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David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779) was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century, and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson.
He appeared in a number of amateur theatricals, and with his appearance in the title role of Shakespeare's Richard III, audiences and managers began to take notice. Impressed by his portrayals of Richard III and a number of other roles, Charles Fleetwood engaged Garrick for a season at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
He remained with the Drury Lane company for the next five years and purchased a share of the theatre with James Lacy.
This purchase inaugurated 29 years of Garrick's management of the Drury Lane, during which time it rose to prominence as one of the leading theatres in Europe.
At his death, three years after his retirement from Drury Lane and the stage, he was given a lavish public funeral at Westminster Abbey where he was laid to rest in Poets' Corner. As an actor, Garrick promoted realistic acting that departed from the bombastic style that was entrenched when he first came to prominence.
His acting delighted many audiences and his direction of many of the top actors of the English stage influenced their styles as well.
During his tenure as manager of Drury Lane, Garrick also sought to reform audience behaviour.
While this led to some discontent among the theatre-going public, many of his reforms eventually did take hold.
Garrick also sought reform in production matters, bringing an overarching consistency to productions that included set design, costumes and even special effects. Garrick's influence extended into the literary side of theatre as well.
Critics are almost unanimous in saying he was not a good playwright, but his work in bringing Shakespeare to contemporary audiences is notable.
In addition, he adapted many older plays in the repertoire that might have been forgotten.
These included many plays of the Restoration era.
Indeed, while influencing the theatre towards a better standard he also gained a better reputation for theatre people.
This accomplishment led Samuel Johnson to remark that "his profession made him rich and he made his profession respectable."
Garrick was born at the Angel Inn, Widemarsh Street, Hereford in 1717 into a family with French Huguenot roots in the Languedoc region of Southern France. His grandfather, David Garric, was in Bordeaux in 1685 when the Edict of Nantes was abolished, revoking the rights of Protestants in France. Grandfather Garric fled to London and his son, Peter, who was an infant at the time, was later smuggled out by a nurse when he was deemed old enough to make the journey. David Garric became a British subject upon his arrival in Britain, and later Anglicised his name to Garrick. Some time after David Garrick's birth the family moved to Lichfield, home to his mother. His father, a captain in the army, was a recruiting officer stationed in Gibraltar through most of young Garrick's childhood.
Garrick was the third of seven children and his younger brother, George (1723–1779), served as an aide to David for the remainder of his life. The playwright and actor Charles Dibdin writes that George, when on occasion discovering his brother's absence, would often inquire "Did David want me?" Upon Garrick's death in 1779, it was noted that George died 48 hours later, leading some to speculate that David did indeed want him.
His nephew, Nathan Garrick, married Martha Leigh, daughter of Sir Egerton Leigh, and sister of Sir Samuel Egerton Leigh, author of Munster Abbey; a Romance: Interspersed with Reflections on Virtue and Morality (Edinburgh 1797).
At the age of 19, Garrick, who had been educated at Lichfield Grammar School, enrolled in Samuel Johnson's Edial Hall School. Garrick showed an enthusiasm for the theatre very early on and he appeared in a school production around this time in the role of Sergeant Kite in George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer. After Johnson's school was closed, he and Garrick, now friends, travelled to London together to seek their fortunes. Upon his arrival in 1737, Garrick and his brother became partners in a wine business with operations in both London and Lichfield with David taking the London operation. The business did not flourish, possibly due to Garrick's distraction by amateur theatricals. Playwright Samuel Foote remarked that he had known Garrick to have only three quarts of vinegar in his cellar and still called himself a wine merchant. He was supposedly a pupil at Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School.
In 1740, four years after Garrick's arrival in London, and with his wine business failing, he saw his first play, a satire, Lethe: or Aesop in the Shade, produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Within a year he was appearing professionally, playing small parts at the Goodman's Fields Theatre under the management of Henry Giffard. The Goodman's Fields Theatre had been shuttered by the Licensing Act of 1737 which closed all theatres that did not hold the letters patent and required all plays to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain before performance. Garrick's performances at the theatre were a result of Giffard's help with Garrick's wine business. Giffard had helped Garrick win the business of the Bedford Coffee-house, an establishment patronised by many theatrical and literary people and a location Garrick frequented.