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Reviewed by:
  • Shakespeare and Garrick
  • Barbara Mackey
Shakespeare and Garrick. By Vanessa Cunningham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008; pp. 250. $99.00 cloth.

A great many books on David Garrick are available—from the popular and lavishly illustrated (Alan Kendall) to the scholarly and critical (Stone and Kahrl). Although Vanessa Cunningham includes some biographical and historical background, her text largely details Garrick’s approach to Shakespeare performance, thus illustrating both Garrick’s veneration of Shakespeare and his rather free alterations of Shakespeare’s text. In her prologue, Cunningham states that she will describe six of Garrick’s twenty-two alterations of Shakespeare’s plays, two each from his early, middle, and late period “to explore whether any trends . . . are discernible in Garrick’s alterations over time” (1).

Garrick entered the theatre as a great boom in Shakespeare revivals was growing, and he became known as a “great rescuer” (7), deleting many additions that had been grafted on during the Restoration. But Garrick did not start with the First Folio or any of the new editions that were appearing in his time; he began with the familiar scripts already in use, “mirror[ing] the practice of those eighteenth century editors who preferred to ‘correct’ the editions of their immediate predecessors rather than go back to the original text” (148). So although Garrick claimed to have rediscovered Shakespeare’s true texts, in reality he made whatever changes he felt would appeal to an eighteenth-century audience.

In chapter 3, Cunningham describes Garrick’s treatment of two Shakespeare plays performed early in his career: Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. In each of these, the character played by Garrick is enlarged. Death scenes in particular were augmented, and Garrick’s influence was so powerful that these alterations were maintained for the next hundred years. Garrick did his first adaptation, Macbeth, when he was twenty-six (1744). Garrick began with D’Avenant’s version, which emphasized the moral message by giving Macbeth a farewell line to his ambition and by expanding the roles of the Macduffs, who represented a model couple resisting the temptation of ambition. Garrick even wrote a death speech of eight lines in order to make the moral instruction more explicit. Maintaining the purity [End Page 495] of genre, Garrick cut the porter and focused on Macbeth’s personal struggles. For Romeo and Juliet, Garrick began with Pope’s version, which excised most of the wordplay and bawdy language. Garrick’s greatest departure from the text was to add seventy-five lines to the last act so that Romeo and Juliet would have a chance to meet again before their deaths, thus prolonging the pathos. This version was played until the 1840s. In successive editions, Garrick removed all references to Rosaline and created new lines to indicate that Romeo had never been in love before, so as to satisfy audiences that expected leading characters to be exemplars of moral virtue.

In chapter 4, Cunningham considers Garrick’s mid-career (1753–68) adaptations, showing how Garrick radically transformed some plays and minimally altered others. The Winter’s Tale was criticized for violating the unities and for Leontes’ alleged violations of decorum. Thus Garrick completely eliminated the first three acts and the shifts in time and location, necessitating the addition of over four hundred new lines of exposition. To make Leontes more acceptable, Garrick omitted his scenes of jealousy and turned him into a sentimental character, grieving and penitent.

Chapter 6 discusses King Lear, which Garrick first played in 1742 when he was twenty-five, and last played in 1776, two nights before he retired. The early performances used Nahum Tate’s version, and although Garrick replaced more and more of Tate’s lines with Shakespeare’s, he seemed unable to shake off that version fully. Garrick’s audiences were reading “novels of sensibility” that described “the sufferings of the virtuous” (134); thus Garrick rushed “to shape a version primarily concerned with the sufferings of Lear and Cordelia” (124). Emphasizing the filial devotion of Cordelia and the goodness of Lear, Garrick modified all speeches where Lear curses his daughters, while playing down the political aspects. In all versions, Garrick omitted the Fool and ended...


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