David Garrick's Two <i>Tempests</i> and Shakespeare Adaptation in the London Georgian Theater


  • Kristina Straub Carnegie Mellon University


Georgian theater, reception, opera, Caliban


This essay places David Garrick’s operatic adaptation of The Tempest in the context of a competitive, commercial theater market in the 1750s that was operating at a time of particularly fraught relations between different status-based groups in the theatrical public. This opera was Garrick’s last attempt to adapt Shakespeare into an opera and it failed miserably. Key to understanding this failure are the challenging class politics of managing Garrick’s audience in the 1750s and the unperformability of Caliban in the context of those politics given the character’s association with plebian unruliness. Garrick’s attempt at taming him into a singing sidekick failed to convince as “polite” performance, motivating the theater manager’s return, in the following season, to a shortened version of the original play. The business of the theater had as much to do with Garrick’s decision as his devotion to Shakespeare.

Author Biography

Kristina Straub, Carnegie Mellon University

Kristina Straub is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University where she teaches eighteenth-century British theater, performance, and gender and sexuality studies. Her scholarship includes the monograph Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology, as well as numerous articles on the performance and adaptation of Shakespeare's plays in the eighteenth century. She co-curated "Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and Literary Celebrity" at the Folger Shakespeare Library with Janine Barchas, and has co-edited two innovative, performance-based anthologies of eighteenth-century drama with Misty Anderson and Daniel O'Quinn for Routledge Press. She is currently at work on a new project tentatively titled "Public Knowledge and the Problem of Inclusion in 18th-Century British Commercial Entertainment," and is an enthusiastic member of the R/18 Collective, an international group of scholars working to bring Restoration and 18th-century plays to the 21st-century stage.