Five Fascinating Facts about David Garrick

The life of actor David Garrick (1717-1779), told through five pieces of interesting trivia

1. He helped to bring a new degree of realism to acting. In his An Essay on Acting (1744), Garrick offered a new take on the art of stage-acting. Of Macbeth’s movement after the murder of Duncan, he wrote, ‘He should at that time be a moving Statue, or indeed a petrify’d Man; his Eyes must Speak, and Tongue be metaphorically Silent; his Ears must be sensible of imaginary Noises, and deaf to the present and audible Voice of his Wife; his Attitudes must be quick and permanent; his Voice articulately trembling, and confusedly intelligible; the Murderer should be seen in every Limb, and yet every Member, at that Instant, should seem separated from his Body, and his Body from his Soul.’ Garrick brought a new level of emotional investment to the role of the actor. He also liked to borrow from real life for the little tics and movements he used for his characters. If he saw a servant scratching his leg, he would make a note of that gesture and use it when playing a character. Such details would help David Garrick as Richard IIIto humanise the character being played, and these little details were undoubtedly part of the key to Garrick’s success.

2. His debut on the London stage was a resounding success. Announced as a gentleman who had never appeared before on the stage, Garrick made his theatrical debut at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane as Richard III in William Shakespeare‘s play of that name in 1741. He became the talk of the town, and his name was virtually made overnight.

3. Garrick had a rather unusual wig for when he played Hamlet. Garrick had a special wig that made Hamlet’s hair stand on end when the ghost of his father appeared.

4. He was one of Dr Johnson’s pupils. Samuel Johnson set up his own school, in his hometown of Lichfield, in the 1730s. Unfortunately he had only three pupils enrol, but, more fortunately, one of those three was future actor David Garrick, who promptly followed his teacher to London to seek his fortune. Both of them ended up becoming pre-eminent in their respective fields: Johnson as a man of letters and Garrick on the London stage.

5. Garrick has a London club and numerous theatres named after him. Garrick’s legacy has been considerable, and he was certainly a celebrated figure in his own lifetime. When he died in 1779, a reported 50,000 people lined up to come and see him lying in state before his funeral.

Image: David Garrick playing Richard III, by William Hogarth, c. 1745; Wikimedia Commons.

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