The Jubilee: David Garrick’s ode to Shakespeare, 1769

As we recounted in our earlier blog about David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee held over three days in September 1769, the all too typical British weather meant that the pageant which was to have been the grand finale of the event had to be cancelled. Instead, Garrick turned his pageant into a play, The Jubilee, which premiered a month later at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on the 14th October, running for over ninety performances.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Victoria & Albert Museum.

The comedic actress Frances Abington was among the stars of the day who appeared; she played the Comic Muse, Thalia, a role in which she was depicted by Joshua Reynolds.

Mrs Abington (c1737 - 1815) as The Comic Muse by Joshua Reynolds.
Mrs Abington (c1737 – 1815) as The Comic Muse by Joshua Reynolds; Waddesdon.

The play was based on Garrick’s planned pageant and was also something of a tongue-in-cheek retrospective on the celebrations which had taken place in Stratford when the town had been so crowded with visitors that many had to sleep in their coaches and the persistent rain had led to flooding.

“The Stratford Jubilee was, in October, transferred to Drury-Lane. In order to give it a dramatic form, Garrick invented a comic fable, in which the inferior people of Stratford and the visitors were exhibited with great pleasantry. As it was never published, an exact account is not to be expected. We remember a scene in an inn-yard, with a postchaise standing at the remote end: when a crowd, after much diverting talk, withdrew from the place, a voice was heard from the inside of the chaise. Moody was within; he let down the blind, and, in the character of an Irishman, complained, that not being able to get a lodging, be was obliged to sleep in his chaise. He then came forward amidst bursts of applause; King soon joined him, and they two were the life of the piece. The dialogue throughout was carried on in a vein of humour. The songs that had been heard at Stratford were, occasionally, intermixed; and the whole concluded with a grand procession, in which Shakspeare’s plays were exhibited in succession, with a banner displayed before each of them, and a scene painted on the canvas to mark the play intended. A train of performers, dressed in character, followed the colours, all in dumb shew acting their respective parts. Mrs. Abington, at last, in a triumphal car, represented the Comic Muse. Dr. Arne’s music, the magnificence of the scenery and decorations, and the abilities of the actors, conspired to establish the entertainment in the public opinion in so powerful a manner, that we are assured, by a gentleman who has a collection of the playbills, that it was repeated no less than one hundred times in the course of the season. During the run of the piece, Garrick, on several intermediate nights, ascended a pulpit raised on the stage, and there spoke his Ode to the Memory of Shakspeare in a style of graceful eloquence.

Mr. Garrick delivering his Ode at Drury Lane Theatre on dedicating a building & erecting a statue to Shakespeare
Mr. Garrick delivering his Ode at Drury Lane Theatre on dedicating a building & erecting a statue to Shakespeare. Lewis Walpole Library

Garrick had lost a huge amount of his own money on the jubilee celebrations in Stratford upon Avon, but he recouped his losses and more besides during his play’s run at the Theatre Royal. Despite his losses, he would appear to have been less extravagant than his brother during the celebrations.

During the celebration of Garrick’s Jubilee, his brother George, purchased an inkstand, which the poet is said to have used, and a pair of fringed gloves, which it was assumed he had worn. David Garrick, notwithstanding all his enthusiasm for Shakspeare, was too careful of his purse to part with its contents for reliques, the genuineness of which was so questionable.

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick in His Regalia as Steward of Stratford Jubilee, 1769 by Benjamin Vandergucht
David Garrick in His Regalia as Steward of Stratford Jubilee, 1769 by Benjamin Vandergucht; Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.

All in all, the play proved to be more of a success than the jubilee held in Stratford, at least for David Garrick.

This dramatic piece was revived by Mr. Kemble, on the 23d of April, 1816, exactly two hundred years after the death of Shakespeare, but it was not very favourably received.

The manuscript copy of The Jubilee can be read here.

Quotations from Shakespeariana: plays, Volume 1, 1825

Featured image

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.

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