Shop  |  Calendar  |  Join  |  Buy Tickets  |  Hamnet  |  Site Rental  |  Press Room  
About UsWhat's OnUse the CollectionDiscover ShakespeareTeach & LearnFolger InstituteSupport Us
Folger Exhibitions
• Past Exhibitions
David Garrick
Online Exhibition

   Sign up for E-news!
   Printer Friendly

Acting Style

David Garrick’s manner of acting and speaking on stage stood in stark contrast to what came before (and was largely established by Thomas Betterton). On today’s stage, Garrick’s innovations would certainly come across as emotional over-acting, but at the time they were revolutionary in their naturalism. Instead of reciting his lines with conventional rhetorical gestures and mannered elocution, as if presenting the text as poetry to the audience, he used tone of voice and facial expressions to seem to inhabit that character. Garrick’s style did much to elevate the profession of acting to an art that requires a spark of genius. Simply imitating other actors by going through the prescribed motions would not do.


Alexander Pope (1688–1744) commented prophetically, “That young man never had his equal, and never will have a rival.”  When Garrick played Lothario opposite James Quin in Nicholas Rowe’s The Fair Penitent in 1746, biographers recalled it as one of the great theatrical events of the century. Richard Cumberland wrote that Garrick was “young and light and alive in every muscle and every feature” as he bounded onto the stage to meet a “heavy-paced” Quin.  “It seemed as if a whole century had been stept over in the transition of a single scene.”  Quin was not unaware that something momentous was taking place, saying “If this young fellow be right, then we have all been wrong.” Other actors, justly famous, acknowledged Garrick’s superiority throughout his life and after. Eva Maria Garrick, who admired Edmund Kean as Richard III, faulted him in another role her husband had made famous.  “Dear Sir,” she wrote, “you cannot act Abel Drugger. Yours, M. Garrick.”  A reply came by return post.  “I know it. Yours, E. Kean.”


Click "Learn More" to jump to a specific topic or "Next" to continue viewing the online exhibition in order.

Old style vs. new
Learn More

Inhabiting the character
Learn More

Elevation of acting
Learn More

Next »

Bookmark and Share   
     Copyright & Policies   |   Sitemap   |   Contact Us   |   About This Site
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Get directions »

Federal Tax ID #04-2103542
PublicReading Room
10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday8:45am to 4:45pm, Monday through Friday
12pm to 5pm, Sunday9am to noon and 1pm to 4:30pm, Saturday
Main: 202 544 4600
Box Office: 202 544 7077
Fax: 202 544 4623