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"Alterations Innumerable"

London, Drury Lane Theatre. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Promptbook, 23 November 1763

The success of The Fairies with the theater-going public (although not quite with the critics) led Garrick to attempt a revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Work towards this end included collaboration with George Colman. Much of that work is revealed in this preparation copy for a performance held while Garrick was on Grand Tour. In Garrick’s absence Colman came to make “alterations innumerable” to Garrick’s casting suggestions and to their agreed-upon text, according to William Hopkins (Drury Lane’s head prompter from 1760–1780). The production was acted only once, on November 23, 1763. Hopkins reported in his diary that “Upon the whole, never was anything so murder’d in the Speaking.” The St. James Chronicle called it both “flat and uninteresting” and a “heap of rubbish.”

Colman tried to rescue the situation three days later by staging A Fairy Tale as an after-piece farce based on the Dream, which went on to be performed seventeen times that season. Garrick followed the London papers while away and thus knew about both the failure and the somewhat more successful farce; he wrote to his brother George from Naples to “tell Colman that I love him more & more, & thank him most cordially for his fairy tale.” The Folger promptbook and accompanying manuscripts for the Garrick-Colman Midsummer Night’s Dream reveal complex and fascinating details about preparation for performance, prompting calls, casting decisions, cues for effects, and other stage business.

Garrick’s first head prompter Richard Cross made various marginal notations in the printed text of this promptbook. Cross died in 1759, which indicates that Garrick and his company worked on this play for a number of years prior to the opening. Among the notes are:

  • “PS” at the top of page eight indicating that the player of Helena—Miss Young, in the end—is to enter on the “Prompter’s Side,” which at Drury Lane is presumed to be stage left. 
  • A list marked “4” at the top of page nine prompts the Clowns to make the fourth entrance of the Act. The entering Clowns are listed by actor name in the separate manuscript callbook.
  • “x Song” marks three spots where a song should be sung. Many of these were re-used from Garrick’s Fairies and are separately listed in Garrick’s hand in the songlist.

The callbook shown here provides a list broken down by Act, within each Act giving performer names with entrance numbers. From the callbook we learn that when Hermia takes her leave of Lysander and Helena on page nine of the promptbook the Clowns all enter stage left (“PS” for “Prompter’s Side”). Other scenes call for entrances “OP,” meaning “Opposite Prompt” or stage right at Drury Lane. Note that a Mr. [Charles] Blakes has rehearsed the role of Quince, who enters with “papers” according to the Prompt, or with “Paper + parts” in the Callbook.  It is from this prop that Quince will (as Bottom puts it) “read the names of the actors, and so grow to a point.” 

From the songlist in Garrick’s hand we learn that Helena gets a song “O Hermia Fair,” followed shortly by Hermia’s song “Before the time.”  In the left margin Garrick suggests Miss Pope and Mr. Vernon for Helena and Lysander. With dashes he indicates no decisions yet about who should be cast for Hermia and Demetrius. Note also that Lysander and Hermia are each to get “4 Songs, 1 Duett,” with Helena singing “3 Songs.”

The two manuscript cast lists are full of substitutions and differ from the dramatis personae in the 1763 printed edition shown here. For example,  the role of Lysander was in the end played by Mr. [Joseph] Vernon.  But Lysander was first assigned in the manuscript to Mr. [William] O’Brien, who was a favorite with London audiences and had been personally recruited from the Dublin stage in 1758 by Garrick.  Vernon is one of the few actors noted in manuscript that matches the final printed cast list.

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David Garrick. Collection of papers connected with the production of ... A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Manuscript, 1763

David Garrick. Collection of papers connected with the production of ... A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Manuscript, 1763

David Garrick. Collection of papers connected with the production of ... A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Manuscript, 1763

David Garrick. Collection of papers connected with the production of ... A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Manuscript, 1763

William Shakespeare. A midsummer night's dream . . . with alterations. London, 1763.

Additional Information

Miss Young: This may have been Miss Isabella Young (1740/41?-1791), who earlier had played Titania in The Fairies.


Mr. [Charles] Blakes: Blakes was known for farce, pantomime, and his comic characters. He died in May of 1763, so his name does not appear in the final printed cast list for the November 1763 performance.


Miss Pope: Perhaps Miss Jane Pope (1744-1818), a full member of the Drury Lane company from 1759 through 1807, whose over fifty-year career was one of the longest running of the 18th-century English stage.

Mr. Vernon: Joseph Vernon (ca. 1738-1782), known both for his singing voice as well as his acting.  Vernon was hissed off the Drury Lane stage on multiple occasions in his career due to his testimony against his own wife in a scandalous court case.

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