Internet Shakespeare Editions

Become a FriendSign in

About this text

  • Title: Actors' Interpretations of King John
  • Author: Michael Best

  • Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Michael Best
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Actors' Interpretations of King John

    Garrick and Sheridan

    From Davies, Thomas, Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick, i, 332 (London, 1780).

    Shakespeare's King John was played with great success at Drury Lane (1744). The King was personated by Mr Garrick with very great skill, and unusual energy of action; but it must be confessed that Mrs Cibber, by an uncommon pathetic ardour in speaking, and a surprising dignity of action and deportment, threw every actor in the play at a great distance. This had a greater effect, from her having never before attempted characters where power of voice and action were so greatly requisite to express the passions of rage, anguish, and despair. This tragedy had, on Mrs Cibber's engagement at Covent Garden, been discontinued for several years at Drury Lane; but, soon after she returned to that theatre, Mr Garrick revived it in 1755. He then took the part of the Bastard, and gave the King to Mr Mossop. When the two principal characters of this tragedy were divided between Mr Garrick and Mr Sheridan, the former chose the King, and he actually consented that the Bastard should be Mr Sheridan's part. Secretly he was determined to the contrary; and after making some apology to Mr Sheridan, he endeavoured to persuade him to exchange parts, to which he was extremely averse; indeed, I know not for what reason; for though he well understood the sense of the part, yet there is in the Bastard Falconbridge an exuberant wantonness of humour and an excessively romantic spirit of gallantry which Mr Sheridan could not assume, Nor could Mr Garrick, with all his spirit and art, attain perfectly to the full exhibition of the character; he was so defective in the mechanical part of it, I mean height, look, and sinew, that be was obliged to search carefully for a proper actor to play his half brother, one with a consumptive look and a meagre form, to contrast and set off his own person; and though in this he met with tolerable success, yet still there was an apparent deficiency; nor did the speeches which related to the Bastard's manly form produce the expected effect. It is but justice to the memory of Walker, who was the original actor of Macheath, to say that he performed Shakespeare's Bastard in King John with such native humour, spirited action, and vigorous deportment that, I think, no actor has, since his time, given an equal idea of the part.

    Mr Sheridan was, by continual solicitation of the manager, prevailed upon at last to take the part of King John; and in this compliance, I think, he gained great advantage to himself: the deep tones of his voice, and the vehemence of his action, were well adapted to the turbulent and gloomy passions of John. In the scene with Hubert in the third act his representation of the anxiety and distress of a mind which labours to disclose and is afraid to discover a secret big with death and horror was expressed with the feelings of one who is a master of the human passions. That accurate observer of the players' deficiencies, Churchill, could not withhold his approbation of Sheridan's action in King John, though in his panegyric he threw some ludicrous strokes on his excesses in look and action. The play was acted several nights, and was honoured with the King's command. Sheridan's success in King John heightened Garrick's jealousy, especially when he was informed by a very intimate acquaintance that the King was uncommonly pleased with that actor's representation of the part. This was a bitter cup; and, to make the draught still more unpalatable, upon his asking whether His Majesty approved his playing the Bastard, he was told, without the least compliment to his action, it was imagined that the king thought the character was rather too bold in the drawing, and that the colouring was overcharged and glaring. Mr Garrick, who had been so accustomed to applause, and who of all men living most sensibly felt the neglect of it, was greatly struck with a preference given to another, and which left him out of all consideration; and though the boxes were taken for King John several nights successively, he would never after permit the play to be acted.