The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare's Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745.

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.

Sources

The jubilee [manuscript], 1769by Garrick, David, 1717-1779; Britton, John, 1771-1857, former owner; Waldron, F. G. (Francis Godolphin), 1744-1818, former owner; Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869, former owner

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.

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare's Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745.

The Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769

Between the 6th and 8th of September 1769, the town of Stratford-upon-Avon held the first jubilee celebration commemorating the life of the great playwright, William Shakespeare. The event was organised by David Garrick, who was both an actor and the manager of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, Covent Garden. Garrick had portrayed many of Shakespeare’s best-known characters on the stages of London and of Dublin and so was invited to dedicate a statue of the bard at the new town hall: Garrick had other ideas however and turned the event into a three-day spectacular.

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

The 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, also known as Garrick’s Jubilee, was ostensibly to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth but was held five years too late (Shakespeare was baptised in April 1564). Regardless of the discrepancy in dates, it was hugely popular and helped to fix Shakespeare as England’s national poet.

Ticket for the dinner, ode and ball at the Garrick Jubilee held in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1769 to commemorate the life of William Shakespeare.
Jubilee entrance ticket. Folger Shakespeare Collection.

Stratford-upon-Avon was flooded – a somewhat unfortunate metaphor, as will be seen – with visitors for the duration of the Jubilee. The town’s only inn was fully booked and townspeople made a small fortune in renting out rooms (albeit while grumbling about the inconvenience to their daily lives) but even so, many visitors were forced to sleep in their carriages overnight. A masquerade warehouse had opened in the town, in anticipation of the extravaganza and, a new sight to the townsfolk, sedan chairs had been brought from London and Bath.

Scene at the High Cross, Garrick Jubilee of 1769, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Scene at the High Cross, Garrick Jubilee, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

The celebrations opened on Wednesday 6th September to cannon fire and a breakfast at the town hall. A portrait of Shakespeare by Garrick’s friend Benjamin Wilson hung at one end of the dining room and one of Garrick by Thomas Gainsborough at the other (both portraits were sadly lost in a fire in 1946). At 11 o’clock Dr Thomas Arne’s Oratorio of Judith was performed in the church, featuring, amongst others, the celebrated Mrs Sophia Baddeley.

The actor and theatre manager, David Garrick leaning on a bust of Shakespeare, after Thomas Gainsborough. The original portrait (presented to mark the Garrick Jubilee in 1769) hung in Stratford-upon-Avon town hall but was destroyed by fire in 1946.
David Garrick leaning on a bust of Shakespeare, after Thomas Gainsborough. The original portrait hung in Stratford-upon-Avon town hall but was destroyed by fire in 1946. Folger Shakespeare Library.

After that, attention turned to a specially built wooden structure on the banks of the River Avon, the Jubilee Pavilion or rotunda, where a dinner was held with almost a thousand ladies and gentlemen crammed in at the tables, many more than anticipated. The food was accompanied by the sound of workmen hammering in nails: the rotunda had not been completed in time and work was still ongoing to make it sound. Garrick, ever the showman, carried on regardless and proclaimed the toast while holding a goblet made of mulberry wood ‘cut out of the mulberry tree planted by Shakespeare’. Following the dinner was a ball which was opened by John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset and the Duke of Ancaster’s sister, Lady Mary Greathead.

John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset by Joshua Reynolds, 1769. Knole, National Trust via British Art Studies.
John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset by Joshua Reynolds, 1769. Knole, National Trust via British Art Studies.

The Jubilee, despite Garrick’s best-laid plans, now began to descend into a comedic farce and the typically British weather was to blame. It didn’t just rain, it poured and the pageant and attendant processions through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, with participants dressed as characters from Shakespeare’s plays, had to be abandoned. Instead, after a public breakfast, Garrick delivered an ode in honour of the bard, wearing a medallion of Shakespeare on his breast and brandishing a wand both made, like his goblet, from mulberry wood. In the window frames, were large transparent portraits representing the most popular Shakespearian characters.

Mr. Garrick reciting the ode in honor of Shakespeare at the Jubilee at Stratford, with the musical performers, &c., 1769.
Mr Garrick reciting the ode in honour of Shakespeare at the Jubilee at Stratford, with the musical performers, &c., 1769. Lewis Walpole Library

The evening entertainment was a masquerade ball, held in the rotunda, and a planned firework display. Unfortunately, the masquerade guests had to be carried in, or risk their footwear as they waded ankle-deep through the river water which was rapidly rising, and the roof was discovered to leak in places. Despite this, a good time was had by all, with the guests attired in a myriad of fantastical costumes. James Boswell, newly returned from Corsica, and having just published a memoir of his travels, appeared finely dressed as a Corsican. He subsequently had his picture engraved and published in the London Magazine with a puff-piece of an article written by himself.

One of the most remarkable masks upon this occasion was James Boswell Esq.

The fireworks ended up being little more than damp squibs in the deluge. At the close of the festivities, various masked guests including drunken witches, harlequins, sultans and one Corsican had to wade knee-deep across the meadow on which the rotunda was sited to reach their carriages and beds.

James Boswell in full Corsican dress at the Shakespeare Jubilee, 1769. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
James Boswell in full Corsican dress at the Shakespeare Jubilee, 1769. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

It rained until midday on Friday 8th September. The River Avon had overflowed to such an extent that the rotunda was flooded. All that could be salvaged of the last day’s planned entertainment was an extremely waterlogged horse race on Shottery Meadow but by this time it was too late and many guests had abandoned the Jubilee altogether and were heading as fast as they could on jam-packed roads away from the town. As Boswell noted:

After the joy of the jubilee came the uneasy reflection that I was in a little village in wet weather and knew not how to get away.

The paviliion - or amphitheatre - built on the banks of the River Avon for the Garrick Jubilee in 1769.
The pavilion – or amphitheatre – built on the banks of the River Avon for the Garrick Jubilee in 1769. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust/RSC via The Guardian.

Bizarrely, there had been no performance of a Shakespeare play planned for the event, not even one scene, a fact which garnered much criticism. Referring to the event afterwards as ‘my folly’, Garrick was forced to admit that, although this was an intended omission with the idea that people would discover the bard ‘all around them’ instead of through his plays, this was a glaring error and – coupled with the complete washout of the event – it marked a low point in his career. He also lost a large sum of his own money in staging the event. However, as we shall see in a later blog, all was not yet lost. The redoubtable Garrick had one more trick up his sleeve with which he hoped to salvage both his reputation and the Jubilee celebrations.

 

Sources:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 14th September 1769

Boswell’s Jubilee: against the backdrop of the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, James Boswell’s willpower is tested. Andrew McConnell Stott, 2016 (Lapham’s Quarterly)

‘The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespearean festivals and theatres’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred, ed. Philip Styles (London, 1945), pp. 244-247. British History Online

Featured image:

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