Who Was David Garrick?

Here’s one of those times where I get to ask the readers a question.  I’ve heard the name David Garrick mentioned frequently enough in the history of Shakespeare.  But I don’t really know much about him.  So, rather than just going to read his wikipedia page I thought I’d ask the audience.  What I’m mostly curious to is this – would you argue that he was a major positive force in crafting the image of Shakespeare we know today, or do you think that perhaps he did more harm than good by catapulting Shakespeare until into that “literary deity” realm, causing people to spend the last 200+ years trying to knock him back down to reality?

4 thoughts on “Who Was David Garrick?

  1. Sean O'Sullivan says:

    I've just finished reading David
    Noke's biography of Dr Johnson,
    which gives several examples of the love and jealousy which the
    good Doctor had for Garrick –
    they came together to London to seek their fortune when Garrick
    was a complete unknown and Johnson
    was his failed schoolteacher.
    It seems that Garrick single-
    handedly introduced a far more naturalistic form of acting which
    some found shocking.

  2. Good question. A major, if ambivalent, factor of Garrick's influence is the Golden Jubilee he organized in Stratford in 1769. On the one hand, the celebration contributed to a huge revival of interest in Shakespeare and his elevation to the status of England's national poet. On the other hand, it led to the tourist industry-driven, "Shakespeare Disneyland" Stratford of today. Also of interest: As a high-profile, expensive three day explosion of bardolatry at which no Shakespeare play was actually performed (the weather forced Garrick to cancel his planned "Shakespeare Pageant") the Jubilee precipitated the trend of commercializing "Shakespeare" in a way entirely divorced from his works.

  3. Garrick's responsible for popularising/making acceptable the naturalistic style of acting that we mostly associate with theatre – rather than using stock gestures and mannerisms.
    Therefore, I'd say yes, Garrick is essential in Shakespeare – in creating Shakespeare as up-to-date and accessible in any era. Shakespeare is accessible to a modern audience, especially when compared to contemporaries such as Marlowe. Mostly this is due to his own writing style, which is far more conversational – for want of a better word – but there is also a lot to be said for Garrick's approach, which gave actors in particular license to experiment with their response to characters and to appropriate Shakespeare for their own ideas and eras rather than maintaining exactly the same performances. Irving did similar, really, as he moved gradually away from the stock company system where you had to act the part in the same way because you had no chorus rehearsal time, so they had to know what to expect.

  4. Sean O'Sullivan says:

    Just saw a wonderful TV show
    repeated last night from the
    series "Lost Buildings of Britain",
    which attempted to reconstruct
    the original Theatre Royal Drury
    Lane from the 18th Century using
    on site investigations,CGI and
    The last 20 minutes was a
    discussion about Garrick's
    innovations in acting practices
    and staging/lighting etc at the
    The program was made for
    Channel 4 in the UK, and was
    presented by Simon Thurley, who
    is an architectural historian
    who has made several architectural
    series for TV…this is worth
    tracking down;a wonderful show.

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