David Garrick

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Garrick, David,

1717–79, English actor, manager, and dramatist. He was indisputably the greatest English actor of the 18th cent., and his friendships with Diderot, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and other notables who made up "The Club" resulted in detailed records of his life. Garrick made his formal debut in 1742 as Richard III and was an immediate success. He was noted for his versatility, playing the tragic heroes of contemporary drama as well as Shakespearean roles. His King Lear was especially praised. Although he was short in stature and had a mercurial nature, his straightforward diction and unpretentious demeanor swept the declamatory school from the stage. From 1747 until his retirement in 1776, he was the manager of Drury Lane, where he initiated many reforms, including the concealment of stage lighting (1765) from the audience. He also wrote many plays himself, the most successful being the farces Bon Ton (1775) and Miss in Her Teens (1747); he collaborated with George Colman the elder in writing The Clandestine Marriage (1766).


See his diary, ed. by R. C. Alexander (1928, repr. 1971); his letters, ed. by D. M. Little and G. M. Kahrl (3 vol., 1963); biographies by C. M. A. Lenanton (1958), K. A. Burnim (1961, repr. 1973), F. A. Hedgcock (1912, repr. 1969), G. W. Stone, Jr. and G. M. Kahrl (1979), and A. Kendall (1986); studies by E. P. Stein (1938, repr. 1967), F. M. Parsons (2d ed. 1969), and C. Price (1973).

Garrick, David


Born Feb. 19, 1717, in Hereford; died Jan. 20, 1779, near London. English actor, dramatist, and man of the theater.

Born into a military officer’s family, Garrick spent his childhood and youth in Ireland. From 1737 he lived in London, where for a short time he studied law and worked as a wine merchant. His career as a dramatist began in 1740. In 1741 he played minor roles at Goodman’s Fields Theater, and he gained wide popular recognition after appearing in the role of Richard III (in Shakespeare’s play of that name). In the same year he proved himself as a leading comedy actor in the role of Sharp in his own comedy, The Lying Valet. Garrick began acting at Drury Lane Theater in 1742 and became one of its owners in 1747. (His management helped to make it one of the leading theaters in Western Europe.) He brought together the best actors, formed an ensemble, and held regular rehearsals. He paid particular attention to the staging of a play. Garrick did not allow the audience to be seated on the stage, as was the practice in English theaters up to that time, and he introduced footlights. His stage art was the high point of enlightened realism in the 18th-century English theater. In his performances Garrick achieved harmony of “feeling” and “reason” (in the vocabulary of the Englightenment). His performance of roles was distinguished by original concepts, precision of outline, and development of detail. (However, his contemporaries did not consider him a “rational” actor.) Garrick had a strong, intense temperament.

Among Garrick’s best tragic roles were Richard III, Hamlet, and King Lear (in Shakespeare’s tragedies). His best comic roles included Benedick (Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing), Abel Drugger (Jonson’s The Alchemist), and Sir John Brute (Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife). Garrick did a great deal to popularize Shakespeare’s works. He performed 25 Shakespearean roles, and in 1769 he organized the Shakespeare jubilees at the dramatist’s birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon. In 1776 Garrick sold the Drury Lane Theater to Sheridan and retired from the theater.


Polner, T. David Garrik, ego zhizn’ istsenicheskaia deiatel’nost’. St. Petersburg, 1891.
Mints, N. David Garrik. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
Stupnikov, I. D. Garrik. [Leningrad, 1969.]
Omar, S. David Garrick. London, 1958.


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In 1750, only ten years later, in his prologue for his third season David Garrick was forced to adopt a somewhat different tone from the portentous prologue penned by Dr.