Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture: "Garrick and Theatrical Death"

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This article is about the annual Shakespeare Birthday lecture. For other articles about Shakespeare's Birthday, see Shakespeare's Birthday (disambiguation).

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a lecture given by Stuart Sherman on April 25, 2005.

“Is it possible,” a besotted Garrick fan once asked, that the great actor could be “subject to Pain, Disease, & Death, like Other Men?” In one way, of course, the answer to her question was a simple yes. Garrick could die, and die affectingly (shortly before the curtain-call moment of resurrection and applause), on every night that he performed in tragedy. But Garrick knew how to work the prospect of his own death for effects other than pathos: for laughs, in his comedies and in his audacious, self-portraying poems and prologues; and for an abiding, almost mesmeric hold over his audience. He is perhaps the first celebrity to harp so skillfully on the matter of his own mortality, playing the inevitability of his evanescence against the accumulating evidence of his staying power. Drawing upon the concurrent exhibition on David Garrick, 1717–1779: A Theatrical Life, this Annual Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture described the complex, innovative means by which Garrick both lost his bet and won it, in the process helping shape our ideas of theatrical death and deathlessness ever since.

Lecturer: Stuart Sherman is Associate Professor of English at Fordham University and the author of Telling Time: Clocks, Diaries, and English Diurnal Form, 1660–1785 (1996). He is currently working on a book entitled News and Plays: Evanescences of Page and Stage, 1620–1779.