Harmless Pleasure

For the last ten plus  years  David Fangen has organised a trip to the Globe. This year it was an excellent Julius Caesar. As the Globe’s reputation grows its casts get stronger and stronger and the plays react accordingly. Three years ago Adelaide and I went to see an all black cast do the play. Recently we have seen King Lear, Timon of Athens and Coriolanus. What is London without Shakespeare? What is England or the world without Will? Like the Tate without Turner, Buckingham Palace without the Queen and Trafalgar Square without Nelson. Lesser. Much lesser.

I hadnt realised until  I went to the Garrick conference at Kingston Uni yesterday   that until first generationl legal immigrant, Huguenot David Garrick popularised  the bard in the 18th century(100 years after Will’s death) he was just one of several playwrights(Marlow,Fletcher, Johnston) and not all that performed. And  with no national significance. Garrick changed that with performances and  with some rewrites not least of Taming of the Shrew  . As important Garrick(was Garric)  hitched his meteoric career and talent to the bard. Culminating in his famous Shakespeare Jubilee  when all the characters in the plays paraded through Stratford in 1769. Although the actual event was  a wash out the idea caught the imagination and Garrick wrote a play around the theme which he put on at his own theatre in Drury Lane.

His owned theatre, his owned plays, he part owned the  newspapers which puffed his work. He became rich. He also revolutionised the theatre making it a place of dramatic entertainment rather than a  sexual pit where attendance was casual and favours were arranged and haggled over. It made him rich  and famous. His face was more in the papers than even the king. He coined the expression star-of course when referring to himself. But above all he dragged Will Shakespeare from the  wings into the centre of our  national life and  onto the world’s stage.. Where he remains today.

It was said of the 5ft 4 actor that the deaf could hear his actions and the blind could see his voice.Such was Garrick’s fame that when he died in 1777 such was the public’s demand to file past,he lay in state for four days. His one time teacher and old friend from Lichfield (they came to London together in 1736) Dr Johnston said,” The (acting) profession made him rich and he made the profession respectable….his death eclipsed the gaiety of nations and impoverished the public’s stock of  harmless pleasure.”

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