David Garrick in William Shakespeare's Richard III

David Garrick in William Shakespeare's Richard III

Richard III was the role in which David Garrick sprang to fame on 19 October 1741 at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre. He was not even billed by name, but just described as ‘A Gentleman (Who never appeared on any Stage)’, and the play was presented ‘gratis’ (free) in the interval of ‘a concert of vocal and instrumental music’, to get around the licensing laws.

By the time of this mezzotint of 1772, Garrick was established at the top of the theatrical profession. His acting style, so revolutionary to the audience who saw his first Richard, was the new standard. Instead of declaiming the verse in a thunderous, measured chant, he spoke with swift and natural changes of tone and emphasis. Rather than strike solemn poses, he moved quickly and gracefully about the stage. He didn’t school his face to tragic stillness, but allowed his features to illustrate the whole range of his character’s feelings. As an actor and with the changes he made as manager of Drury Lane, Garrick changed the whole face of theatrical performance.