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Day Two: The Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769

On Thursday 7 September 1769 the inhabitants and guests of Stratford-upon-Avon woke to pouring rain. Here Rosalyn Sklar, Museum Collections Officer, details the events of the second day of Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee.

The first day of David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee had gone well. The Jubilites had finally gone to their beds at 3am after the ball. They can't have been pleased when the cannon on the banks of the river Avon started up again at 6am. They were probably even less pleased that it was pouring with rain. Stratford's cobbled streets were running with water and the river was slowly rising, threatening the wooden Rotunda built on its bank. The rain was also damaging the painted screens that had been so prettily illuminated the night before.

Printed handbills were distributed in the rain and some singers even attempted the dawn serenade. The handbills announced an ambitious programme of events. The pageant had been planned for this day. Around 200 people were supposed to take to the streets, over half of them dressed as Shakespeare's characters. The costumes had been brought all the way from London and the props had been specially made in Stratford. This was to be followed by Garrick's Ode which he had written himself. Then there was going to be fireworks and the grand costume, or masquerade, ball. 

The image below shows a print of Shakespeare's Birthplace with crowds of people outside it celebrating the Jubilee. On the right, actors can be seen dressed as Shakespeare's characters. This print is one of many that mixes fact with fiction. The pageant never took place in Stratford but it did take place in the following months on the stage of the Drury Lane Theatre. 

Print showing a fanciful image of the Shakespeare Jubilee, 1769

David Garrick was getting ready at his lodgings at the home of William Hunt, the Town Clerk. He must have been worried about the rain and he had developed a cold. To make matters worse his barber cut his face while shaving him. Garrick's thoughts about the day ahead were probably very gloomy indeed.

9am

A Public Breakfast was again served at the Town Hall with musical accompaniment from the Warwickshire Militia. Meanwhile at Stratford College actors, townspeople and dignitaries were preparing for the pagaent. Famous actors of the day were there alongside children from the town who had been selected to play the fairies and cupids. James Lacy, Garrick's business partner at Drury Lane Theatre, is reported to have said to Garrick 'who the devil, Davy, would venture upon the procession under such a lowering aspect? Sir, all the ostrich feathers will be spoiled, and the property will be damnified five thousand pounds'. Despite the importance of the pageant to the rest of the day's events Garrick had no option but to cancel it. He hurriedly wrote a note to the printer for a handbill announcing the cancellation and saying that the Ode would take place in the Rotunda at 12.

12 noon

It was estimated that 2,000 people crammed into the Rotunda to hear Garrick deliver his Ode to Shakespeare. There were also 100 members of the choir and orchestra, led by Dr Arne. At midday the cannon fired again and Garrick appeared.

A hush must have fallen over the audience as Dr Arne raised his baton. Garrick, who was not a strong singer, was to deliver his Ode as spoken recitative. Simply put, he was going to speak the words to music. Although this is a popular technique today (think of movie trailers and adverts) it was unprecedented at the time. Deelman comments that 'the cold, wet audience was roused to a pitch of enthusiasm that would seem incredible, were it not for the many accounts which survive'. Garrick brought the house down. Dozens of people rushed forward to congratulate him and as people stood to cheer and clap the rain-soaked Rotunda began to tremble and parts of it actually collapsed. Francis Wheler, a local lawyer and Steward of the Court of Records for Stratford, was sitting on one of the benches that collapsed and Lord Carlisle was 'very much hurt by the Fall of a Door'.

The image below shows Garrick standing at the front of the orchestra with singers to either side of him. He is wearing the mulberry wood medallion that was presented to him on the first day. Behind him is the statue of Shakespeare that he had commissioned and would present to the town. This statue can still be seen in its niche on the north wall of Stratford Town Hall.

Garrick Delivering His Ode to Shakespeare, 1769
Garrick delivering his Ode to Shakespeare, 1769

After the applause had died down and the audience had returned to their seats (or what was left of them) Garrick gave a short speech. This was followed by a dramatic back-and-forth between Garrick and a member of the audience who stood up, came down to the orchestra and began to slander and ridicule Shakespeare himself! He continued for some time before sitting down, at which point Garrick came to Shakespeare's defence. This rude audience member was, as most people quickly realised, Tom King - the leading comedian of the Drury Lane Stage. The whole pantomime was scripted and performed to give Garrick an opportunity to fight back against those who had publicly criticised the Jubilee and Garrick himself.

4pm

After a short interlude, where the guests were turned out in the rain so that the Rotunda could be prepared, dinner was served. The size of the company was a little reduced. Some people had left for home after the Ode since the weather showed no signs of improving. But the majority remained and contemporary accounts report that spirits were high. Fashionable Turtle was served at dinner. The animal reportedly weighed 327 pounds. After dinner there was more music and singing.

8pm

The firework display which had been so eagerly anticipated was unfortunately ruined by the rain. This together with the cancellation of the pageant meant that both of the activities that were freely available to all (rather than reserved for ticket holders only) did not take place. Dominico Angelo, the pyrotechnist, valiantly attempted to get the display going and a considerable crowd had gathered to see it. The painted screen, erected on the opposite side of the river to the rotunda, was successfully lit but most of the fireworks would not light and those that did were hampered by the rain so that they were not as impressive as they should have been. Within half an hour the firework team had given up.

Jubilee Rotunda and Firework Screen, 1769
The Rotunda with the firework screen opposite, 1769

11pm

Guests began to arrive for the masquerade ball in the Rotunda - travelling in coaches, carried in Bath chairs or even walking through the rain. Many were inspired by Shakespeare and came as characters from his plays including the trio of witches from Macbeth. There were also a variety of characters such as devils, sailors, shepherdesses and harlequins that were common at such events. Costumes were not in plentiful supply, however. A Mr Jackson of Tavistock Street in London had brought up a great number of them and rented them out at extortionate prices but even so Garrick made in known that 'dominoes' (loose cloaks) and masks would be permitted as well as full costume. As the guests arrived they had to pick their way around the large puddles that had formed near the Rotunda and eventually duck boards were laid down so that the guests wouldn't get their expensive silks wet. Minuets again kicked off the dancing, followed by country dances. 

According to reports many of the Stratford locals not lucky enough to be able to afford tickets gathered outside the Rotunda to watch the guests arriving. As the evening wore on they were rewarded with scenes of elegant ball-goers falling into muddy ditches in the dark.

5.30am

As the sky began to lighten reports reached the remaining revellers that the water level was dangerously high. Water had even begun to seep up through the floorboards of the Rotunda. Just after 6am Garrick announced that everyone must leave and out they went - some wading through the mud, some falling into it, some clambering into nearby carriages. And the rain continued to poor down. As the events of the second day of the Jubilee came to an end many people must have begun to think of escaping the rain and the cramped lodgings for their own homes.


For more information on David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee see Christian Deelman, The Great Shakespeare Jubilee (London, 1964)


Masquerade Costume Notice, 1769
Mr Jackson's advert for masquerade costumes, 1769
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