Lecture Series - Shakespeare, Garrick & the rise of the "Star" Actor & Actress

March 21, 2021

If you are unable to attend the live session, do not worry - all those who register will automatically be sent copies of the lecture to view in your own time (from around four hours after it takes place).

Following the death of Shakespeare in 1616 and the closure of theatres during the Civil War, Shakespearean performance declined in popularity. With the Restoration of the monarchy, Charles II established two patented companies to present productions in London. Influenced by the European stage, a new style of theatre evolved and although Shakespeare was not always 'top of the bill' his plays still provided great roles for actors and, for the first time, professional actresses. In these two lectures, James Howard will take us on a journey from the late 17th century to the start of the "celebrity" age of performers, epitomised by David Garrick. He will also explore how women made the transition from often dubious moral creatures of the stage to a similar fame and status. We will discover how this new age of star performers helped re-establish the works of Shakespeare and indeed the man himself as the true Bard of British theatre.

Lecture 1 - David Garrick: Bravura & Bardolatry – Tuesday 30 March 2021

David Garrick was the most famous English actor of the eighteenth century, and the most celebrated. He was also a highly successful writer and manager and he was a master of self-promotion . In an age of growing celebrity status he was painted more than any other actor of the age, with famous portraits by Hogarth, Zoffany and Reynolds. He burst on to the stage in 1741 as Richard III and achieved great critical acclaim for his performances but he also succeeded in transforming the role of the actor into a more acceptable career. It was his friend and mentor Samuel Johnson who famously noted that "his profession made him rich and he made his profession respectable." He was also largely responsible for the growing popular status of Shakespeare, culminating in the Stratford Jubilee of 1769, which firmly placed the Bard’s home town on the tourist map.

Lecture 2 - The Shakespearean “Actress”: From Boys to the Female Beauty – Wednesday 31 March

The great female roles in the Shakespeare canon - from Rosalind and Viola, to Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth - were all originally played by men. His roles for young female lovers would have been taken by the boy apprentices and the tradition of cross-dressing was a cultural norm. Only later in the seventeenth century did women work professionally on the London stage and it was many years before the reputation of the ‘actress’ was positively established. The Shakespearean actresses who became popular with audiences alongside their male colleagues such as Garrick gradually established their own celebrity status. Sarah Siddons was arguably the first “star” performer, she carefully guarded her offstage reputation and slowly but surely, the role of the actress gained acceptance and status in society. Later, performers such as Sarah Bernhardt began to push the boundaries of the traditional repertoire playing leading male roles including Hamlet, and by the late nineteenth century Ellen Terry had ensured that the “Heroines of Shakespeare” were firmly in the female canon.

Tudor Shakespeare web  


Lecture Format

You will not need to download any software and the lectures will work in any browser. For the best experience use a desktop or laptop - but it will also work on an iPad or similar tablet. 

An added strength of this format is that should your regular schedule be already busy, it will allow you to watch the presentations at a later time and date.

The cost for the two lecture series is £19.



                    Register for Lectures - 30 & 31 March at 11am


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