Like Shakespeare’s “Ghost,” Sir William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, published in 1656, placed Shakespeare in patriotic light. Offering, as the title suggests, an antiquarian treatment of Warwickshire and its history, the midlands region of England that included Stratford-upon-Avon, the town of Shakespeare’s birth–where, as Dugdale writes, “here is at Stratford a fair Bridg of stone, over Avon, containing xiiii arches, with a long Causey at the west end of it, walled on both sides: which Bridg and Causey were so built in H.7 time… One thing more, in reference to this antient Town is obervable, that it gave birth and sepulture to our late famous poet Will. Shakespeare, whose Monument I have interred in my discourse of the Church.”
By the time David Garrick staged his Shakespeare Jubilee, Shakespeare had begun to take on the status of a national icon, distilling in a single figure all of England’s artistic–and even moral–accomplishments. There was, by the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, a very palpable intersection of Shakespeare the artist and Shakespeare the patriot; in his histories and tragedies especially, the unwavering voice of a nation seemed to speak forth.
The printer Luke Hansard was keen to pick up on this association when he printed, in 1803, a folio broadside entitled “Shakespeare’s Ghost, Our Immortal Bard Who Was as Good an Englishman as a Poet.” The implications of Hansard’s word placement are clear; Shakespeare mattered for his national, patriotic allegiances over and above the mere aesthetic accomplishments associated with poetry. The timing, though, is worth bearing in mind; Hansard’s broadside was issued at a moment of some patriotic anxiety, when an invasion by Napoleon had begun to seem a very real threat, and the broadside’s many quotations of Shakespeare’s more patriotic lines culminate in an exhortation to the English people to remain steadfast in their resistance to French forces.
Some more of Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee makes its way into the Remembering Shakespeare exhibit in the form of these additional bits of music, played as Garrick recited the ode in which Shakespeare became “the God of our Idolatry.” From there it was not a long leap to the modern notion of “bardolatry,” the near-worship of Shakespeare as the god of all humanity.
In September of 1769, David Garrick ventured north from London’s Drury Lane Theater to Stratford-upon-Avon to organize a festival–the Shakespeare Jubilee–commemorating the dramatist who had proved so central to his career. “Shakespeare! Shakespeare! Shakespeare!,” exclaimed and repeated, offered Garrick a simple enough motto for the Shakespeare Jubilee, which culminated in the dedication of a new town hall and a statue of Stratford’s most celebrated citizen.
Hoping to enhance the celebrations, Garrick brought with him the Drury Lane Theater’s choir and orchestra to play their songs throughout the Jubilee–the sheet music is pictured below–but especially for a crowning moment of the festival, when Garrick, standing on top of a rotunda beside the river Avon, read aloud “Ode Dedicating a Building and Erecting a Statue to Shakespeare.”
By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Drury Lane Theater had become one of the most successful theater in London, a title that was due to a broad combination of factors, but notable among them was the management of David Garrick. An established Shakespearean actor, Garrick was something of a celebrity in London theater circles, bringing to his roles a distinctive charm and charisma; that actorly verve brought to some of Shakespeare’s roles a memorable energy and force, including stories–hazily documented–of Garrick performing the role of Hamlet with a wig whose hair mechanically stood on end.
But it was Garrick’s involvement from the management side of affairs, beginning in 1747, that was arguably more consequential for the Drury Lane Theater, which had begun to wain in success until Garrick took charge. Central to that revival of Drury Lane were several performances of plays of Shakespeare–performances that, even as they did much to bolster the Drury Theater’s reputation, did perhaps even more to bolster Shakespeare’s own.
As a snapshot of some of Garrick’s day-to-day dealings with Drury Lane, here are some inventories of the books purchased by Garrick for the theater:
As a supplement to Lord Compton’s financial records from yesterday, this volume of receipts from the first season of Drury Lane, a well-established theater in eighteenth century London, offers another look at the financial transactions that passed from hand to hand in the theater business that saw the continued production of Shakespeare’s plays.
Like official royal records from the reigns of King James, the Lord Compton’s account book, dating from the first decades of the eighteenth century, documents some of the theater-going practices that escape us when we focus our attention solely on the plays and poems of the period. In addition to plays, Compton’s account book chronicles expenditures on gambling, cards, and visits to the coffee houses and chocolate houses which had begun to proliferate throughout London.
Long after its publication in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth remained a play of popular appeal, and what it offered audiences of the seventeenth century was not so different from what it offers audiences today: at a grand scale, the seduction of ambition; and at a smaller one, ghosts and witches.
This 1674 edition of Macbeth, coming long after the tragedy’s original publication, sheds some valuable light, through its deviations from the original, on the persistent appeal of the equivocating women who “look not like th’inhabitants o’th’earth / And yet are on’t.” With their entry onto the stage, the witches of the later version speak with an agency that is not quite there in the First Folio version.
Witch 1: Where’s the place?
Witch 2. Upon the Heath.
Witch 3. There we resolve to meet Macbeth…
Witch 1. I come Gray Malkin.
All: Paddock calls!
To us fair weather’s foul, and foul is fair!
Come hover through the foggy, filthy Air—
Compare this to the same passage in the First Folio, with its slightly smaller count of first-person pronouns:
Witch 1: Where the place?
Witch 2: Upon the heath.
Witch 3: There to meet with Macbeth.
Witch 1: I come, Gray Malkin.
All: Paddock calls anon: faire is foule, and foule is faire,
Hover through the fogge and filthie ayre.
Slight as it is, the addition of “To us” and “we resolve” in Clark’s edition of the play adds a measure of agency to the famous sorceresses, making them into more tangible characters, possessing a visible desire to act upon Scotland’s future king and, with it, a psychology to attract Shakespeare’s post-Restoration audiences.
William Davenant’s revision of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s tragedy of ambition, was not provided with a drastically happier ending of the sort that concluded Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear.
But even as the Scottish thane suffers his tragic fate, he is given, in Davenant’s version, a fanfare and theatrical exuberance verging on the operatic; the haunting songs of the original edition proliferate in this 1674 edition of the play, which is additionally complemented by numerous dances, special effects, and other musical numbers. The “weird sisters” even fly, at one point, from the wings of the stage, an addition that highlights the play’s emphasis on the spectacular and the sensational.
For Samuel Pepys, the seventeenth century Parliamentarian, naval administrator, and diarist, Davenant’s more musical version of the tragedy was “one of the best plays for a stage, and variety of dancing and music, that ever I saw.” Pepys was writing of a performance of the play from 1667, but a manuscript of the tragedy, pictured here, documents a later effort to adapt Davenant’s version to a 1674 production.
Among the more elusive and perplexing of Shakespeare’s comedies, Troilus and Cressida shares with King Lear and The Tempest its fair share of late-century revisions; for these, again, we can thank John Dryden, in whose subtitle to the play, “Truth Found Too Late,” we might read an effort to append a more visible moral narrative to the comedy than anything that had been there originally.
Dryden was working in the final decades of the seventeenth century, when a civil war, the beheading of a king, and the monarchy’s Restoration were all still uncomfortably vivid in the English imagination, and when an influx of neo-classical tastes attached itself to a reviving theater industry. The sustained enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s plays at this time, Troilus and Cressida included, reveal the extent of Shakespeare’s compatibility with those shifting tastes; but Dryden’s many revisions of the play–of which the subtitle is just the first–disclose, as well, a more prominent disjunction between Shakespeare’s plays and the historical moment for which Dryden was appropriating them.