David Garrick (19 February 1717-20 January 1779) was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager, and producer. He was born in Hereford, Herefordshire, England. He was educated in Lichfield and then enrolled in Samuel Johnson’s Edial Hall School. Garrick showed an enthusiasm for the theatre very early on and he appeared in a school production around this time in the role of Sergeant Kite in George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. He accompanied Samuel Johnson, briefly his tutor, to London, and set up with his brother in the wine trade before turning to the stage.
His mythological burlesque Lethe was performed at Drury Lane in 1740, and in 1741 he appeared as an actor at Ipswich in Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko. He appeared under the stage name Lyddal to avoid the consternation of his family. He then made a successful London debut as Richard III, a key role, and subsequently proved his abilities in both comic and tragic parts. He then moved on to a number of other roles including Tate’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Pierre in Otway’s Venice Preserv’d as well as comic roles such as Bayes in Buckingham’s The Rehearsal, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Abel Drugger in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.
He wrote a number of farces, including The Lying Valet (1741), Miss in her Teens (1747), A Peep behind the Curtain (1767), and Bon Ton, or High Life above Stairs (1775). He adapted and produced several Shakespeare plays, and collaborated with George Colman the elder in The Clandestine Marriage (1766). In 1747 he became a partner in the management of Drury Lane. He made his last appearance in 1776 when he sold his patent share to Richard Brinsley Sheridan and two others for £35,000. In 1769 he organized a grand ‘Shakespeare Jubilee’ at Stratford-upon-Avon but lost over £2,000 when heavy rain forced him to cancel most of the three-day event. He did however stage a dramatic procession of Shakespeare characters, The Jubilee, successfully. Garrick was also a keen collector of early play texts. In 1773 he was elected a member of Johnson’s Club. Garrick’s brilliance as an actor was celebrated in Churchill’s Rosciad (1761) and contemporaries responded warmly to his imaginative identifications with his characters. He was painted by many artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, and John Zoffany.
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