Garrick and Swift: Lilliput

Garrick’s adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels was one of his most unusual creations, transforming this prose classic by Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) into an interlude performed, with the exception of Gulliver, by children. Though critics thought it indecent (“debauching the minds of infants”) it played 17 times during the 1756–57 season. Garrick might have anticipated the hostile reaction to Lilliput, knowing his seemingly innocent interlude had a sharp edge. The Theatrical Examiner called it:

the most petite, trifling, indecent, immoral, stupid parcel of rubbish…ever seen.

Garrick extracted that part of Swift’s tale that concerns Lady Flimnap’s “violent affection” for Gulliver and used it to satirize the contemporary laxity of morals, particularly with regard to marriage. Lord and Lady Flimnap’s lines, from the mouths of children, made some critics very uneasy. Like Swift’s satire, Garrick had struck a nerve.

Garrick and Dryden: Cymon

As a writer and adapter of plays, Garrick served the tastes of his time. Although he never claimed any literary merit for his operatic Cymon, it was another crowd pleaser. The extravagant spectacle, with magic, music, and some extraordinary stagecraft, was based on John Dryden’s[20] poem Cymon and Iphigenia (which, in turn, derived from Boccaccio’s Decameron) and presented as Drury Lane’s Christmas offering in 1766. By the end of the century the final procession included over a hundred characters and was still being revived at holiday time as late as 1850. Horace Walpole dismissed it as:

Garrick’s ginger-bread, double-gilt,

and Garrick himself described it as:

"some theatrical Trash which I have Exhibited to the Public this winter"

in a letter accompanying a presentation copy to John Wilkes.[21] “Theatrical” it was, and audiences loved it.

Items included

  • John Finlayson after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Mr. Garrick in the Character of Kitely. Mezzotint, 1769. Call number: Uncat. Garrickiana Maggs no.163 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • London, Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Every Man in his Humour (Mainpiece), Polly Honeycomb (Afterpiece). Playbill, 31 December 1760. Call number: BILL Box G2 D84 1760-61 no.40 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • David Garrick. The lying valet. Dublin, 1742. Call number: 192405; displayed title page.
  • David Garrick. Autograph manuscript outlines of Lilliput by David Garrick. Manuscript, ca. 1756. Call number: W.b.472, p. 29-41; displayed page 31.
  • David Garrick. Cymon. A dramatic romance. London, 1767. Call number: PR3467.C9 1767a Cage; displayed Dramatis Personae.
  • London, Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Cymon (Mainpiece), The Mayor of Garratt (Afterpiece). Playbill, 8 April 1771. Call number: W.b. 475 (278) and LUNA Digital Image.

Notes on this section

  1. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1760): playwright, theater manager and politician; co-owner of Drury Lane after Garrick's retirement.
  2. Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774): his first book included an attack on theater management that offended Garrick, though they later became friends.
  3. Samuel Johnson (1709–1784): author and lexicographer.
  4. William Warburton (1698–1779): Bishop of Glocester; his edition of Shakespeare appeared in 1747.
  5. Edward Capell (1713–1781): compiled the inventory of Garrick's extensive collection of plays and worked close to twenty years on an edition of Shakespeare whose final volumes appeared in 1767.
  6. George Steevens (1736–1800): published his Twenty Plays of Shakespeare in 1766.
  7. Henry Giffard (1694–1772): actor and theater manager of Goodman's Fields when Garrick made his October 1741 debut as Richard III.
  8. Covent Garden: Known now and since 1891 as the Royal Opera House, this theater opened in 1732 as Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and from 1847 to 1891 was called the Royal Italian Opera.
  9. Thomas King (1730–1805): actor; manager of various summer theaters, including Sadler's Wells; acting manager at Drury Lane during Garrick's absences and, later, Sheridan's absences.
  10. Return from Europe: In 1765, Garrick returned from his second European trip exhausted, tentative about going back on stage and needing reassurance. "Arriving half dead from Italy," he wrote to Colman from Paris, "Does [London] really wish to see me on the stage?" Testing the water, or preparing for failure, Garrick sent a pamphlet ahead, The Sick Monkey, satirizing his own career. When he finally returned, Garrick didn't want to risk a demanding role, and played yet again his favorite part in Shakespearean comedy, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, by Royal command on November 14, 1765. Jump directly to Grand Tourist for more on Garrick's 1763–65 trip to the Continent.
  11. Richard Cumberland (1732–1811): poet, playwright, and memoirist.
  12. Samuel Pepys (1633–1703): naval official, bibliophile and diarist.
  13. Theophilus Cibber (1703–1758): one of Cibber's roles most celebrated by his contemporaries was as Pistol in 2 Henry IV. Cibber also worked as a manager, helping to run Drury Lane in partnership with Charles Macklin (1699?–1797) and Charles Fleetwood (d. 1747) in years prior to Garrick's and Lacey's joint patent. But he was short-tempered and quarrelsome in his writings, particularly on the subject of David Garrick.
  14. Miss Young: This may have been Miss Isabella Young (1740/41?–1791), who earlier had played Titania in The Fairies.
  15. Mr. [Charles] Blakes: Blakes was known for farce, pantomime, and his comic characters. He died in May of 1763, so his name does not appear in the final printed cast list for the November 1763 performance.
  16. Miss Pope: Perhaps Miss Jane Pope (1744–1818): a full member of the Drury Lane company from 1759 through 1807, whose over fifty-year career was one of the longest running of the 18th-century English stage.
  17. Mr. Vernon: Joseph Vernon (ca. 1738–1782): known both for his singing voice as well as his acting. Vernon was hissed off the Drury Lane stage on multiple occasions in his career due to his testimony against his own wife in a scandalous court case.
  18. Pierre Antoine Motteux (1663–1718): journalist, dramatist, and translator.
  19. Peg Woffington (1720?–1760): actress best-known for her comic roles; lived with Garrick in the early 1740's.
  20. John Dryden (1631–1700): poet, playwright, and critic.
  21. John Wilkes (1725–1797): journalist and politician.

Garrick's Legacy

Garrick’s legacy is by no means limited to his innovations on the stage. Garrick fueled the Shakespeare movement that turned a great English dramatist into the great English dramatist. He was the first theater manager to master the craft of public relations (and self-promotion). Drury Lane reached its zenith under Garrick. There was nothing like it until Sir Henry Irving’s reign at the Lyceum a century later.

Mrs. Garrick

Eva Maria Garrick did much to keep flame of Garrick’s brilliance glowing. After turning down two marriage proposals in 1782 she devoted her long widowhood to a range of interests: mesmerism, alchemy, Catholicism, and reliving the glory days at Drury Lane. She lived an active, if semi-reclusive, old age among trusted friends, using her “at homes” to show friends and acquaintances mementos of life and travels with her husband, affording an opportunity to reminisce.

We have various views of her widowhood. One source described her as “a little bowed-down old woman, who went about leaning on a gold-headed cane, dressed in deep widow’s mourning, and always talking of her dear Davy.” Others depict her as active, socially engaged, and even spunky. Moments before she died, at age 98, she scolded a solicitous maid who handed her a cup of tea: “Put it down, you hussy, do you think I cannot help myself?”

For more on Mrs. Garrick, jump directly to Eva Maria or Marriage in the exhibition.

Items included

Influence on Acting and the Theater

Garrick revolutionized the acting style[1] of a nation, manipulated audience expectation, and gave theatergoers energy, engagement, and exuberance in both comic and tragic roles. Earlier styles of acting, emphasizing oration rather than movement, looked ponderous and anachronistic beside Garrick’s more natural and lively representation of human emotion. The young man who had to overcome the social stigma of being a “mere player” changed theater forever.

Burnim and Donohue both discuss Garrick as a forerunner of the Romantic movement because Garrick breathed life and complexity into his characters in ways that appeared startlingly new and more natural than anything that had come before. But his apparent spontaneity on stage was never spontaneous; rather, it was the product of lengthy and meticulous preparation. A student of his art, Garrick spent months preparing his roles, striving for individual interpretation in the smallest role, a quality he insisted on for himself and his fellow actors at Drury Lane. In readings and in rehearsal he showed his actors how to do a role, even women’s parts, but insisted they find their own interpretation.

Garrick’s innovations[2] at Drury Lane were long lasting. He banished preening audience members from the stage and restricted their admission to the green room, giving actors a degree of privacy. He attempted to abolish the custom of half-price admission after the third act because of the disruption the latecomers often created. After returning from Paris in 1765, he darkened the house and introduced new stage lighting, with further advances in 1771 under Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740–1812). Garrick’s career inspired a respect for acting and actors that was new to 18th-century theater.

Items included

  • R. Evan Sly. Garrick and Hogarth, or the Artist Puzzled.[3] Hand-colored lithograph, 1845. Call number: Uncataloged Garrickiana Maggs No. 25 and LUNA Digital Image.


Garrick seemed to know instinctively the value of self-representation. In 1766, he delightedly spoke of the imminent arrival of a whole “cargo” of prints of himself, understanding as few actors did at the time the value of self-promotion to one’s career. Not surprisingly, Garrick’s image was everywhere after his death, in paintings and prints, in tea service sets and on enamel pendants. An image of Tancred, graceful and poised, shows Garrick’s artistry was even the subject of porcelain figurines. The source is the painting by Thomas Worlidge (1700–1766) now in the Garrick Club.

The Garrick industry was almost immediately active, and remained so through the nineteenth century, when books about Garrick flourished. By this time “the little monarch” was a legend.

Items included

  • David Garrick as Tancred. Derby porcelain, ca. 1765. Call number: 241005 ART.

The Drury Lane Theatrical Fund

David Garrick’s legacy to the theater continues to be felt through The Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, a charity providing financial aid to performers in the company who fall on hard times. Garrick and James Lacy (1696–1774), joint managers of Drury Lane, first brought up the idea of such a fund in 1753, and by 1766 were actively gathering donations. In the mean time, Covent Garden had established a similar fund. An Act of Parliament in 1776 firmly established the fund. In gratitude, “The Incorporated Actors belonging to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane” presented this enamel plaque to Garrick, “in testimony of their gratitude for his having raised and supported by his excellent performance on the stage, and finally established by an Act of Parliament obtained by his interest, and at his sole expence, the Theatrical Fund… March 25, 1777.” This inscription, on the back of the piece, carries an addendum that begins “Purchased at Mr. Garrick’s sale in 1823 and presented by the committee of the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund to their treasurer, John Fawcett, Esq.” and goes on to credit Garrick with founding the fund. Although technically not true—Garrick founded the Drury Lane Fund, not the Covent Garden Fund—Garrick’s professionalization of the theater made such funds possible.

Enamel artist John Howes (fl. 1772–1793) created this unique piece from a design by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727–1785), an Italian artist whose theater paintings included scenery for Garrick at Drury Lane.

Items included

  • John Howes after Giovanni Battista Cipriani. David Garrick unveiling a herm of Shakespeare and the Ephesian Diana. Enamel, 1777. Call number: FPm17 and LUNA Digital Image.

Nineteenth Century

David Garrick’s popularity continued through the nineteenth century. The Folger has numerous copies of Percy Fitzgerald’s two-volume Garrick biography (1868) that have been Grangerised[4] (interleaved with playbills, prints, portraits, letters, etc. to make them extra-illustrated volumes) by collectors to create impressive tributes to their subject. A.M. Broadley (1847–1916) was the collector who put together this set, ballooned to seventeen volumes and lionizing Garrick a century after his death.

Percy Fitzgerald (1834–1925) was a tireless chronicler of eighteenth-century theater history. He produced biographies of Garrick, Kitty Clive,[5] Sheridan,[6] Samuel Foote,[7] the Kembles,[8] and later Sir Henry Irving.[9]

Another nineteenth-century Garrick phenomenon came in the form of T. W. Robertson’s[10] 1864 play about Garrick’s life, bearing the full title David Garrick: a comedy in three acts, adapted from the French of "Sullivan”, which was founded on a German dramatization of a pretended incident in Garrick's life. The title role became the signature piece of Charles Wyndham[11] and the play was a sensation in the late nineteenth century.

Items included

  • Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald. The Life of David Garrick, from original family papers, and numerous published and unpublished sources. London, 1868. Call number: PN2598.G3 F5 Copy4 Ex.ill.

Twentieth Century

Inevitably, a film of Garrick’s life was made: The Great Garrick, in 1937, starring Olivia de Havilland and Brian Aherne. The film creates a fictitious episode in which Garrick triumphs over a plot by actors of the Comédie Française to shame him during his Grand Tour visit to Paris. This theater lobby card, used to promote the film, came on the market as we were preparing this exhibition.

For more on Garrick's trip to Paris and the Comédie Française, jump to Grand Tourist.

Items included

The Garrick Club

The Garrick Club in London is a shrine to British theater in general, and its greatest actor in particular. The club was founded in 1831 "for the general patronage of the drama, for bringing together the supporters of the drama, and for the formation of a theatrical library with works on costume." Today it is much more, with an unrivalled collection of nearly 1,000 paintings, extraordinary holdings in theatrical memorabilia, and an international membership. The period 1760–1830 has been called “a golden age of theater painting in England,” and two of the finest companion collections of visual resources for the era are to be found at the Garrick Club, London, and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

For more information on the Garrick Club, see their website: The Garrick Club.

Garrick Performed Today

Folger Theatre ended its 2004/05 season with The Clandestine Marriage (April 15–May 22), by David Garrick/George Colman. Directed by Richard Clifford, it featured Aubrey Deeker, Catherine Flye, Susan Lynskey, Ian Merrill Peakes, Lawrence Redmond, Michael Tolaydo, and Ted van Griethuysen as Lord Ogleby.

The Performance: For more on this performance, see The Clandestine Marriage under Folger Theatre.

The Play: For more on the play, jump to The Clandestine Marriage in the online exhibition.

Notes on this section

  1. Acting style: jump directly to Acting Style in the online exhibition for more information.
  2. Garrick's innovations: jump directly to The Entrepreneur in the online exhibition for more information.
  3. Paper toy: To see the paper toy shown here in action, go to Thirty Different Likenesses.
  4. Grangerised: refers to any book in which blank leaves are left, or added, for the purpose of enhancing a printed text with illustrated or manuscript material, clippings, etc., of the owner's choice. The term derives from James Granger (1723?–1776), whose five-volume Biographical History of England (1769?–1774) was often expanded this way.
  5. Kitty Clive (1711–1785): actress famed for comedic roles, and for speaking prologues and epilogues.
  6. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1760): playwright, theater manager and politician; co-owner of Drury Lane after Garrick's retirement.
  7. Samuel Foote (1720?–1777): actor and playwright whose career was marked by feuds with London literary figures.
  8. The Kemble Family: included some of the greatest performers of the eighteenth, and later the nineteenth century, including John Philip Kemble (1757?–1823), Charles Kemble (1775?–1854), Sarah Siddons (1755–1831), and Frances Anne Kemble (1809?–1893).
  9. Sir Henry Irving (1838–1905): actor-manager at the center of Victorian society and the first actor to be knighted for his achievements.
  10. Thomas William Robertson (1829–1871): author of some sixty-one plays. His romantic (and unhistorical) David Garrick was adapted from his own unpublished novel, itself based on the French drama Sullivan by M. Mélesville (1787–1865).
  11. Sir Charles Wyndham (1837–1919): actor and London West End theater manager.