Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill
Early Years: Family and Childhood
David Garrick was born on the 19th February 1716, in Hereford, to parents Peter and Arabella. His father was a captain in the army. Whilst this afforded the family a degree of respectability, the Garrick’s struggled financially as a joint result of the fact that his father, as a recruiting officer, was on half-pay for a number of years, and the sheer size of the family. Their fortunes did, however, improve when, in 1727, Peter Garrick accepted a position in Gibraltar. Despite increased prosperity, this did mean that he was absent for a period of five years, during which his son wrote dutifully to him and kept him abreast of the family’s welfare.
The event which is thought to have sparked Garrick’s interest into theatre was the arrival of a troupe of travelling players in his hometown of Lichfield when he was eleven years old. Inspired by what he had seen and aided by his sisters and schoolmates, Garrick put on a performance of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, in which he played the role of Kite.
Garrick’s arrival in London was blighted by news of the death of both his father and his uncle, a wine merchant. Both of whom died shortly after his arrival to the capital. Garrick, as the favourite nephew, received from his uncle the sum of £1000 which he used to pay for his lodgings and studies, help support his family, and, also to establish a small wine business which he hoped to run with the assistance of his elder brother, Peter. Garrick’s office was located close to Covent Garden, and, as a result, he befriended many a stage performer and could oft be found in the cafes frequented by actors and actresses and the green rooms of the theatres.
The stage beckons: Garrick’s theatrical debut and early career
Garrick’s mother died in September 1740. It has been suggested that her death represented the removal of the final barrier between Garrick and the stage; he didn’t want to her to feel ashamed that her son wanted to pursue a career as an actor. 1740 also saw the first staging of a piece written by Garrick. It was a sketch called Lethe and was performed at Drury Lane in April 1740. The sketch features a range of comic characters all seeking to drink the waters of Lethe in order to forget some part of their existence.
Garrick’s first appearance on the stage was at Goodman’s Fields, in March 1741. He understudied the part of Harlequin after an actor friend of his fell sick. Following on from this anonymous performance, Garrick embarked on a provincial tour to Ipswich during the summer of 1741. This was organised by the actor-manager Henry Giffard, and used by Garrick as a means by which to build his confidence in performing and also to test the waters. On his return, and having been rejected by the two prominent playhouses (Drury Lane and Covent Garden), Garrick returned to Goodman’s Inn Fields where, in October 1741, he performed in Giffard’s production of Richard III. Garrick, in a move designed to pique the interest of the public, was billed as a ‘gentleman who never appeared on any stage’. Garrick’s performances were so impressive that they began to draw crowds away from Drury Lane and Covent Garden who, fearing the loss of their audiences, invoked the licensing laws and had the theatre shut down.
Following the closure of Goodman’s Fields Garrick found employment at Drury Lane, which was, at that period, under the management of Charles Fleetwood. Garrick made his Drury Lane debut on the fifth October 1742 in a production of The Orphan.
Drury Lane Years: Garrick as an Actor-Manager
Fleetwood was not an effective manager as his gambling addiction led him to pilfer profits from the theatre, and he, apparently, cared little for his actors or the theatre as a whole. He had given artistic control to the actor Charles Macklin. Macklin was a friend of Garrick’s who influenced Garrick’s acting style, which he would develop and later make famous.
In 1743, Garrick and Macklin organised a walkout at Drury Lane because the company had not been paid in several months. They had hoped for the support of the Lord Chamberlain. However, he considered the company’s principal stars to be overpaid and consequently refused to intervene. As a result of the lack of licensed theatres and the necessity of earning a living, the actors were forced to return to Drury Lane and to negotiate with Fleetwood. He re-employed them all bar Macklin, whom he viewed as the instigator of the affair. This event soured the relationship between Garrick and Macklin and whilst the two later went on to perform together again, their relationship never fully recovered.
In April 1747, Garrick paid £8000 for a share in the management of Drury Lane. He went into business with a man named James Lacy, who intended to handle the business and economic side of things, whilst Garrick acted as the artistic and administrative director. Lacy employed Garrick’s younger brother George to assist him.
Garrick was keen to fill his company with reputable actors so as to create a strong and talented company as oppose to employing weaker actors whose main purpose would be to make him look good. Garrick ran his company with a firm hand, insisting on punctuality and suspending actors whom he considered not to be making enough effort to learn their part. That said he was well liked by most and his forays among the more elite sections of society helped to drum up interest and support for the theatre from wealthy and respected patrons. His company suffered a loss in 1749 when several of his key players, including Spranger Barry, who was one of the only actors to come close to rivalling Garrick in terms of popularity, defected to Covent Garden. This loss unsettled Garrick especially as the rivalry between the two theatres had always been fierce but he recovered swiftly.
Despite his overwhelming popularity Garrick did worry that he would be eclipsed by a new star. For example, in 1760, he withdrew a performance of King John after having heard that King George III had praised the acting of Thomas Sheridan, who Garrick had cast in the leading role, and not his own. Garrick also suffered with pre-show nerves and found opening nights particularly stressful. He was also easily thrown by any interruptions. Nevertheless, Garrick was highly praised for his expressiveness, naturalism and versatility. Garrick was one of the few actors capable of moving between tragic and comedic parts with enough skill to satisfy the expectations and demands of a very vocal audience.
Garrick was very active within the theatre world as he was an actor, playwright and manager of a large, successful theatre. His writing is often overlooked because it tends to be eclipsed as a result of his reputation for genius as a performer. However, Garrick was a prolific and popular writer who produced twenty-two original works, as well as numerous adaptations. The majority of his plays were short afterpieces such as Miss in her Teens (1747) and The Lying Valet (1741), but he also wrote three longer plays. In addition he wrote nearly a hundred prologues. Garrick favoured ‘old’ comedy that was popular in the Restoration period as he was opposed to the sentimental comedy that became increasingly popular during the Eighteenth Century. Much of his writing was inspired by or based on French farces.
Love and Marriage: Garrick’s Romantic Life
Garrick had a long running affair with the actress Margaret ‘Peg’ Woffington, whom he met in 1742 when she played Cordelia opposite him in a production of King Lear. The couple never married but they did live together for a period; at first on a house on Bow Street that they shared with Charles Macklin and then in a house on the Strand. It is thought that Garrick entertained thoughts of marrying her and had even gone so far as to purchase a ring. However, Woffington could not be counted on for her fidelity. Her lack of desire to be faithful to Garrick led to the couple’s eventual parting in 1745.
Garrick is rumoured to have had an illegitimate son with the actress Jane Hippisley with whom it is thought he had an affair in 1746/7. Hippisley, who played Biddy Belair in the original production of Miss in her Teens, later changed her name to Mrs Green in, what was thought to be, an attempt to disguise her son’s parentage. Garrick assumed guardianship of the boy, Samuel Cautherley (born in 1747), who went on to make a series of appearances on stage. However, his parentage remains a mystery with historians unable to confirm either Garrick or Hippisley as his parents.
Later Years: Hiatus and Retirement
In 1763 Garrick and his wife, Eva Marie Veigel, embarked on a year long holiday to the continent. During their time abroad the Garrick’s visited France, where Garrick took an interest in the more modern methods of lighting being employed in the Parisian theatres, and Italy. The holiday rejuvenated Garrick, thanks, in no small part, to the reception he received from his foreign fans which no doubt helped to bolster his waning confidence.
On his return to London Garrick returned to the stage to rapturous public reception. However, his return was short lived and he announced his intention to retire from the stage on the 7th March 1776, having already sold his share of the theatre, for £35,000, to Richard Brinsley Sheridan the previous year. During his final season at Drury Lane, Garrick performed in a series of his most famous roles, including Macbeth and Hamlet. The audiences queued for hours to see him with many having to be turned away, including some who had come from abroad expressly to see Garrick perform. His final performance was as Don Felix in a production of Mrs Centlivre’s The Wonder on the 10th June 1776.
Upon retiring Garrick spent most of his time at his house in Hampton entertaining guests and enjoying his leisure time. He used his wealth to help improve his neighbourhood through acts of charity. He also returned to Drury Lane to help with the training of new actors. Garrick left a lasting legacy in terms of acting as he is frequently credited with helping to shape the trend for naturalism on stage. His performances and his consideration of the psychology of characters influenced a generation of actors who would go on to influence for years to come. In this way, Garrick remains an influential and important figure within the theatrical world.
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Hedgcock, F.A. (1912). A Cosmopolitan Actor: David Garrick and his French Friends. London: Stanley Paul and Co.
Pedicord, W. and Bergmann, F. L. (Eds.). (c.1980-1982). The Plays of David Garrick: Volume One, Garrick’s Own Plays, 1740-1766. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press
Thomson, P. (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to British Theatre: 1660-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Thomson, P. Garrick, David (1717–1779),actor and playwright. From The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Available at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10408?docPos=2. [Accessed 1st of February 2013]