THEATRE, CELEBRITY, AND CONTAGION: DAVID GARRICK'S 1742 DUBLIN VISIT AND JAMES R. PLANCHE'S GARRICK FEVER.
This article--which draws fresh attention to both a key celebrity-making moment in Garrick's career and an understudied Victorian work inspired by the actor's Dublin triumph-falls into two parts. The first part unpacks the historical event of Garrick fever, situating it within a longer series of literal and metaphorical intersections between theatre, disease, and affect, neatly explained by Phillip Vannini as the "body's capacity to be moved and be affected, and the body's capacity to move and affect other people and other things" (296). I explore this nexus of concerns encoded in cultural responses to Garrick's highly instrumental career. Planche's Garrick Fever, which creatively engages with this Dublin anecdote, is the focus of the second part of this article. The hero of this one-act play, set during Garrick's second visit to Ireland in 1745, is Decimus Gingle, a strolling actor who impersonates Garrick. As I ultimately argue, Planche's work, which offers useful insight into the ways in which Garrick's fame was historically conceived and articulated, simultaneously takes aim at and effectively defuses longstanding cultural concerns about the theatre as a sphere of contagion by translating Garrick fever into the stuff of farce.
Theatre and Contagion
From the early English theatrical culture of the Elizabethan period through the long eighteenth century and beyond, the theatre was viewed by public authorities with grave suspicion. The theatre represented, or so it was argued, a space of moral and bodily septicity. This perception of the theatre as a hotbed of infection was not necessarily groundless, as any social space that brought people into close proximity with one another could--and did--facilitate the spread of pathogens. Ellen Mackay observes that the conflation of drama and plague occurred in Shakespeare's time in part because both were active in the summer months. (2) Indeed, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries venues such as the Globe Theatre were periodically closed, sometimes for months at a time, during outbreaks of plague. (3) Such measures were more than mere medical precaution; they also reflected the ethos of a religiously motivated antitheatricalism that would eventually result in Parliament's longer-term closure of playhouses from 1642-1660. (4) Even when acting was not directly correlated with disease, moral outrage against the stage has historically deployed the language of infection, with the transmission of feeling between player and spectator that occurs in the playhouse figured in polemics as infection and the actor as a vector of disease, physical and spiritual. (5)
With the Restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II reopened England's theatres in 1660, but closed them temporarily as a practical measure for limiting the spread of disease when London was hit hard with the plague in 1665. Though this was the last significant plague outbreak in England, epidemics of other infectious diseases struck England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. K. David Patterson tracks influenza between 1700 and 1900 and reports that eighteenth-century England experienced three influenza pandemics and a number of epidemics (12). Seasonality continued to be a factor linking disease with theatrical activity, and influenza-in opposition to plague-thrived in the colder seasons. Though summer outbreaks sometimes occurred, influenza epidemics customarily struck during London's winter theatre season, when people were most likely to gather in close quarters lacking adequate ventilation. The flu's short incubation period meant that this communicable disease spread quickly among both audiences and casts. Illnesses that threatened the lives and livelihoods of actors, actresses, and other theatre people were regularly the subject of anecdotes collected in the period's theatrical biographies and histories. Influenza struck Charles Fleetwood's company at the same time that they were to perform Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well with Irish actress Peg Woffington in the role of Helena, a woman doctor; she played opposite actor William Milward, who fell ill during play's run. Blurring the lines between performance and reality, Milward purportedly flattered Woffington with the rhetorical question: "How is it possible for me to be sick when I have such a physician as Mrs. Woffington?" (qtd. in Oman 47). Anecdotes about sick actors are counterbalanced by tales that suggest that actors, so used to feigning sickness on stage, were prone to counterfeiting offstage indisposition. As the manager of Drury Lane, Garrick was reputedly frustrated by his actresses' apparent susceptibility to "Box-Book fever", a theatrical illness that the Dramatic Magazine would later define as a "sham indisposition when the theatre is likely to be ill-attended" (2: 357). Scholarly attention has been paid to Garrick's real sickliness, documented in George W. Stone Jr. and George M. Kahrl's authoritative biography of the actor; an appendix to their study details the chronology of Garrick's diverse physical ailments, largely information gleaned from the actor's personal letters. Acting, particularly in Garrick's emotive, physically animated style, was perceived by eighteenth and nineteenth-century cultural commentators as potentially compromising to the health of the actor. The bodily strain of performing tragic roles such as Hamlet was thus the subject of several theatrical anecdotes that circulated in the Georgian period and beyond. Helen Yallop remarks that "actors were not considered to be likely to be long-livers" and notes that "acting manuals universally supported the notion that acting was hard graft, and would undoubtedly deplete on the body" (78) . (6)
Garrick Fever and Garrick's London-Dublin Ascent
In multiple senses, Garrick's celebrity--produced in the playhouse's atmosphere of intense feeling and sustained by the extension of the stage into the media--was "feverish". Like the influenza itself, the incubation time of Garrick's fame was short. Eighteenth-century writers describe the ascent of Garrick, often hailed as a "prodigy", as miraculous in its rapidity. Contemporary scholars echo the animated language of Garrick's first biographers. In Shakespeare and Garrick, Vanessa Cunningham pronounces that with his early performances, "Garrick had burst to fame, astonishing and thrilling audiences with his transitions from passion to passion" (59). Indeed, when the twenty-four-old unknown played Shakespeare's Richard III, word of the new actor's powers spread quickly; the street outside Goodman's Fields Theatre was clogged with carriages, with young Garrick drawing London playgoers away from Drury Lane and Covent Garden to the unfashionable east end. Famously, Alexander Pope saw Garrick thrice during this run. (7) The talent of this unseasoned actor was spoken of as wondrous. Hannah Prichard complimented Garrick with the observation that "You did more at your first appearance, than anybody did with twenty years' practice" (qtd. in Donohue 146). After the regular London season ended, Garrick, like other actors seeking additional income, left England to perform for a summer theatre season in Dublin. (8) Receiving a generous offer from the Smock Alley Theatre, then managed by Thomas Phillips, Garrick crossed the Irish Sea alongside Peg Woffington and the dancer Barbara Campanini, or La Barbarina. His first Dublin visit, I would contend, is crucial to the story of Garrick's stardom and the development and articulation of celebrity culture in the eighteenth century.
At the time of Garrick's 1742 visit, the Irish metropolis was a hub of financial, social, and cultural activity; the city was experiencing a period of economic growth matched by an increase in population that would shortly render it the eleventh largest city in Europe (Connolly 44). Protestant society centered on Dublin Castle, the seat of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and was enthusiastic about dramatic and musical entertainments. On 13 April 1742, the city saw the premier of George Frideric Handel's Messiah. Popular historian Jonathan Bardon speculates that 1741 and 1742 could be considered "the two most exciting theatrical and musical seasons of the entire century in the Irish capital" (Bardon 119). Theatregoers attended performances at two competing venues: the Aungier Street Theatre, which then held the title of Theatre Royal, and the Smock Alley Theatre, where Garrick was engaged to perform. Though its rival playhouse in Aungier Street boasted the theatrical attractions of James Quin and Susannah Cibber, Garrick's magnetic presence at Smock Alley Theatre drew crowds away. (9) It helped that Garrick's reputation had preceded him, and the actor was vigorously promoted to Irish audiences by John Boyle, Earl of Orrery and Cork. No doubt, enthusiasm for Garrick's summer season was further augmented by his professional and personal connection to Ireland in the person of his mistress Peg Woffington, whom he frequently played against in performances met with "unbounded applause" (Murphy 1: 38). Esther K. Sheldon writes:
The main Dublin attraction that night was Garrick. He appeared about twice weekly for two months (from June 18 to August 19), in such plays as Richard III, Lear, Hamlet, The Orphan, Venice Preserved, Love Makes a Man, and most frequently as Bayes in Tim Rehearsal. His interpretation of this last comic role was especially popular; years after, actors were doing Bayes-a-la-Garrick in Dublin. (29)
Thomas Davies, a bookseller and Garrick's first biographer, is effusive in his description of Garrick's Smock Alley triumph: "His success at Dublin exceeded all imagination, though much was expected from him; he was caressed by all ranks of people, as a prodigy of theatrical accomplishment" (Davies 1: 51).
Metaphoric Garrick fever--that is, fervent enthusiasm for Garrick's acting--erupted among fashionable Dubliners. A scholar prefacing Garrick's published correspondence observes that theatregoers "followed him so ardently at Dublin that the Garrick fever soon became more than mere metaphor. The excessive heat of the summer and the fullness of the houses brought on an epidemic disorder, by which many of his followers lost their lives" (Boaden ix). "Fever" in the period was a catchall for a number of distinct infectious diseases, including influenza and typhus; it was believed that such a condition could be brought on by a number of environmental factors, ranging from "unwholesome air" and "extreme degrees of heat or cold" to "violent emotions of the mind" (Buchan 140-1). The outbreak of fever in Dublin that coincided with Garrick's visit may have been related to the European influenza epidemic of 1742-3, which began in Germany, spread to Italy, and reached the British Isles in April 1742 (Kohn 112). Garrick fever attacked Dublin in August and seems to have caused, at least by some accounts, many deaths in the Irish metropolis. In his two-volume biography of Garrick, Thomas Davies writes that "the frequenters of the theatre" were "carried off in great numbers" (1: 58). Arthur Murphy adds that, as the fever spread beyond the playhouse, "disorder reigned in every quarter of the town" (1: 38). (10)
In William Buchan's Domestic Medicine, which went through multiple editions after its initial publication in 1769, the Scottish physician advised that a fever patient should be "neither allowed to see nor hear anything that may in the least affect or discompose his mind" (144). The connection made between heated feelings and the fevered body--the idea that "every thing that disturbs the imagination increases the disease"--is relevant in light of what made Garrick special as a star actor (Buchan 144). Garrick's fame has been attributed (by his contemporaries as well as later scholars) to his ability to convey an array of feelings, particularly as a sensitive interpreter of Shakespeare's works. He studied the playtexts, reflected on the internal psychology of his characters, speculated on their motivations, and humanized the personae he took on. This careful preparation would not necessarily have amounted to much without the magnetism of his live appearances. Garrick was not one to stand stiffly and woodenly declaim like many of his thespian predecessors. Energetic on the boards, he used his body and stage props to express the inner lives of his characters. He was known for his mobile features and piercing eyes, but also seemed to possess the ineffable quality of the celebrity performer so persuasively discussed by theatre scholar Joseph Roach. "There is no doubt", Roach expansively avers, "that Garrick, as much as or more than any performer in history, had It" (It 142).
Public adulation for actors with expressive bodies is preserved in eighteenth-century print culture--particularly with the rise of theatrical reviewing. Private responses to Garrick's acting are recorded in countless letters and journals, as well as other pieces of eighteenth-century life writing. For example, James Boswell, Samuel Johnson's biographer, saw Garrick's Lear and wrote: "I was fully moved, and I shed abundance of tears" (qtd in Ritchie 163). Though theatres in this period could be noisy, and audiences distracted, theatregoers of the period were nonetheless absorbed by Garrick's stage presence, and their emotions roused by passionate depictions of character that encouraged audience sympathy. This stimulation, potentially dangerous to the body, was perhaps one reason why the literal fever was linked to enthusiasm for Garrick's acting.
Hamlet Fever, Siddons Fever, and Other Celebrity Fevers
Garrick's interpretation of Hamlet, which he debuted during his Dublin visit on 12 August 1742, was key to the mania for the actor throughout the British Isles. Though Garrick was new to this particular role, it was not his first brush with Hamlet, as he had previously played the part of the Ghost in his first season at Goodman's Fields. Having used Dublin as a training ground and test market, the English actor brought back to London something quite valuable: an innovative, dynamic, and deeply compelling Hamlet. Davies explains that "Hamlet was a part which he knew the public expected from him. He had prepared himself for the able discharge of this task, by having very carefully acted it in Ireland" (1: 55). Garrick's Dublin Hamlet instantly became the stuff of legend. The congruence between the Shakespearean play's imagery of infection and the real life spread of fever in the city likely added to the potency of Garrick's reported powers.
Garrick's first visit to Dublin was by all reports, including his own in a letter to his brother Peter from 22 August 1742, a "great Success" (Letters 48). Enjoying several benefit nights of box office profits, he re-crossed the Irish Sea a richer man, armed with an almost unbelievable fable of his own triumph-one part of the myth of Garrick. The young actor had confirmed his power to draw both London and Dublin audiences. Murphy recounts that after this Dublin interlude, "the manager of Drury Lane, was now convinced, that he was not a mere upstart in his profession, but a most extraordinary genius" (Murphy 1: 40). Garrick was engaged at this theatre for the 1742-43 season to compete against Covent Garden's promised London comeback of Mrs Cibber. As Robert D. Hume opines: "His impact on box-office receipts was simply astonishing" (511). (11) When he returned to the English capital, Garrick performed a number of new tragic characters Hamlet being the first. When he debuted this role to Londoners on 16 November 1742, Garrick immediately attracted much critical notice, starting with a detailed letter of both approbation and reproach from a Dublin theatregoer. Garrick developed and refined this role through the course of his career. For example, he took to wearing a mechanical wig, designed to make Hamlet's hair stand on end, to intensify his character's response to the ghost. (Roach, "Garrick, the Ghost and the Machine" 431). The evolution of Hamlet was key to the longevity of theatregoers' excitement for Garrick in Shakespearean tragedy. Garrick continued to play the young Danish prince long after he ceased to be a young man himself, performing this role eighty-seven times, the last very shortly before his retirement in 1776 (Young 37).
Though the feverish intensity of "Garrickomania"--a term used by theatre historian Heather McPherson--cooled somewhat after his first few seasons on the London stage, he had forged a prototype for celebrity formation and conservation that was destined to be replicated later in the century and beyond. It is telling that the same blurred lines between the social and physical that characterised Ireland's bout of Garrick fever in 1742 would, later in the century, inflect the discourse surrounding another theatrical-epidemiological event: Siddons fever or Siddons mania. Sarah Siddons was the most famous tragic actress of the eighteenth century and had a following as ardent as that of Garrick. (12) Her appearance in Edinburgh during the summer of 1784 was linked to Siddons fever, defined in A Dictionary of Medical Science, as "a low fever which prevailed in Edinburgh in the last century, supposed to have originated from the crowding together of persons to see the great actress Mrs. Siddons" (Dunglison 436). In this entry, Siddons fever is also explicitly linked to the outbreak at the centre of this article, Garrick fever. In Romantic Acting and Bardolatry, Celestine Woo discusses reports of audiences' fervid reactions to performances by Siddons; she notes that female theatregoers in particular were afflicted with this starpowered hysteria, apparently "so overcome by Siddons's passionate acting that they swooned during the performance" (123). (13) A late-nineteenth-century periodical The Galaxy pronounces on Siddons's affective power in her tragic roles, part of an extended treatment of "The Stage as it Was". The Galaxy's readers were entertained with several anecdotes about extreme reactions to Siddons in performance, which the writer qualifies with the comment that "The audiences of the olden time seem, however, to have been more impressionable than our own" (Twain 16: 602).
In the centuries since Garrick fever first struck Georgian Dublin, the metaphor of infection has continued to be used in describing enthusiastic responses to other popular British artists. My previous example of Siddons fever notwithstanding, no actual physical illness was necessarily attached to many of these later "diseases", despite the continued linguistic and semantic traffic between illness and celebrity. The nineteenth-century poet Lord Byron, for instance, claimed to have once received a letter reporting that "the French had caught the contagion of Byronism to the highest pitch" (qtd. in Tuite xx). Likewise, in the early 1960s, The Beatles generated a fervour among female youth that older male onlookers found suspect, but they did not necessarily vilify the young musicians. "To adults", explain recent scholars of popular culture, "Beatlemania was an affliction, an 'epidemic', and the Beatles themselves were only the carriers" (Ehrenreich, Hess, and Jacobs 87). Despite the intervening centuries, the phenomena of Garrick fever and Beatlemania are comparable as celebrity-driven cultural fevers with real (or supposed) physical effects.
Garrick & Shakespeare in the Nineteenth Century
While current critical discourse on the theatre tends to discuss the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in isolation, Garrick is significant as a bridging figure between these two periods. His influence extended far beyond personal celebrity in his lifetime. In manifold ways-from instituting more serious rehearsal time to restricting public access to backstage areas-he raised the status of the acting profession. Tiffany Stern notes that Garrick participated in "an extraordinary quantity of teaching" as a theatre manager, instructing individual actors in their roles and directing group rehearsals (264). Engaging with the texts he staged and performed, Garrick modeled an elevated idea of the actor as more than a labouring body Celestine Woo remarks on Garrick's editing and performance practices and how he built up "the notion, or position, of an actor as a serious scholar of Shakespeare and dramatic ideas--a position that John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons were to solidify" (32). (14) Garrick cultivated a public image that allowed him to transcend the Georgian social hierarchies that normally separated performers from aristocrats. (15) He was known for his spotless private life and his social graces and for associating with the titled great, who sometimes invited him to their country houses. Davies effusively remarks in the third edition of his biography of Garrick that "persons of most elevated rank in the kingdom, and the greatest and most renowned of our generals and admirals have dined with Garrick" (2:374). Writing about the Irish stage actor Thomas Sheridan, Sheldon reflects on her subject's indebtedness to Garrick, whose "genius and popularity may have infected Sheridan with a special kind of Garrick fever, Garrick's respectable background had not kept him from the stage; the social position he was winning showed old prejudices weakening" (Sheldon 32). Sheldon posits that Garrick modeled an attractive combination of respectability and popularity that dissolved Sheridan's reservations about entering the profession.
Garrick was treated to--and sometimes himself directed--much adulation in print that confirmed his elevation above the status of mere player. His talent was described in extravagant terms that encouraged their remembrance. Thomas Wilkes in A General View of the Stage (1759) lists the actor's gifts, adding that "if he has his faults, they are like spots in the sun, hid beneath a blaze of majesty, while it dims all things liable to censure, so that they become imperceptible" (263). In Roach's History of the Stage, the account of Garrick's final illness and death on 20 January 1779 is followed by the exclamation that "his genius is immortal, and can never die!" (85). His posthumous celebrity confirms the truth of this sentiment: Garrick figured prominently in the many theatrical histories, biographies, and collections of stage anecdotes that purported to record the cultural activity of the eighteenth-century stage. Fascinatingly, as Amanda Weldy Boyd recently notes in Staging Memory and Materiality in Eighteenth-Century Theatrical Biography, "The earliest Garrick protobiographical attempt, The Juvenile Adventures of David Ranger, from 1756, is actually an initially anonymous novel designed to be taken as a biography" (20). This novel, later attributed to Edward Kimber, follows a fictional young Garrick, whose eventual fame is predicted by observers of his nascent gifts. Early in the book, the boy's tutor effuses: "thou wilt one day shine in a sphere, that thy genius, knowledge, merit and appearance so remarkably fit thee for; yes, I prophesy thou'lt be an extraordinary ornament to thy country and family" (1: 17). Yet in the same year, a Garrick-character named Vaticide (poet-killer) appeared in Thomas Lowndes's The Theatrical Manager (1756), one of a number of topical comic works critiquing the Drury Lane impresario as a tyrant. While Garrick's retirement as well as his death occasioned many effusions on his greatness, in the published but unperformed farce Garrick in the Shades; or, A Peep into Elysium (Anon, 1776) the late actor's ghost is censured for exploiting Shakespeare. (16) Garrick's presence continued to haunt the page and the stage of the nineteenth century. Even a hundred years after his reign over London's theatre scene, Garrick is mentioned in English and Irish periodicals (the Dublin University Magazine, for example, publishing an article "'Roscius' in Ireland" in March 1865) and was even the subject of several imaginative works, including a stage comedy and a novel--both by Thomas William Robertson, both titled David Garrick, and both published in 1864. Robertson drew on a French play called Sullivan (1852) by Anne-Honore-Joseph Duveyrier de Melesville, itself based on the short story, Garrick Medecin (Garrick the Doctor), which was published serially from 1835 to 1836 in Le Monde Dramatique, a French newspaper. The infection of stage celebrity is a central theme in all of these works, as their main plots concern a young woman who has fallen passionately in love with the actor; her father, unhappy with the prospect of a player son-in-law, hires a doctor to cure his daughter of her feverish passion for Garrick, who disguises himself as a footman.
Garrick's memory was also preserved in ways that perpetuated the late actor's sociocultural work in elevating the theatre's status. London's still--extant Garrick Club--key to solidifying Garrick's posthumous fame--was founded with an avowed purpose of regenerating the dramatic arts. Founding club members considered the mid-eighteenth century as the "Age of Garrick", a golden age of theatre that came to an end with the Theatres Act of 1843, which broke the patent theatres' monopoly. In The Garrick Club 1831-1947, a history of the club published in 1948, Guy Boas reflects on the organization's project: "The entertainment profession has at times been held in low esteem. The Garrick Club and these its members have helped to establish a different view-to elicit respect as well as applause for all whose exacting trade is the theatre" (89). This aim became especially significant in the nineteenth century, a heyday for populist dramatic entertainments. Intersecting with the remembrance of Garrick was the ongoing project--of which Garrick was hugely instrumental--of venerating Shakespeare and thereby dignifying English drama. A number of Victorians followed in the steps of Garrick, who had organized the Shakespearean Jubilee of 1769 and the Shakespeare Pageant, an entertainment that ran for ninety performances at Drury Lane (Magdalene; Holland). Nineteenth-century bardolatry was bolstered by a number of organizations and events, including the Shakespeare Society and the New Shakespere Society, established in 1840 and 1874, respectively. The tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth was celebrated in 1864 in Stratford-upon-Avon, a backwater country town before Garrick's event put it on the map.
In the nineteenth century, Garrick's legacy intersected with the cultural project in this period of maintaining Shakespeare's position of cultural preeminence, even while poking fun at this dominance. With developments in printing technology, including the invention of steam-powered presses, Shakespeare's plays and Shakespearean adaptations like Garrick's Florizel and Perdita (1758) were increasingly mass-produced and cheaply purchased. Andrew Murphy considers the this "acceleration of British Shakespeare publishing" (168) as the product of not only technological advances, but major social and cultural shifts, including rapid population growth and educational changes. Creative appreciation of Shakespeare shaped the careers of several members of The Garrick Club, including J. R. Planche and Arthur Sullivan of "Gilbert and Sullivan" fame, the latter composing incidental music to six Shakespearean productions: The Tempest (1861), The Merchant of Venice (1871), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1874), Hennj VIII (1877), and Macbeth (1888) (Jacobs; Sanders). Perhaps unsurprisingly, nineteenth-century dramatists also produced a subgenre of burlesque that irreverently represented Shakespearean plots, characters, and performers. Planche's extravaganza Drama at Home (1844), for example, features characters from Shakespeare's plays attempting to integrate into nineteenth-century England; they become ordinary Londoners engaged in commonplace economic and social activities. In Drama at Home and similar Victorian burlesques, "Shakespeare's characters are socially demoted" (Taylor, "Shakespeare" 138); however, in Garrick Fever, the focus of the remainder of this article, it is the English Roscius Garrick who undergoes a descent, albeit a descent-by-proxy, when the star is replaced by a strolling actor who temporarily assumes his identity.
James Robinson Planche's Garrick Fever
Current academic work on the rise of celebrity in the long eighteenth century and renewed scholarly excitement about Garrick make Planche's long-neglected Garrick Fever particularly attractive as a textual subject. A nineteenth-century farce about an eighteenth-century actor performing a play first published at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Garrick Fever collapses the period boundaries that continue to partition much contemporary scholarship. Garrick and Shakespeare, individually topics of keen Victorian interest, are brought together in this one-act play, which revolves around a comically disastrous staging of Hamlet in rural Ireland. Planche's work is further evidence of the nineteenth century's fascination with Garrick and the nature and effects of stage celebrity, both so apparent in the period's profusion of theatrical biographies and histories. Garrick Fever, I argue, dramatizes various eighteenth-century responses to Garrick's celebrity and Garrick's not uncomplicated nineteenth-century legacy. Moreover, its depiction of the playhouse as a space of affective contagion reflects lingering anxieties about both the sway of the crowd in the theatrical marketplace and the social power of the entertainer. As in Garrick Medecin, this play's possible antecedent, disguise is central, as are concerns about acting as "low" profession. (17) Unlike other fictional works centred on Garrick, however, the famous actor never appears in Planche's farce. Rather, he is successfully impersonated by a strolling player, Decimus Gingle, who shares the famous actor's initials as well as his opportunism. The absence of the true Garrick and the presence of a false one (in the end unmasked) illustrates the ongoing interrogation of artistic and emotional authenticity in the nineteenth-century theatre. (18)
A meta-theatrical play set in a family-run theatre, Garrick Fever gives Victorian audiences a "peep behind the curtain" before and during a special performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet supposedly starring Garrick. As in Garrick's afterpiece A Peep Behind the Curtain, or, Vie New Rehearsal (1767), a courtship plot moves the action of this meta-theatrical play forward. (19) The theatre manager Mr. Hardup is the target of gentle satire directed at the many cultural producers who (not always successfully) sought to deploy Shakespeare as a legitimising cultural force, and his difficulties speak also to the perennial problem of creating and maintaining professional theatre environments outside of major urban centres. Nonetheless, I am most interested in Planche's Garrick Fever as it performs-and neutralises through farce-longstanding concerns about the theatre as a space of contagion, specifically the contagion of the actor-celebrity and generally the perceived physical, moral, and social contagions of theatrical activity. Though Garrick's first visit to Dublin is referenced in Planche's farce-most immediately in the title--Garrick Fever is actually set during the time of the actor's second visit to Dublin in 1745. (20) After several successful seasons at Drury Lane, Garrick found himself at a "career crossroads", which coincided with an invitation to Dublin by theatre manager Thomas Sheridan (Hume 507). (21) Planche moves the scene away from Dublin, however, and into Ballinaslough (an amalgam of the town names Ballinlough and Ballinasloe, both roughly ninety miles west of Dublin). Given the state of the roads in mid-eighteenth-century Ireland, such a location would have been very remote indeed, and performing there would be significant step down in prestige after Garrick's lucrative Dublin run. (22) During this period, as scholars have noted, the playhouses in Cork and Limerick were "the only two provincial theatres of any account in Ireland", and "Garrick gave considerable offence by never leaving Dublin to play in either" (Parsons 287). (23) Planche imagines an unlikely scenario, however, in which Garrick's celebrity presence is promised elsewhere in Ireland and anticipated with all the fervour and fever of his first Dublin visit.
Early in Planche's farce we learn that Mr. Hardup, the putative manager of this obscure Ballinaslough theatre, has sent Garrick a letter inviting him to perform for a week. In a farcical mix-up of correspondence, the wrong letter of reply is sent to Hardup, who mistakenly receives an enthusiastic yes from the revered actor. Garrick Fever therefore opens with Hardup conversing with his prompter as they anxiously wait for the star performer's arrival; they worry that if Garrick does not appear, the house will riot, tearing up benches and pulling down the chandelier (71). (24) In this first exchange, the theatre manager reads out a playbill he has had printed that advertises Garrick's appearance as Hamlet and ends with a note reminding audiences of the Garrick fever of 1742: "Mr. Garrick's attraction at the Theatre Royal Dublin, on this last visit to Ireland, was so great, that the crowded state of the Theatre produced an epidemic which was called the Garrick Fever!" (Planche 70). Clearly the theatre manager is not worried that this reference to a health crisis will scare prospective patrons away; if anything, the hazards of a packed theatre--the known wages of an encounter with theatrical celebrity--have intensified local excitement about Garrick's imminent appearance: Mr. Hardup's boxes are all taken and a mob is waiting for the doors to open. Planche's Garrick Fever thus constellates celebrity enthusiasm with the infection of populism.
Garrick's fame also presents a moral temptation to Decimus Gingle, an itinerant player who is mistaken as the English actor. Gingle is initially reluctant to continue this deception, but his own hunger and the manager's urgent need for Garrick's star presence silence his doubts. Though the other theatrical professionals take Gingle for Garrick, the social difference between a star actor and a strolling player like the protagonist of Planche's farce was considerable. (25) The enduring stigma of the strolling in the nineteenth century is evident in the characterisation of Gingle in Garrick Fever. The peripatetic player drinks too much wine backstage, and thus is comically distinguished for Planche's English audience from the largely abstemious Garrick who was known for his surefooted professionalism and conspicuous respectability. (26) Nonetheless, perennial prejudices against acting--articulated by the character of Major Derrydown in Planche's farce--elide distinctions between the strolling and star performer. Without even knowing the Garrick is really Gingle, Derrydown dismisses the famous actor as merely a "divarting [sic] vagabond" (79).
Yet the Irish playgoers within Planche's play do not suspect that the man drunkenly playing Hamlet at the fictional Theatre Royal, Ballinaslough is an imposter. Garrick Fever is a performance of national stereotypes, both in its depiction of both Gingle's insobriety and the Irish playgoers' feverish and uncritical adulation of Garrick. Planche was likely influenced by extant accounts of Irish men and women showing excessive sentiment at the theatre. The Irish have been long been depicted in English popular culture as more emotionally susceptible and more demonstrative than the English, with Irishmen habitually typecast as either effeminate or hyper-masculine in eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature. The behaviour of Dublin audiences, particularly the "wags" in the gallery, was notorious; it fueled anti-Irish sentiments in England and was "read as evidence of Irish recidivism or barbarity" (Burke 216). (27)
Satirizing stage celebrity, Garrick Fever destabilises the supposed singularity of the star actor's body even as the play underlines it as a locus of fallibility. When Lady O'Leary sees Gingle as the Danish prince, she effusively declares: "What pathos! Nobody but Garrick could speak like that!" and "What an eye he has! It penetrates the soul!" (79). She is accused of being in the last stages of Garrick fever when she declares she will die if she does not see the actor, whom she proclaims as "a great genius!--A man for whom duchesses are dying by the dozens" (79). Planche's farce thereby exposes gendered anxieties about feminine susceptibility to stage celebrity. The affective capacity of the star performer is presented in Garrick Fever as potentially problematic, rendering individual members of the audience ridiculous, particularly insofar as the pathogen of theatrical celebrity erodes class distinctions. When O'Leary is ultimately informed that "Garrick" is Gingle, she cries that she has been "trapped into praising, admiring, a trumpery strolling player-a fellow without fame, figure, voice or any single recommendation for his profession" (81). The ersatz Garrick must apologise before the unruly and demanding spectators and offer to refund their tickets. (28) Though the comeuppance of Planche's "Garrick" may speak to theatregoers' unease with actors' onstage and offstage social mutability, Gingle ultimately serves as the Irish, lower-class scapegoat for the English actor; both disease and cure, he defuses the problem of the actor-as-impostor and ultimately quells, however temporarily, the fever of the playhouse.
Conclusion: Towards a National Theatre
Though Garrick was instrumental in raising the status of the actor in the mid-to-late eighteenth century, Garrick Fever discloses the lingering class tensions and other ideological complexities still bound up with the theatre in the nineteenth century. Both historical farce and topical satire, Planche's play reflects enduring anxieties about theatrical contagion: namely the audience's influence over the theatrical marketplace, the actor's powers of dissimulation, and the ability of celebrity to eliminate critical distance and undermine individual reason, taste, and sometimes even the health of playgoers. The original spread of Garrick fever in Georgian Dublin evinces the emergent power of the actor-celebrity, but also contains the germs of its own critique as viral populism. Like his protagonist Decimus Gingle and the English Roscius himself, Planche often found himself appeasing his audiences, writing immensely popular dramatic works that gave theatregoers exactly what they wanted. Nonetheless, in the latter part of his career Planche directly communicated his concerns about this imbalance of power between creators and consumers in "Suggestions for Establishing an English Art Theatre" (1879), which envisioned a national theatre:
not wholly controlled by the predominant taste of the public [and tending toward] the restoration to the stage of the masterpieces of the great dramatists of the last three centuries ... the production of original plays of the highest class ... and the general cultivation and encouragement of histrionic art and the welfare and respectability of its professors, (qtd. in Roy 2)
Combining popular appeal with scholarly pretensions, the innovator's spirit with commercial conservatism, Planche-and Garrick before him--privileged the values and practices of professional stage work and contributed to the ongoing elevation of the theatrical world in the eyes of English society. In light of the Victorian playwright's efforts to improve the English stage and his professed cultural aims, Garrick Fever can be interpreted as not only representing--but potentially also historicizing and geographically exiling--theatrical contagion to Ireland, to the eighteenth century, and to the innocuous genre of farce.
Heather Ladd is Assistant Professor of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century English literature at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. She has published on fiction and drama in several journals, including ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830, Literary Imagination, Upstart: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies, and Authorship. She is currently co-editing a collection of essays on eighteenth-century theatrical anecdotes.
(1) There is some debate among Garrick's early biographers when this nickname was conferred on him, namely whether it occurred during his first or second visit to Ireland. Evidence suggests the latter, as Garrick's second summer season in 1745 saw an epigram published in a city newspaper linking Garrick with the Roman actor Roscius:
Hearing that aged crows are learned and wise, I ask'd the ancient, famous one, at Warwick, Which of all actors best deserved the prize? Roscius it could not say, but Garrick--Garrick. (Dublin Journal)
(2) Burling notes that before the interregnum, London theatrical companies ran ten to twelve months of the year without a special summer season (21).
(3) In 1584, the Corporation of London famously reasoned to the Royal Privy Council: "To play in plague-time is to increase the plague by infection; to play out of plague time is to draw the plague by the offending of God", which identified disease as the wages of sin, that sin being performing and watching dramatic entertainment (Mullett 99).
(4) Laura Estill argues that the closing of the theatres between 1642 and 1660 changed how English readers engaged with dramatic writing (77).
(5) Daryl Chalk, examining plague imagery in Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton's Timon of Athens, reads this play against early modern discourses linking acting to both disease and dissimulation: "counterfeiting and imitation", notes Chalk "are the words most frequently used to describe the craft of acting in antitheatrical discourse, and both are seen as emphatically plaguy'" (10). For more on disease and drama in the Elizabethan era, see Mallin 62-105 and Elam 19-27.
(6) Similar concerns are still voiced by twenty-first century cultural commentators and even psychologists about the dangers of method acting. See Ohikuare.
(7) This detail is mentioned, for example, in MacGowan and Melnitz: "Pope saw the play three times and declared, 'that young man never had his equal as an actor and will never have a rival'" (242).
(8) Greene and Clarke summarize how financial, social, and artistic connections were sustained between the London and Dublin stage, noting that, "year after year actors like James Quin, David Garrick, and Dennis Delane risks the hazard of the Irish Sea voyage and returned to London in the Autumn after long and lucrative visits" (88).
(9) Garrick's late nineteenth-century biographer Joseph Knight describes the unqualified triumph of Smock Alley over Aungier Street that summer: "Though boasting m Mrs. Cibber a star of no small magnitude, the rival house in Aungier Street found itself deserted, and Mrs. Cibber, after a final appearance in Andromache, quitted the inhospitable city, never to return..." (52).
(10) This universality of infection points to influenza, for "morbidity reports" Patterson notes in his study of influenza epidemics, "stress high attack rates with little to no discrimination as to age, sex, or socioeconomic status" (17).
(11) Hume's main evidence for this claim is found in a prior article, "David Garrick and Box-Office Receipts at Drury Lane in 1742-43" (Milhous and Hume). Milhous and Hume draw their conclusions about Garrick's impact on Drury Lane's financial position using information recorded in documents from the Lord Chamberlain's office (323).
(12) For an example of an imaginative work that draws on the event of Siddons fever, see Cox's reading of De Montfort (pub. 1798) as a metacultural/metadramatic play that explores this phenomenon (53). Planche's Garrick Fever is likewise a metadramatic work, but is far less serious than Joanna Baillie's play in its engagement with comparable ideas about the actor/audience relationship.
(13) Symptoms of Siddons fever included vocalizations such as sighs, groans, and screams among spectators. Sandra Richards posits that "the theatrical vogue for the audience to shriek whenever the heroine did originated with Sarah" (79).
(14) Woo also argues that Garrick's rigorous study of his roles resulted in the fourth wall's strengthening insofar as he "caused the theatre-going experience to be more focused on the characters portrayed" (26). Nonetheless, Garrick's fame, namely his reputation as an actor, which foregrounded the actor's identity and negated some of this apparent boundary-making.
(15) Pruitt, for example, reflects on Garrick's "magnetism among the upper ranks" (5).
(16) David Francis Taylor offers up a strong reading of Garrick in the Shades and a cogent explanation of this kind of attack on Garrick and other commercially-oriented theatre managers of the period" ("Theatre Managers", 79).
(17) I have not been able to find evidence that Planche drew on Garrick Medecin in writing Garrick Fever. Nonetheless, a note in T7ie Vieatre from 1 December 1886 delineates the relationship between Robertson's later play about Garrick and other dramatic works about the eighteenth-century actor, including Garrick Medecin (334).
(18) Planche's depiction of an actor-impostor acknowledges longstanding associations between acting and forgery: the idea of actor as chameleonic impostor that takes advantage of every situation. Both the actor's artistic abilities and his class identity were under scrutiny and pliability on either front was suspect. Garrick's sworn enemy Thaddeus Fitzpatrick wrote letters to the Craftsmen with the intent "to undeceive the public in their opinion of their favourite actor, and to prove that he was a theatrical impostor" (Davies 2:19).
(19) In A Peep Behind the Curtain, the young hero Wilson poses as a strolling player in order to elope with his lover Fanny while her parents watch a rehearsal. Similarly, in Garrick Fever, a strolling actor performs as Garrick in the hopes that his success will earn him the hand of the theatre manager's daughter Polly; this plot point suggests that Planche may have been familiar with Garrick's afterpiece.
(20) This second visit is the subject of an exhaustive investigative article by Milhous and Hume. Also see Note 11.
(21) Garrick agreed to spend the 1745-56 season at Smock Alley acting and comanaging, though Hume's evidence suggests that the young actor probably did not take on managerial duties.
(22) Robert D. Hume's article concludes that Garrick could have made 600 pounds or more during this season. Yet Garrick's refusal to perform in Hardup's theatre in The Garrick Fever should not be taken as a criticism of his stinginess. Garrick could be quite generous. Just ten days before his retirement, Garrick acted a benefit performance for the Theatrical Fund, which assisted old, ill, and aged actors and actresses. See Spratt on Garrick's magnanimity.
(23) Throughout the eighteenth century, provincial theatre was considered as "a site of aesthetic vulgarity" that showcased "strolling habits" (Moody 27).
(24) This moment in Garrick Fever echoes the 1763 half-price riot at Drury Lane, for, during this event, "chandeliers were smashed and benches were torn up" (McPherson, Theatrical Riots 242).
(25) In an early article on actors who travelled through England, Baker C. Herschel observes that "the social opprobrium attached to strollers during the eighteenth century was enormous" (101). After all, strolling actors were legally vagabonds under a series of parliamentary acts from Queen Elizabeth I's reign onward. With lives of financial and social precariousness, such actors experienced not only the artistic struggle for critical appreciation but often also the basic struggle for survival
(26) Acting, intoxication, and disguise are also part of a crucial scene in T. W. Robinson's 1865 novel David Garrick when the character of Garrick impersonates an inebriated footman; this stunt alienates Garrick's beloved Ada, who is appalled that he so credibly embodies such a low character. Ada reflects: "Was this Mr. Garrick? This her Hamlet, her Romeo, her Macbeth? This the well-bred gentleman? This tipsy little villain, his eyes enflamed ... so sensual, so low, so debased ..." (85-86).
(27) Generalisations about the passionate Irish spectator were made in early scholarship on the eighteenth-century stage, the author of Garrick and his Circle (1906) claiming that "The Dublin audiences were such epicures in emotion that if, in a tragedy, the hero made a good end, they paid him the delicate compliment of forthwith ordering down the curtain" (Parsons 286).
(28) Again, this moment of placation seems to harken back to the half-price riots during Garrick's time when the Drury Lane actors Ellis Ackman and John Moody were required to publicly apologise (Stone and Kahrl 153).
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