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1764 - Before the Celebrations

In 1764, Stratford was yet to hold a large celebration dedicated to Shakespeare. At the same time, actors were starting to becoming well-known.

Victoria Joynes
Theophilus Cibber playing Pistol in Henry IV part 2 in 1729
Theophilus Cibber playing Pistol in Henry IV part 2 in 1729

1764 was the year that David Garrick was meant to stage his wonderful Shakespeare jubilee; the first celebration of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. However, the jubilee was delayed until 1769; hence, in 1764, there still had not been an event for the playwright in his home town.

BRU15/17/60-1 Memorandum and subscription list for the establishment of a night watch
BRU15/17/60-1 Memorandum and subscription list for the establishment of a night watch

So what was happening in Stratford in 1764? One document we hold from this year is a memorandum and subscription list for the establishment of a night watch in Stratford. This states that “two persons shall be chosen by the Mayor for that purpose who shall be upon their watch from eleven each night until five in the morning, that two Watch Houses shall be erected and one fixed at the Market Cross, and the other at the Chapel, and that proper watch Coats and other necessaries shall be provided by the Mayor, and other such Rules and orders observed as he shall direct”.

SBT 1994-19/111. A portrait of Edward Rice, attributed to Edward Grubb, about 1760.
SBT 1994-19/111. A portrait of Edward Rice, attributed to Edward Grubb, about 1760.

We also have a painting of the Reverend Edward Rice which is attributed to the Stratford-upon-Avon artist Edward Grubb. Edward Rice was the son of the Reverend David Rice and grandson of the Reverend Bernard Rice. He studied at Trinity College Cambridge in 1713 and became Curate of Stratford-upon-Avon and Vicar of Alderminster where he died in 1792 at age 92. The artist Edward Grubb was born in 1740 and died in 1816. He painted every notable person in Stratford, “from the Parson and the Squire, down to the Beadle and Corporation cook.”* He was a self-taught artist, and although his portraits are a little rough around the edges, they are said to be faithful likenesses. Grubb was also not just a portrait painter, but also an all-round artist who could “design a church, carve a statue, or execute a caricature with equal facility”.* He was a stone-mason and carver by trade and he produced carvings in stone and marble for Holy Trinity Church, as well as some of the neighbouring churches. In 1769, aged 29, Edward Grubb painted The Garrick Jubilee, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1769. It is an important record of the celebration and the way that the town looked at the time.

Theophilus Cibber’s Dissertations on theatrical subjects, a collection of previous works which was published in 1759

One book in our collection from this period is Theophilus Cibber’s Dissertations on theatrical subjects, a collection of previous works which was published in 1759. Theophilus Cibber was an actor and playwright born in London in 1703, the only child of the actor Colley Cibber (1671 – 1757) and his wife Katherine to survive into adulthood. At the age of 17, Theophilus joined his father’s company at the Drury Lane theatre. Theophilus married Jane Johnson in 1725, but after a tumultuous marriage full of infidelity on his part and a reconciliatory play called The Lover written by him and starring her, she died in 1733. On her death, Theophilus vowed that he would never look at another woman. Just over a year later, he married Susannah Mary Arne. Theophilus Cibber managed seasons at Drury Lane and from a young age he proved himself a capable manager.

Cibber’s behaviour as manager often resulted in ongoing quarrels and battles with leading members of the company and other theatre professionals. He indulged in an ongoing power struggle with Charles Macklin, and quarrelled with Kitty Clive in an attempt to take the part of Polly from her in The Beggar’s Opera and give it to his wife, Susannah. In 1739, he was forced to leave Drury Lane and was virtually barred from Covent Garden, too. After an on-off relationship with the theatres, in 1752, he was incarcerated in the debtors’ prison for the third time in his career and was rescued by his long-suffering father. He also wrote books which did not earn him much money, but most of his work did at least make it to print. When his father, Colley Cibber, died in 1757, Theophilus was left £50 (whilst his two daughters received £1000 each!). Theophilus himself was not remembered kindly by many people but he had become famous for some of the characters that he had created onstage, including Ancient Pistol in both parts of Henry IV.

In An Epistle from Mr Theophilus Cibber to David Garrick, Esq., first published in 1755, Theophilus claimed that he had played 160 characters in the course of his career, “in which for the course of many years I have frequently been allow’d to entertain an indulgent Town.” In October 1758, Cibber was on his way to Dublin when the ship which he sailed from was caught in a savage storm and wrecked; he was among those that drowned.

An Epistle from Mr Theophilus Cibber to David Garrick, Esq. First published in 1755,

Sources used:

*Brassington, W.S. (1902) Catalogue of exhibition of the paintings etc. by Edward Grubb and others.

Salmon, E. Cibber, Thophilus. In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) Volume 11