David Garrick (1716-1779)
David Garricks contemporaries felt it would be vanity to describe his acting (Stone and Kahrl 27). Vanity has never stopped Shane Davis from doing anything !
David Garrick was considered to be the most influential and skilled actor of his time. Garrick is credited with revolutionizing the portrayal of character. His concept of experiencing the feelings of the character, is a concept that helped lead 18th-century theatre into a new naturalistic era. It was an approach to acting that was directly at odds with the theatrical philosophy prior to Garricks inception (Stone and Kahrl 35). Garricks innovative style known as naturalism, led the extremely popular and successful actor James Quin to remark ” If this method of Garricks is right, then we are all wrong” ( Cole and Chinoly 131). The style that was so admired and later copied by Garricks peers was a combination of naturalism, classical representation of the passions, and exaggerated physicality.
Garrick was not the originator of naturalism ,that distinction is Charles Mackilins, although he is credited with its success. Pure naturalism can be characterized by Macklins instruction of his players to ignore the cadence of tragedy, but simply speak the passage as you would in common life and with more emotional force (Cole and Chinoly 121). The term used to describe this new style of speech is called broken tones of utterance. It is a method of speech which concentrates more on the emotion in a verse rather than its meter. David Garrick was a opportunistic actor who borrowed from many different acting techniques (Stone and Kahrl 345). Garricks naturalism was concerned more with the feeling of true emotion , the uniqueness of character, combined with the physical representation of the passions.
Representation of the passions was an accepted artistic convention for expressing emotion.Le Brun, a late 17th-century century artist , wrote a “grammar” of the passions from Descartes earlier work. In doing so he gives a formal explanation of the 17th and eventually 18th-century representation of emotion. Le Bruns manual explains that
Contempt is expressed by the eyebrows knit and lowering towards the nose, and at the other end very much elevate; the eye very open, and the pupil in the middle; the nostrils drawing upwards; the mouth shut, and the corners somewhat down, and the upper lip thrust out farther than the upper one. (Le Brun)
Le Bruns descriptions along with many suggestions of mannerisms which should accompany them were reprinted in the acting manuals of the time.(Stone and Kahrl 28). Garrick was well aware of these manuals and incorporated them into his new style of acting . It was Garricks use of exaggeration when portraying a passion that led many of his peers to label him Englands greatest actor.
The thing that set Garrick apart is that he practiced the “sympathetic” technique of acting that can be attributed to the writer Thomas Heywood (Stone and Kahrl 37). The “sympathetic” technique stated that the use of the descriptions of the passions should be varied according to the individual being portrayed (Stone and Kahrl 37). Quins older school of acting made little distinction between a Brutus, a Hamlet, or a Richard III. All of these characters would be portrayed using the universal motions and thus expressing the characters in much the same manner. One of Garricks peers wrote of his versatility saying “The thing that strikes me above all others is the variety in your acting, and your being so totally a different man in Lear, from what you are in Richard” (Cole and Chinoy 132). It was Garricks use of exaggerated characterization to individualize a character which made him famous.
Garricks lively and very physical portrayal of character was noted by many of the great actors of the day. Richard Chamberlin wrote in his memoirs of the time when Garrick met Quin in Rowes The Fair Penitent (1746):
But when, after long and eager expectations, I beheld little Garrick, young and light, and alive in every muscle and feature, come bounding on the stage, and pointing at the wittol Altamont (Lacy Ryan) and the heavy-paced Horatio (Quin) – Heavens, what a transition! It seemed as if a whole century had! Been stepped over in the transition of a single scene (Stone and Kahrl 29).
In fact Garricks physical portrayal of comedic or fop characters was so lively, that later in his career he was challenged by unfounded accusations of homosexuality. He was said to be too effeminate in many of his roles, especially as a cross-dressing John Brute in The Provoked Wife. To save his dignity Garrick began to shy away from characters that had blatantly feminine characteristics (Straub 55).
Garrick was not famous for having a strong voice.His oral recitation was adequate, but not outstanding. John Hill in essay “Understanding, Sensibility, and Fire” writes
We remember the time when Mr. Garrickran himself so out of voice in some of the first scenes in the character of Pierre in Venice Preserved, that he could not be heard afterwards to that great scene in which he reproaches the senate. And when in Richard III he cried out to Richmond, Richard is hoarse with calling the to battle, the audience was so sensible of the truth of the expression, that they could scarce distinguish the sounds that conveyed it to them (Cole and Chinoly 130).
It is in the tonal quality of the voice that Garrick excelled. His use of broken tones of utterance was an innovation to the theatre world of the 18th-century (Burnim 45). Garrick was often accused by his peers that he had very little understanding of stress and how to use it (Burnim 78). It could have been that it was the excellence of his physicality that drew attention away from his improper use of stress. Garricks vocal style was concerned with the characterization rather than the recitation (Stone and Kahrl 256).
Garrick was considered to be the greatest actor of his time largely in part to his ability to individualize the characters he played by combining the philosophies of 17th-century theatre with the innovative method of naturalism. He brought a physicality and characterization to the stage which was unparalleled by any other actor of the day. His exaggerated physical portrayal of character was never overdone and always motivated. Perhaps Garricks most unique innovation was the use of broken tones of utterance to bring a more honest portrayal of character to the stage. A modern day equivalent of Garrick would need the characterization of an Al Pacino combined with the exaggerated physicality of a Jim Carrey. Garricks acting style can be characterized by his versatility, quality of characterization, exaggerated physicality, and the use of broken tones of utterance.
Burnim, Kalman. David Garrick: Director. University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 1961
Cole, Toby and Chinoy,Helen Krich. Actors on Acting. Crown Publishers, Inc.: 1949.
Le Brun, Charles. : Method to Learn to Design the Passions. Trans. John Williams. London. 1734
Stone, George Winchester and George M. Kahrl. David Garrick: A Critical Biography. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. Annotated Knight, Joseph. David Garrick. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., Ltd., 1894
Straub, Kristina. Sexual Suspects: 18th Century players and Sexual Ideology. New Jersey. Princeton University press, 1992