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Restoration and 18th-century Shakespeare

Revision and Adaptation

Parliament closed the London theaters between 1642 and 1660, during the English civil war and Interregnum. When they reopened at the Restoration of Charles II, Shakespeare’s plays were still popular, but many of the new performance scripts bore little resemblance to the plays Shakespeare wrote. The scripts were cut, altered, and amended to appeal to both theatrical practice and literary taste. In order to suit the actor-managers who ran the playhouses and starred in productions, some scripts were revised to focus more attention on main characters. Other plays were altered to fit the literary demands of “poetic justice,” the neoclassical unities, and decorum.

Hopwood. Colley Cibber esqr. Print, 1808.

Colley Cibber (1671–1757) -- pictured above -- was an actor, playwright, and the manager of Drury Lane Theatre. He heavily adapted Shakespeare’s Richard III in 1699, and placed more emphasis on Richard (the character that Cibber himself played in his production). Cibber kept only a quarter of Shakespeare’s lines, added over a thousand of his own, and included lines from seven other Shakespearean plays. Cibber’s version has an engaging theatrical flow, which made it the standard stage version until the early twentieth century. Cibber's influence can still be seen in Laurence Olivier's version of Richard III.


The Theatre Royal, Smock Alley, in Dublin was one of three Restoration theaters opened when Charles II resumed the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1660. The Smock Alley promptbook of Othello pictured to the right shows the play as it would have been performed in the theaters in the 1670s and 80s. Notice the cuts to the script made on these pages. [EXTRA: Hear curator Denise A. Walen discuss the cuts made to the Smock Alley promptbook.]


Next: David Garrick's Adaptations
Drury Lane. Richard III. Promptbook, 1793

Smock Alley. Othello. London, 1663/64


Smock Alley Promptbook

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