David Garrick & the fall of bombastic acting

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Garrick as Richard III

Garrick as Richard III

When you think of great Shakespearean actors, who comes to mind? I think of Kenneth Branagh, James Earl Jones (is there a better Lear?), Lawrence Olivier, Helen Mirren and Tom Huddleston. Each of these actors, when on stage, becomes the character they play. We are pulled into the drama precisely because of this. Modern audiences are accustomed to players who bring fiction to life; we would be disappointed by actors who just recited lines. There a term for this type of acting, “phoning it in”. “Hamming it up” is a derogatory term we use for those who do the opposite by overacting with exaggerated body language and lines. But, would you be surprised to learn this wasn’t always the case? Prior to 1740, this type of acting was the norm.

Jack Lynch, author of Becoming Shakespeare, offers readers a look into the history of how Shakespeare came to be regarded as the world’s greatest playwright. Lynch introduces us to the people behind the making of Shakespeare into the Bard we know and love today.

An interesting part of this story is the history of the theater and those who acted in it. We are introduced to several colorful characters whose popularity helped fuel the desire for Shakespeare’s work long after he created them.

One of these colorful characters was David Garrick, the first Shakespearean superstar. Garrick’s rise to fame was a result of his break with contemporary acting. Garrick would change audience expectations, and forever change what would be considered “acting”.

Before Garrick, actors were bombastic and flamboyant in both speech and mannerism. Acting was nothing more than reciting lines as loudly as possible with exaggerated body language. This was due in part because they had to carry their voices across the theater, and partly because being bombastic was considered “acting”. It never occurred to anyone to do anything else.

 

Garrick as Hamlet

Garrick as Hamlet

Garrick arrived on the London stage scene in 1740, having failed in his family’s wine trade. Garrick knew he was no businessman, and had always fantasized about acting. The Goodman’s Fields Theater in London gave him a chance; what we would term an “off-Broadway” theater company today. Garrick was given the star role in Richard III and was an instant hit, or at least, an instant sensation, as his unconventional methods would prove to be controversial.

Garrick abandoned traditional acting methods mentioned above. Instead, he appeared to feel the emotions he was portraying. One contemporary said of his style. “He is the only man on any stage where I have been, who speaks tragedy true and natural”. This “natural” approach to acting would revolutionize London’s theaters forever.

Not all audience members however appreciated this new style. Many felt Garrick was no “actor” and thought him a disservice to the theater. Henry Fielding satirized the uproar in a very funny scene in he novel Tom Jones. In the scene, Jones takes his servant Partridge to see Hamlet. Partridge having never been to the theater, mistakes Hamlet’s reaction to his father’s ghost as a real emotion. Later, when asked about the actor playing Hamlet, Partridge replies, “He’s the best player?! Why I could act as well as he myself. I am sure if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the same manner, and done just as he did”. Partridge points out that the King, a more bombastic player was the real actor on stage.

Thankfully the majority of theatergoers did not agree with Partridge’s sentiments. Garrick won over audiences and because of him we expect our actors to be natural. Garrick and his successors would bring new life into Shakespeare and helped created the emotional Shakespearean tone we know today.

 

For the fun of it.

In the course of a conversation this week with Professor Rosenblum, a noted Shakespearean scholar at the University of North Carolina, the subject of bombastic acting came up. Professor Rosenblum asked me if I had seen an episode of the Blackadder, in which two Shakespearean actors give the prince “acting “lessons. I had not, but eagerly sought it out after being told the episode makes fun of the bombastic style of acting and mentions Garrick. I found this clip, though the sound quality is poor, headphones may be required, so that you my dear readers can see just how far we have come thanks to Garrick and his “natural” style of acting.

 

 

 

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

Jack Lynch, Becoming Shakespeare

6 things you may not know about Stephen King’s work

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It’s been over a month since my last post. Sorry about that. Too many things going on and too much drama to hash out here. I can’t promise I will be back regularly, at least for a few months. I’m in the last lap of grad school, and you know what this means; finishing up a master thesis and profile while taking those last two classes.

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But, as today is Stephen King’s birthday, I thought I’d offer a bit of King trivia. Those who have followed me for a while know he’s one of my favorite authors. To you, my fine and patient friends,

I give you 6 things you may not know about Stephen King’s work.

Kings first professional work was a short story titled The Glass Floor. He sold to “Startling Mystery Stories” in 1967.

King’s first novel, Carrie, was almost lost to history. King’s wife, Tabatha, fished the rough draft out of the garbage and had to convince her husband to finish and submit it to publishers. 33 turned it down. Double Day bought it. The Hardback only sold 13,000 but the paperback sold over a million.

The Stand was originally published in 1978. It was 823 pages long. The original manuscript contained 1152 pages, but the Double Day (his then publisher) was reluctant to release such a large book for fear that the cost of such a large book would result in poor sales. The first printing sold 70,000 copies.

King’s popularity was so great, that in 1990, Double Day consented to have The Stand re-released in the original uncut version. The first printing sold 4000,000 copies. (I have first editions of both)

It has been long rumored that Stephen King used the pseudonym Richard Bachman to prove to his critics that fans weren’t just buying his name, but his writing. In truth, as King explains on his website, StephenKing.com “I did that because back in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept”. http://stephenking.com/faq.html – 1.6

To date, there have been 72 film adaptations (including sequels to sequels) of King’s books. Stanly Kubrick’s The Shining is the most well known and is the one King really, really, doesn’t like.

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The other day the website litreactor.com published an article that tried to explain the plot of King’s books in 140 characters or less. It would have been worth noting here but A: It wasn’t all that clever and B: The author, who obviously never read a King story in his life, included some Dean Koontz novels. Goes to show even a “literary” site can fail. Oh and how epic that fail was! The comment section screamed for the author’s head. Word to the wise, never confuse King with Koontz. King’s rabid fans makes Cujo seem like a lovely puppy by comparison.

To finish this post off, I thought we’d try something fun.  Let’s do a mash up of #explainaSthephenKingbook and #explainabookplotbadly. Because King was an English teacher, let’s call it #ExplainaStephenKingbookpoorly.

The Stand; If reading this book while suffering from a cold you will compelled to make out your will. #ExplainaStephenKingbookpoorly.

It; Proves two points. Clowns are evil and you really shouldn’t go home again.

Cujo; Visiting a mechanic who works from home, and looks like he stepped out of Deliverance isn’t a very good idea. #ExplainaStephenKingbookpoorly.

Carrie; High School really is a bloodbath sport. #ExplainaStephenKingbookpoorly.

Christine; A morality tale on why guys should stop giving their cars female names. #ExplainaStephenKingbookpoorly.

Your turn!

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