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This chapter uses David Garrick’s career-long engagement with Nahum Tate’s King Lear (1681) to demonstrate two points about Restoration Shakespeare. First, it shows how Garrick’s production of Tate’s alteration continued the work undertaken by the late seventeenth-century playwright to fit the Jacobean tragedy to new theatrical contexts. Promptbook evidence and review accounts indicate that Garrick, like Tate and his contemporaries, added music and other special effects to the King Lear story, thus augmenting the already strong multimedia dimensions of the Restoration versions of Shakespeare’s plays. These same sources, however, also indicate how Garrick modified Tate’s own alteration to provide an even greater focus on the monarch, one of this actor-manager’s most famous and most often performed parts. Second, this chapter takes Garrick’s reworking of Tate’s King Lear as an example of how generations of theatre practitioners – including our own – might use the writings of Tate and his contemporaries as a useful intermediary between themselves and Shakespeare’s works.
Built around two visits to Westminster Abbey, this short coda compares early eighteenth-century attitudes to theatrical transitions to William Hazlitt's and Charles Lamb's writing about actors. Both Lamb and Hazlitt emerge as hostile to what I have called the art of transition, as they each denigrate the performance of a character in favour of the study of that figure’s psychological constitution.
This chapter reveals the elaboration of a set of critical priorities, transition prime among them, crystallised by Aaron Hill in the 1730s. Offering what he claimed to be a purified version of pantomime’s techniques for arresting attention, Hill wrote of how actors could become a ‘true FAUSTUS’ for the theatres through transition, creating iconic and dynamic moments of suspension during which they could shift mind and body from one passion to another. Hill’s emphases continue into the time of David Garrick, whose transitions into ‘pensively preparatory attitudes’ were praised as intellectual achievements and blamed as pantomimical tricks. Ultimately, pauses and the transitions that occurred upon them became moments when an actor could be described as asserting their artistic autonomy and the focal point of critical attention. The realisation of Hill’s dreams — a theatre where sophisticated emotion replaced slapstick motion as the key source of spectacle — soon, however, risked becoming a Faustian pact, for an insight into the transitions of a play seemed to demand as much private attention to the page as public engagement with the stage.
King Lear was considered as David Garrick’s most significant part. I argue that this judgement depends on the extent to which this play (following Nahum Tate’s and Garrick’s alterations of Shakespeare’s text) offered a remarkable sequence of contrasting emotions through the performance of madness. The representation of Lear’s insanity required a mastery of the art of transition, yet Garrick’s practice of such an art was not without its challenges. While his critics explored the aesthetic, sociological, and psychological questions of how to perform a king’s madness, performance editions and promptbook markings reveal Garrick’s own efforts to render the part’s transitions with everything from innovative make-up to minute textual editing. Such transitions, and those of Edgar’s pretend madness, ultimately performed an essential function, moderating and so maintaining spectators’ emotional engagement in the Tate-Garrick tragedy. Such moderation is alien to Shakespeare’s play of 1608, and, while the eighteenth-century Lear can tell us much about a celebrated performance in Georgian London, it thus also serves as a critical standpoint for re-evaluating the structures of Jacobean tragedy.
This chapter begins by demonstrating that an attention to transition was a key element in some prominent literary critical writing of the later eighteenth century. I then argue that, within such writing, the understanding of transition evolves from that explored in my earlier chapters. Borrowing a term that Elizabeth Montagu, William Richardson, and their contemporaries make frequent use of, one might call this evolution a shift from dramatic transition to ‘dramatic character’. Montagu does this as she argues for the moral impact of Shakespeare’s incessantly enthralling dramatic characters, and Richardson when he claims that Shakespeare’s dramatic characters are such perfect imitations of life that their passions and transitions might serve as the subjects of philosophical enquiry into human nature. I use Maurice Morgann’s Essay on the Dramatic Character of Falstaff (1777) and David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature (1740) to illuminate the tensions inherent in such a critical standpoint, as efforts to explain moments of spectacular dramatic transition in terms of a character's stable identity risk minimising the spectacle that invited such explanation in the first place.
This chapter considers David Garrick's performance of odes in order to demonstrate both how eighteenth-century attention to transition crossed twenty-first-century modal boundaries and how the recovery of this approach might help us understand anew a form of public poetry that brought together star performers and musical accompaniment. Focusing jointly on two works of 1769, Garrick’s delivery of his Ode to Shakespeare and Daniel Webb’s Observations on the Correspondences between Poetry and Music, I show how transition, as a technique for emphasising the passions through contrast and comparison, aligns the dramatic and lyric modes. This is especially true of the Shakespeare ode, which positions the Elizabethan playwright as both Britain’s national dramatist and Britain’s national poet, a figure who is simultaneously lyric and dramatic through his mastery of the passions. Indeed, Garrick, who incorporated references to his own performances of Macbeth, Hamlet, and Lear into his ode, also might be seen to make the same claim for himself as the pre-eminent interpreter of Shakespeare.
Francis Gentleman recorded that David Garrick’s performance of Thomas Otway's Jaffeir ‘beggars description, by an amazing variety of transitions, tones and picturesque attitudes’. I use Gentleman's commentary to introduce here the concept of transition with respect to three things: theatrical practice, theories of the passions, and the eighteenth-century understanding of the mind in wonder. My argument throughout is that the identification of transitions leads to simultaneous recognition of the iconic and dynamic qualities of an object.
This chapter traces the fortunes of Aaron Hill’s English translation (1735) of Voltaire’s tragedy Zaïre (1732), from its first performance under Hill’s direction outside the patent theatres to David Garrick’s reworking of it at Drury Lane. I show that Zara’s scepticism of established religion and her father’s deathbed proselytising are used by Hill to produce what his friend John Dennis called an ‘enthusiastic’ passion and suggest that Voltaire’s work appealed to Hill for its handling of religious material capable of producing extreme sequences of sublime emotions. At the same time, Hill’s Zara is also an exposition of what Hill described as ‘dramatic passions’. Those who read, saw, or performed Zara could witness the outward marks of many passions and trace on stage and on the page their performance through transition to the very instant. Such opportunities made the play perfect for what Hill called an ‘Experiment’ on English tastes and acting. When Garrick came to revive this experiment in the 1750s, its passions become the property of Garrick himself, as he rewrote sections of the play to favour his character of Lusignan.
Great art is about emotion. In the eighteenth century, and especially for the English stage, critics developed a sensitivity to both the passions of a performance and what they called the transitions between those passions. It was these pivotal transitions, scripted by authors and executed by actors, that could make King Lear beautiful, Hamlet terrifying, Archer hilarious and Zara electrifying. James Harriman-Smith recovers a lost way of appreciating theatre as a set of transitions that produce simultaneously iconic and dynamic spectacles; fascinating moments when anything seems possible. Offering fresh readings and interpretations of Shakespearean and eighteenth-century tragedy, historical acting theory and early character criticism, this volume demonstrates how a concern with transition binds drama to everything, from lyric poetry and Newtonian science, to fine art and sceptical enquiry into the nature of the self.
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