City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
David Garrick (1717-1779)
David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779) was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century, and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson. He appeared in a number of amateur theatricals, and with his appearance in the title role of Shakespeare's Richard III, audiences and managers began to take notice.
Impressed by his portrayals of Richard III and a number of other roles, Charles Fleetwood engaged Garrick for a season at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He remained with the Drury Lane company for the next five years and purchased a share of the theatre with James Lacy. This purchase inaugurated 29 years of Garrick's management of the Drury Lane, during which time it rose to prominence as one of the leading theatres in Europe. At his death, three years after his retirement from Drury Lane and the stage, he was given a lavish public funeral at Westminster Abbey where he was laid to rest in Poets' Corner.
As an actor, Garrick promoted realistic acting that departed from the bombastic style that was entrenched when Garrick first came to prominence. His acting delighted many audiences and his direction of many of the top actors of the English stage influenced their styles as well. Furthermore, during his tenure as manager of Drury Lane, Garrick sought to reform audience behaviour. While this led to some discontent among the theatre-going public, many of his reforms eventually did take hold. In addition to audiences, Garrick sought reform in production matters, bringing an overarching consistency to productions that included set design, costumes and even special effects.
Garrick's influence extended into the literary side of theatre as well. Critics are almost unanimous in saying he was not a good playwright, but his work in bringing Shakespeare to contemporary audiences is notable. In addition, he adapted many older plays in the repertoire that might have been forgotten. These included many plays of the Restoration era. Indeed, while influencing the theatre towards a better standard he also gained a better reputation for theatre folk. This accomplishment led Samuel Johnson to remark that "his profession made him rich and he made his profession respectable."