Shakespeare’s Ambassador

I’m going to be speaking soon at a conference in Nice, entitled Musical and Theatrical Circulation in the Long Eighteenth Century. As is traditional now, I’ll post here my proposal, and, all being well, should have a recording of my rehearsal to put up in the nearish future.

Shakespeare’s Ambassador: the Influence and Legacy of David Garrick in France and Germany

This paper argues that English actors, and David Garrick in particular, played a crucial role in instigating intense intellectual engagement with Shakespeare in eighteenth-century France and Germany. Concentrating on the work of Jean-François Ducis in Paris and Friedrich Ludwig Schröder in Hamburg, I wish to present an alternate view of continental anglomania and bardolatry in the period, one often lost when focussing on the essentially textual arguments of Voltaire, Pierre Letourneur, Tieck, and others.

While critics, such as David Golder in his Shakespeare for the Age of Reason, have shown the extent to which Ducis relied on published translations in his adaptations of Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, the influence of Garrick – both through direct correspondence and, later, through the Garrickean style of Talma – has been undervalued. Turning to the English actor as a guide, Ducis found a way of remaining faithful to the spirit of Shakespeare whilst meeting the demands of French theatre convention. As regards Schröder, current research at the University of Hamburg, under the title of Bühne und Bürgertum: Das Hamburger Stadttheater 1770-1850, has begun to unearth the extent to which this playwright and performer was desperate for information about Garrick, regarding both his adaptations and his acting style.

The Franco-German comparisons of this paper, while being sensitive to particular context, will hopefully also trace not just Garrick’s influence but the European legacy of an idea he incarnated: that the actor might have a privileged interpretative position in discussion of a playwright, even one such as Shakespeare. In England, this idea fell from favour with Garrick’s death in 1779, but, I would suggest, variously lived on at the Stadttheater and Comédie française.

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