Today in Theatre History: “MY KINGDOM FOR A HORSE”: GARRICK TAKES LONDON BY STORM, THEN SHOOTS THE HORSE–October 19, 1741

Richard III, Act 5, scene 3: Richard, played b...

Garrick in his most famous role, just actin’ naturally.  From Act V, Scene ii, the immortal line: “What?  Wait!  I shot WHICH horse?!”

Having failed as a wine merchant, David Garrick (soon to be the greatest actor on the 18th century English stage) tried his hand at acting.  And it was on this very day in theatre history–October 19, 1741–that the 24 year-old Garrick first appeared on the London stage performing the title role in Richard III.  Having been refused by the two licensed theatres, Garrick was forced to make his London debut at one of the unlicensed establishments, specifically the Goodman’s Fields Theatre.  Coached by the great Charles Macklin, Garrick gave a rare performance, free of the affected declamation typical for the age.  His acting was praised for its subtly and naturalness (though admittedly such comments have been made by many generations of critics about the latest hot actors to hit the stage going as far back as ancient Rome).   Over the next six months, Garrick performed 18 major roles and became the talk of London.  Addison, who saw several early performances, declared Garrick’s talent so great that he “never had his equal as an actor, and he will never have a rival.”  Addison was correct.  Within the year, Garrick was engaged to perform at the Drury Lane.  And the rest, as they say, is history…  Though it is interesting to note that as soon as Garrick made a name for himself on the licensed Drury Lane stage, he and his co-manager, Charles Fleetwood, immediately enforced their letters patent to close down the old Goodman’s Fields Theatre where Garrick got his start.  Now there’s gratitude for you–and how very like ol’ King Richard III to shoot the horse that saved him.

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