Colley Cibber

Colley Cibber: A Biography

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Colley Cibber
    Book Description:

    Colley Cibber changed the course of the English-speaking theater. One of the most complete theater men in the history of the stage, he fostered the change from drama as the handmaiden of literature to theater as an independent and lively art. In the process, Cibber became one of London's brightest stars, one of its most popular playwrights and, for thirty years, manager of the most important theater in England, Drury Lane.

    Yet above all, Cibber was an actor, and this fact governed his life and career. In his plays, he demonstrated a remarkable awareness of the audience in the playhouse, while the character of a fool, which he created for the stage, gradually became the mask he wore in private life. The man himself achieved fame and wealth and gained powerful friends who gave him the post of Poet Laureate. But the mask and his success brought equally powerful enemies who made him the target of their ridicule and succeeded in destroying his reputation.

    Since then the distorted image created by Pope and Fielding has amused generations of readers, but it does not explain how such a supposed fool remained a favorite with the public throughout his career, had more plays in the repertory than any other contemporary author, successfully managed a major theatrical company, or wrote the best theatrical history of his age. This biography looks at the man behind that distorting mask, his position in his own time, and his contribution to the theater.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5904-1
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    LATE ON a chill January afternoon in 1696, Colley Cibber stood in the wings of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, shivering with excitement. His first play,Love’s Last Shift, was about to open, and he had one of the leading roles. He checked his costume for the twentieth time—his magnificent blond full-bottomed wig, elaborately curled, was a masterpiece of overdone elegance, and his fine new coat with its oversized buttons and extra-long sleeves was perfect. So were his snowy shirt with its thick lace ruffles, his brocaded waistcoat, and his satin kneebreeches, while his immaculate white silk stockings and...

  6. ONE Apprenticeship
    (pp. 5-29)

    NO TRUE Londoner doubts that he lives at the center of the world. Other cities may be larger, more beautiful, or even older, but none has more varied charms. London is a city of contrasts. Ancient stone structures stand between contemporary buildings, narrow winding lanes open suddenly into broad avenues and gracious shady squares; its streets are crowded with people as changeable as its weather, yet it has an underlying sense of permanence. It is a monument of history housing a vital present, a focus of trade and industry, a mecca for the artist and the artisan, the core of...

  7. TWO Journeyman to Master
    (pp. 30-58)

    Love’s Last Shiftwas “the Philosopher’s Stone” that transmuted the age into gold. On the third night, Cibber had the usual “author’s benefit,” for which he received all receipts over the house expenses. His benefit night was crowded with the fashionable, and Drury Lane enjoyed full houses for some time. His parents could see that his faith in himself had been justified, for Caius Gabriel was now permanently in London, and the Shores’ animosity (if, indeed, there had been any) was forgotten in the celebration of his triumph.¹

    And it was a triumph. Cibber was recognized in the coffeehouses and...

  8. THREE The Turning Point
    (pp. 59-89)

    WHEN CIBBER walked out of Drury Lane that June day, he did not know if he would ever return. Since Rich held the lease on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the old Dorset Garden playhouse was being torn down this summer, Queens might very well be his professional home from now on. Vanbrugh’s massive barn was far from ideal, but it was the only alternative, and the day after Rich was silenced, the three managers applied for and received official permission to move the company there.

    Making Queens suitable for plays meant extensive changes, and the summer passed in a whirlwind...

  9. FOUR Under Attack
    (pp. 90-126)

    IN THE BEGINNING, the depth of the animosity was not noticeable. Paper battles were fairly common, usually serving to raise a few hackles, provoke a sharp riposte or two, and earn a few shillings for poverty-stricken hacks before being swept aside by the next one. With success had come attacks that a man of Gibber’s prominence could expect from disappointed playwrights and jealous rivals. He had no reason to think the present assault was any different, and his opinion was buttressed by friends in and out of the theater. The disaffected were clearly in the minority, their voices drowned in...

  10. FIVE Misfortunes
    (pp. 127-153)

    FOPPINGTON wore his new honor gracefully. On the night of his appointment, he visited White’s coffeehouse as usual, chatting inconsequentially until the duke of Argyle asked his opinion on a current political question. Then, as Charles Macklin tells it, he made his dramatic announcement. Cibber “facetiously asked his Grace in what character he should treat, whether in the character of political critick or that of Poet Laureat; for he had the honour of informing them he had received his Fiat that very day from his puissant Patron upon his Grace’s left hand, bowing very low to his Grace of Grafton,...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. SIX Retirement
    (pp. 154-179)

    IN 1740, Cibber’s reputation seemed indestructible. Although he was no longer an integral part of theatrical management, his influence was still strong. On 6 December, each of London’s three theaters was showing one of his plays, and each company contained a member of his family: the Chetwoods at Drury Lane, Anne Boultby at Goodman’s Fields, and Theo at Covent Garden.¹ The year of 1741 began auspiciously enough with “a great Number of the nobility, Foreign Ministers and other Persons of Distinction” listening to Cibber’s ode, set to music by Dr. Greene, at St. James’s.² Let the Tories howl as they...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 180-182)

    WITHIN twenty-four hours, a new contest for the laurel had begun. Henry Jones, William Mason, John Lockman, and Samuel Boyce were mentioned, but there was no great battle as there had been at Cibber’s appointment. Thomas Gray refused the honor, and in the end, William Whitehead had it. His poems were no better than Cibber’s and considerably duller, but they were not attacked.

    Catherine moved quickly to prove her father’s will. She and Jenny had been named coexecutors along with Henry Furness (already deceased), and she undoubtedly saw that the bequests were scrupulously observed. Theo and the widowed Anne Boultby...

    • APPENDIX ONE The Genealogy of the Cibber Family
      (pp. 185-185)
    • APPENDIX TWO Colley Cibber’s Second Letter to Alexander Pope
      (pp. 186-187)
    • APPENDIX THREE Colley Cibber’s Will
      (pp. 188-188)
    • APPENDIX FOUR Chronological List of Cibber’s Roles
      (pp. 189-192)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 193-219)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 220-236)
  17. Index
    (pp. 237-244)