Restoring Shakespeare, Adapting Tate, Killing off Garrick : Staging King Lear on the Post-Restoration London Stages

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Fakulta / Pracoviště MU

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Popis Before William Macready’s 1838 production of King Lear at Covent Garden, the one usually credited for being the true revival of Shakespeare’s text after the more than 150-year hegemony of Nahum Tate’s Restoration version of the play, there had been at least three major attempts to restore Shakespeare’s original text for London audiences, namely David Garrick’s (1756), George Colman’s (1768), and John Philip Kemble’s (1792), none of which, however, survived its producer. In their adaptive efforts, these three great theatre practitioners of their time strove to find the right balance between Renaissance and Restoration aesthetics in order to bring the play into the post-Restoration epoch. Analysing these hybrid versions (that is, adaptations of adaptations) of Shakespeare’s play, it could be easily argued that, despite remaining within the same country and the same city, by the late 18th century, Shakespeare’s text had seen three distinct cultural epochs that influenced the play’s shape and reception. Another major factor, however, that played an important role in shaping King Lear for 18th-century audiences were the personal relationships, animosities and ambitions of the adapters. While the relationship between Colman and Garrick has been thoroughly described (see, for instance, Cunningham’s Shakespeare and Garrick), it has never been satisfactorily explained why Kemble decided to commit, in George C. D. Odell’s words, an “act of vandalism” and reject Garrick’s successful version, replacing it with his own, based largely on the (by then) old-fashioned Tate. The proposal of my paper is that young Kemble first needed to kill off the legacy of his more famous (and arguably more competent) predecessor in order to take over the position of the iconic Shakespearean actor of his generation. Besides the changing aesthetics of the London audiences and the rising cult of Shakespeare in the period, it was, thus, also the cult of actors and directors of the 18th century that, in at least equal measure, contributed to King Lear’s textual and staging traditions, some of whose elements survive even nowadays.
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