David Garrick, a sort of jack-of-all-trades when it came to the theatre in the 18th century, is an ideal lens through which to observe the time period. His life time spans an age of important developments in technology and thinking, and through Garrick’s work, he left an imprint on British society and national identity, particularly in regards to Shakespeare. By examining his life and works, one may begin to see just how great an impact he had, and how British national identity came to be so closely tied with the image of Shakespeare
Garrick was born in at the Angel Inn in Hereford on February 19, 1717, to Captain Peter Garrick and his wife. Shortly after his birth, Garrick’s family relocated to Lichfield, where Garrick was raised and attended grammar school (Burnim 2). For his later education, Garrick was sent to Edial Hall with his older brother, under the instruction of Samuel Johnson, who would later become a close friend and travel companion (Burnim 2). After Edial Hall was shut down a mere six months after he began study there, Garrick planned to study law (Twickenham 1). However, after his father’s death and an inheritance from his uncle, he became involved in his family’s wine business, Garrick & Co. Wine Merchants, albeit to little success (Burnim 2). This business often led Garrick into places of entertainment, and he became familiar with the managers for local theatres, and inevitably was pulled into the theatre world (Twickenham 2).
He debued at the Outlaw Theatre in London on October 19th, 1741, playing as Richard III. He was hugely successful and became almost instantaneously popular. William Pitt went so far as to call him “the best actor the English stage had produced”, though his entrance into the theatrical world had been humble, starting only when he had stood in for an actor who had fallen ill. (Burnim 2). His reputation grew rapidly and, after only six years in the theatre, was able to become a co-manager of the Drury Lane theatre with James Lacy in September of 1747 (Burnim 3). Burnim suggests that Garrick was almost totally immersed in his job as manager of the theatre, stating that he was “largely responsible for arranging the repertory and reading, approving and producing new plays.”. Over the course of twenty seven years managing the Drury Lane theatre, Garrick is believed to have played an estimated ninety-six roles and to have appeared on a staggering 2400 nights. He also wrote forty-nine new plays, as well as alterations and adaptations of plays, a large number of which were Shakespeare (Burnim 4).
In 1749, David Garrick married a Viennese dancer, Eva Maria Veigel, and is said to have been fiercely devoted to her. The couple produced no children (Burnim 13). Garrick died in London in 1779, on January 20th, only a few weeks shy of his birthday. His funeral was nothing short of massive, with mourners spanning all the way from the Strand to Westminster Abbey. On February 1, he was buried at Poet’s Corner (Burnim...