The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0710 Tuesday, 16 March 2004
From: Al Magary <
Date: Wednesday, 17 Mar 2004 02:22:40 -0800
Subject: Henry Fielding Charges Colley Cibber with Murder...
The Today in Literature email newsletter (free from
http://www.todayinliterature.com/newsletters.asp) puts occasional
amusement in my inbox. Today's entertainment begins:
"On this day in 1740, writing as Captain Hercules Vinegar, Henry
Fielding summoned poet laureate Colley Cibber to court, charged with the
murder of the English language. Fielding was not only a satiric
playwright and novelist but a lawyer (soon, a Justice of the Peace) and
a notorious wag; his joke would have been popular among London's coffee
house wits, most of whom would know of Fielding's enmity for Cibber, if
not share it. Cibber was a well-known but second-rate writer and actor
in London, most famous for his adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III,
in which there was no 'winter of our discontent' or 'my kingdom for a
horse,' but such Cibberisms as 'Off with his head--so much for
Buckingham!'* It was the only version of the play acted in England for
over 150 years, so popular that attempts to do Shakespeare's original
were booed off the stage.
"Cibber was seen by Fielding and the others--Alexander Pope made Cibber
the dunce-hero of The Dunciad--as a puffed-up, self-promoting, Man of
Literature. In chapter one of Joseph Andrews, written several years
after the murder charge, Fielding takes aim at Cibber's two-volume
autobiography, marveling how it 'was written by the great person
himself, who lived the life he hath recorded, and is by many thought to
have lived such a life only in order to write it.'"
And so forth.
Cibber was a comic actor and wrote prototypical sentimental comedies,
and from 1710 to 1740 was manager and part-owner of the Drury Lane
Theater. His autobiographical _Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley
Cibber, Comedian_ (1740) is a rich source of information on theater of
the period. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
(1907-21) sums up:
"From the time that Pope substituted Cibber for Theobald as hero of the
Dunciad, Cibber has been constantly misrepresented as being a dunce,
whereas his plays are amusing, and he is an admirable dramatic critic.
His worst fault was inordinate vanity; but this, to some extent, was
carried off by the liveliness of his disposition. Johnson was not
friendly to Cibber, but he admitted that An Apology was 'very well
done,' and Horace Walpole calls it 'inimitable.' The book is admirable
as an autobiography, because it displays the whole character of the
writer; the criticism is intelligent and well informed; and the style is
bright and amusing."
The EB, however, notes that while Cibber often exploited old plays, he
was "ashamed" of his Shakespeare adaptations. Nonetheless, his R3 was
the acting version from about 1700 to 1821.
A one-man show, "Apology for the Life of an Actor," by T. Paul Pfeiffer,
has played London, Stratford, and elsewhere recently.
R. H. Barker, Mr. Cibber of Drury Lane (1939)
Leonard R.N. Ashley, Colley Cibber (1965, rev. 1989)
Helene Koon, Colley Cibber: A Biography (1986)
A few links:
The 1911 EB article on Cibber (poorly OCR'd):
Other Cambridge History references:
http://www.bartleby.com/218/0600.html (list of Cibber's works)
An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber, ed. Robert W.
Lowe, 1889; Vol. I & II TOC:
or the entire work:
Cibber's Richard III (illustrated), ed. Tom Dale Keever, 1996:
also at: http://www.r3.org/bookcase/cibber1.html
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