Shakespeare in the 18th century was not only widely performed and read, but also considered and celebrated as a genius and literary hero. His works shaped opinions and influenced many science and medicinal theories, visual arts, music, and national identity, as well as theatre and literature practices. In addition, he influenced many writers and the acting style that developed in the 18th century.
He dominated the London stages while these productions became the stepping stones for creating star actors. Because of the Licensing Act of 1737, twenty five percent of plays performed in the London area were by Shakespeare and there would be other playhouses performing the same Shakespeare play on the same night also drawing a decent crowd. (3) One of the largest actor rivalries at the time was between the male leads at Covent Garden, Spranger Barry, and Drury Lane, David Garrick. The performance play scripts differed increasingly from their originals, leading the publication of the texts intended for reading developing rapidly in the opposite direction with an emphasis on rewording the plays to be as close to the original as possible. For example, Nicholas Rowe’s edition of Shakespearean texts, written in 1709, is considered the first true scholarly texts for the plays, which lead to a lot of good 18th century editions, such as Edmund Malone’s Variorum Edition. (3)
His plays became very popular in the 18th century, but became reworked to the tastes of the people. Many people did not like the puns and sexual allusions in his work, so many were removed and then re added by the mid century. He was still thought to have written erratic and too distressing works, so poets had to clean them up to make it more acceptable. For example, David Garrick, one of Britain’s greatest actors of the century, rewrote the ending of Romeo and Juliet to be more romantic by having the lovers turn to each other before they die. He is also recognized for rewriting most of Shakespeare’s original text to the plays we know today. (2) The Shakespeare that was read in the 18th century is not the Shakespeare that we know today though. There were many different translations, readings, and performances in the 1800s of his plays and only a few have made it to modern day. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until the later 19th and early 20th century that there was a serious movement and need to perform his plays and attempt to perform them as they might have looked in Shakespeare’s time. (1)
It is a long-lived belief that the Romantics were the first generation to truly appreciate Shakespeare. Although, many ideas about his work people think to be post-romanticism were actually expressed quite frequently in the 18th, sometimes even the 17th, century. Opinions of Shakespeare will also differ, but Shakespeare’s influence on the 18th century will always stay true that he had a huge influence on many different centuries, especially the 18th. He not only influenced developments on many levels, but also was edited and translated to many different levels of factuality; now resting on the stories and plays we read and perform today.
1. “18th-Century Theatre.” Victoria and Albert Museum, Digital Media Webmaster@vam.ac.uk. Web. 16 July 2014.
2. “Research and Innovation.” Research and Innovation Why Is Shakespeare Still so Popular Comments. 10 June 2009. Web. 18 July 2014.
3. “Shakespeare.” Web. 18 July 2014. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare%27s_reputation
4. “Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century.” Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century by Peter Sabor and Paul Yachnin. Web. 18 July 2014.
5. “Shakespeare Eighteenth Century | English Literature 1700-1830 | Cambridge University Press.” Shakespeare Eighteenth Century | English Literature 1700-1830 | Cambridge University Press. Web. 18 July 2014.