Richard III (1699 play)

Richard III (1699 play)


For almost 200 of the play’s 400 year history Shakespeare’s Richard III found its audience in the adaptation of the Colley Cibber, a noted theatre manager, actor and playwright (*6.11.1671 / +11.12.1757) attempted to stage for its first time in 1699. The performance of the new version was a disaster. The Master of the Revels censored the entire first act – an act Cibber had completely redesigned. The playwright published a printed version of the entire play including the problematic act with a short note on its – so the author: unnecessary – suppression in 1700. Ensuing performances beginning in 1704 and gaining continuity after 1710 could eventually risk the entire play in Cibber’s new design. The play became a success with leading eighteenth century actors, such as David Garrick, finding their personal star roles as Cibber’s or Shakespeare’s Richard III. The question of authorship can hardly be settled: some modern catalogues such as ECCO will list the play as Cibber’s work, some, as EEBO, will offer Shakespeare as the author and reduce Cibber’s role to that of an author and theatre expert who simply adapted the play. Cibber himself carefully avoided the full author’s responsibility. His own printed version offered with this edition marked with italics and quotation marks all the passages where Shakespeare had remained as the play’s original author.

If the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries could hardly return to the original Shakespeare, this changed entirely with the late nineteenth century. The Shakespeare renaissance of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries hardly allowed any modifications of Shakespeare’s plots and designs – Cibber’s adaptation became one of the many Shakespeare adaptations the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had provided in a historical inability to stand the rougher Shakespearean originals. Twentieth century literary criticism has systematically neglected Cibber’s version.

The following article will shed light on Cibber’s revision of Shakespeare; it will specifically address the question why the play came to be censored at its first performance in 1699; it will thirdly try to offer a short history of the reception beginning in the year 1700 – including the eighteenth century’s story of success and the play’s sinking into oblivion after its last performances.

Plot Summary

The historical background shows the play in reference to the reigning of King Edward IV before it represents the events of the reigning of King Richard III during the Wars of the Roses. The end of the play reflects the accession of the throne through Richmond, descendent of the Tudor family and future King Henry VII.Shakespeare’s play summarizes actions around the year 1485, although the actual historical events of the play proceeded over a much longer period. The years 1471–1485, during which Richard gained power and was able to rise to the throne of England, are presented to the audience in five acts. The main events take place in London, preferably in the Tower. Other places in the capital are presented, namely different streets, the palace and different houses. Away from London, the camp and battlefield at Bosworth Fields are shown. The first print version of the tragedy that Shakespeare published does neither have a subdivision into acts and scenes nor does it list any places or stage directions, but the reader can conclude this information from the text. Direct information is only given in later editions. Furthermore, the play does not reflect the time frame in an obvious manner. It does not become clear which actions take place at what specific time or how much time actually passes during the play.Shakespeare’s first act begins with Richard secretly aspiring to the throne—during which process he decides to kill anyone he has to in order to become king. For the purpose of ascending to the throne he tricks Lady Anne in the second act into marrying him, even though she knows, he murdered her first husband and her father-in-law.The reigning King Edward dies and leaves the throne waiting for the elder of his two sons Edward and Richard. The third act sees Richard, Duke of Gloucester, left in charge until Edward will come of age. Richard has powerful kinsmen of Edward’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, arrested and executed, which leaves the two young princes unprotected. In the fourth act, Richard has his political allies, particularly his right-hand man, Lord Buckingham, campaign to have himself crowned king. Richard then imprisons the young princes in the Tower and sends hired murderers to kill both children. Rumours spread that a challenger to the throne is gathering forces in France. Whilst Richard still tries to consolidate his powers, his fellowmen are ready to welcome a new ruler. Richard has his wife Anne murdered, so that he can marry young Elizabeth, the daughter of the former Queen Elizabeth and the dead King Edward. Richmond and Richard finally meet in battle at Bosworth Field. The night before the fight Richard is haunted by ghosts of all the people he has killed. In the battle on the following morning, Richard is killed, and Richmond is crowned King Henry VII, which concludes the fifth act. The play is great though very hard to write and essay for!

hakespeare vs. Cibber

Even though Cibber takes less than 800 lines from the original version, he mostly concentrates on what Shakespeare designed in the 1590’s. This is possible because he mainly adapted the plot but redesigned it in order to make it more suitable for the stage in these days, as well as performable in less than two hours. He added different aspects and scenes and therefore created plot extensions. Nevertheless, his adaptation also leaves out several characters and passages in comparison to Shakespeare’s version. In the following, the focus will be on the major changes Cibber conducted.One example for plot extension is the fact that the playwright created a completely new first act and added this to the basic version. This act includes the murder of Henry VI taken from the play Henry VI part 3. (Payne Fisk, 2000: 135) This event is entirely left out in Shakespeare’s version. Parts from Shakespeare’s original first act come to be mentioned in the course of Cibber’s adaptation. One example is the conversation between Lady Anne and Richard after the death of King Henry VI in St. Paul’s Cathedral, which Cibber put into the second act. Moreover, Tressel’s lines’Your Queen yet Lives, and many of your Friends,But for my Lord your Son--- (Act I, Scene 1)

dealing with the report to King Henry of his son’s death are taken from the above named play but cannot be found in the original version. (Kalson, 1963: 258)

Cibber also introduces a new scene between Lady Ann and Richard, during which they are having an argument after being married. This scene does not occur in Shakespeare’s version.

Part of the plot extensions are also newly created monologues. Seven newly designed soliloquies for the main character, which were created in order to be held by a particular actor, namely Samuel Sandford, were added by Cibber. But as Sandford was not part of Drury Lane actors’ repertoire, he was not able to perform the role of Richard. Therefore, Colley Cibber himself played the part in the first performance. (Owen, 2001: 282)

Apart from plot extensions Cibber also felt free to abbreviate the text at miscellaneous parts. Therefore, as one example, he ignores the character of Queen Margaret completely. In the original version she appears in the first act, scene three as well as in act four, scene four. The loss of this character does not have a striking effect on the plot and can therefore be accepted. It actually ensures a less supernatural and more rational appearance of the play, as the character just gives information on actions taking place off stage and offers hints for the audience.

Both versions include the appearance of ghosts of the murdered characters of King Henry, Lady Ann and the two Princes. However, Cibber reduces the interplay between the dead and still living characters by allowing the ghosts to appear only before Richard and not Richmond, the later King Henry VII. (Hughes, 1996: 432) With only Richard and nobody else seeing the ghosts, the King is referred to as being a little wicked. Another changing simplifies the plot. In contrast to Shakespeare’s version the ghosts of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, Hastings – all servants to the Queen – and Richard’s brother Clarence do not emerge on stage.

While Shakespeare keeps violent scenes mainly in the dark, Cibber shows his audience many more violent actions. The later therefore creates a more brutal picture of the main character as well as a more dramatic and entertaining piece of performance.

Whereas Cibber uses a more direct style of presentation and adds for example the scene where Richard and Tyrell talk about the murder of the prince, Shakespeare keeps those scenes off the stage. He never lets the two princes come back to the stage after they have been guided to the Tower. Shakespeare points out Richard’s intentions of killing his two nephews by having the Duke talk to Tyrell about the murder of the two. Tyrell is willing to kill the princes and leaves the stage. He reappears after the deed is done and gives an account of the death of the two. The actual murder is not referred to and Tyrell only mentions that he has seen the dead bodies. In contrast to this, Cibber presents the actual murder on stage. The Duke orders Tyrell to make sure that Edward and Clarence are killed. A scene in the Tower shows the two young lads scared to death in their chamber awaiting their fate. Tyrell assigned Dighton and Forest to fulfil the killing and the two are shown entering the room of the princes. Even though they hesitate, they still murder both with daggers. Tyrell makes sure that everything goes well and the dead bodies are thrown into the river Thames on Richard’s demand. Cibber shows the tyrannical personality of King Richard, whereas Shakespeare does not present bloody deeds on stage.


The adaptation started with a scandal. The entire first act of the play was censored and consequently not performed on stage. However, this censorship only referred to the actual events on stage but not to the written text. The script of Richard III was fully printed and included all censored lines and words. The visualisation on stage was thought to create parallels to the actual life in England. The spectators might become deeply involved in the action on stage because of the contemporary costumes which made scenes look like real life. Furthermore, the showing of brutal scenes was feared to have a bewildering effect on the audience. Another reason for the censorship lies in the fear that the rewritten first act might show parallels to James II and may help to create sympathy for him. (Payne Fisk, 2000: 135) The political fear behind this accusation is very clear but the idea that Cibber used the play to strengthen Jacobite ideas is far fetched.

Cibber wrote in his work “An apology for the life of Colley Cibber” the following lines with regard to censorship.

:But the Master of the Revels, who then licensed all plays for the Stage, assisted this reformation with a more zealous severity than ever. He would strike out whole scenes of a vicious or immoral character, though it were visibly shewn to be reformed, or punished; a severe instance of this kind falling upon my self, may be an excuse for my relating it: when Richard the Third (as I altered it from Shakespeare) came from his hands to the Stage, he expunged the whole first act, without sparing a line of it. This extraordinary stroke of a Sic volo occasioned my applying to him for the small indulgence of a speech or two, that the other four acts might limp on, with a little less absurdity! No! he had no leisure to consider what might be separately inoffensive (Cibber, 1925: 150).

The audience did not rise against the methods of the office of the Master of Revels. Society was used to accept that someone would decide on what they were allowed to see and what would better remain in the dark. The plot which was allowed to be staged may have been cut short by the Masters of Revels but at the same time the playwrights were able to at least publish their work and ensure a future recognition of their ideas and thoughts.

The prohibition to stage the play entirely caused a total failure of the play as well as a financial disaster for Drury Lane Theatre in the first years after the premier. (Hume, 1983: 71)However, the adaptation did not suffer of being a failure for too long. Only about a decade later the play became a tremendous success.


The date of the first performance of Cibber’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard III is not known. But the Dedication of the play (dated February 1699/1700) and the Term Catalogues as well as advertisements, which all appeared in February and March 1699/1700, show that the latest possible month for the production would have been January 1700.

As Lincoln’s Inn Fields was performing the play 1 Henry IV in December 1699, it is very likely that Cibber’s The Tragical History of King Richard III was also performed in the last month of the year 1699 in order to offer an equivalent.

What is known for sure is the fact that Cibber’s play was first staged at Drury Lane Theatre. After the première the play was staged again in February and March 1700 before its performance was discontinued. Cibber’s play was not staged again for the next four years. It made its first reappearance on the stage in 1704 and had to wait again for another six years before being taken back into the performance circuit in 1710. It can be said that the play took at least 10 years to become established. The adaptation therefore did not suffer of being a failure for too long. Only a few years later the play became a huge success, which it remained for nearly two hundred years up to the nineteenth century. This is also reflected in the editions of this play published in the eighteenth century. After 1731 the play was frequently reprinted and published, which shows a huge demand and interest in this play. (For further details see Appendix A).

In between the years 1714 to 1749 it was at least performed for 170 times in different theatres. (Kavenik, 1995: 119) The quantity of performances rose even further after the year 1749. According to the author Kavenik, who concentrated on collecting information on Restoration Drama plays, Richard III was staged for 241 times between 1747 and 1779. This meant an immense increase. Appendix B shows the huge increase of the number of performances of this play with the year 1710. The popularity of the play is also reflected by the presence of the Prince and Princess at the performance on January 27th 1715 in Drury Lane Theatre.

All performances referred to in Appendix B were based on Cibber’s adaptation The Tragical History of Richard III. Nevertheless, different directors tried to return to the original version in the eighteen hundreds. Their attempts were granted with an outcry of society. Macready attempted to reintroduce more of the original text into the play in 1821 but was unsuccessful. The disappointment of the audience forced him to return to Cibber’s more familiar version of the play. Twenty-three years later, Samuel Phelps launched a similar attempt at Sadler’s Well; he was equally unsuccessful. The public opinion did not change until as late as the turn of the eighteenth century. Even then Samuel French stated Cibber’s version of the play as the “acting version” of the plot.

Consequently, the fact that Cibber’s adaptation was performed on stages up to the later half of the nineteenth century underlines this. (Owen, 2001: 282) Later in the century a movement back to the original Shakespearean version took place, which might be due to the people’s arousing interest in original texts. From this point on Cibber’s adaptation vanished from the stages and also from people’s minds. This situation lasts up to today.

It took two centuries to change critical and audience opinion and to make a staging of the original script possible again. The once discredited original now rules the stage unchallenged. Cibber's version, which was the most oft-produced "Shakespeare" play in nineteenth century America, cannot be found on stage any longer. Some directors thought it a good idea to preserve some of Cibber’s most famous lines, such as "Off with his head! So much for Buckingham.", (act four, last scene) which fit into the original version quiet nicely.

Famous actors

During the middle of the eighteenth century the actor David Garrick began to establish himself at the London stages and later on became one of the most widely known actors for the role of Richard III in the year 1741. He was also portrayed in what later became his most famous role. The painting of David Garrick in the role of Richard III became one of the best known images of eighteenth century theatrical world.

Nevertheless, his career as an actor found its historic triumph at Goodman’s Field on October 19th 1741, where the historical play The Life and Death of King Richard III was staged. The role of King Richard III is the one he was even portrayed in. The artist William Hogarth portrayed the actor in 1746 as Mr. Garrick in the Character of Richard the 3rd [caption title] . [London] : Painted by Wm. Hogarth [&] Engraved by Wm. Hogarth & C [harles] Grignion, 1746. The original painting is slightly larger than 6 x 8 feet.

The painting shows the actor in his most famous scene (Act V, scene 3), the tent scene, in which King Richard is haunted by the ghosts of people he has killed on his proceeding to the throne. The night before the obliterate fight at Bosworth Field is presented on stage in a luxurious tent in which Richard tries to find some peace and quietness. Instead of resting he is haunted and not even his comfortable bed can change the situation. Richard cries out:

:Give me another horse! bind up my wounds!:Have mercy, Heaven! Ha!--- Soft!---‘T was but a dream. :But then so terrible it shakes my Soul!::(Act V, Scene 2)

The painting has had an enormous impact on history painting ever since its creation. This influence has been reflected upon more than once.

Hogarth painted the picture in commission for Mr. Duncombe of Duncombe Park who paid the immense sum of £200 for the work. This scene from The tragical history of Richard III has become one of the most famous 18th century dramatic images. In the same way that Garrick's performance marked an important step in the eighteenth-century revival of Shakespeare, so Hogarth's work represents a crucial development in the evolution of history painting during the period. Hogarth's portrayal, which draws on Le Brun's celebrated Family of Darius before Alexander the Great, shows the halting steps by both actors and artists to achieve an historically exact rendering of the past. Though such an accessory as armour, specially loaned from the Tower of London, is included in the left foreground, and Garrick is shown without his wig, his vaguely Elizabethan costume points to the relatively approximate sense of period which still dominated the British stage. Famed for his 'naturalistic' acting style, Garrick is displayed frozen with fear in a pose familiar from pictorial manuals on gesture and expression, a source widely used by Georgian actors to achieve appropriate dramatic effect. Midway between a theatrical portrait and an historical rendering of an episode from the nation's past, Hogarth's work offers a fascinating insight into eighteenth-century actors' stagecraft. At the same time, it represents an important episode in the pictorial reconstruction of British history which so preoccupied both Hogarth's contemporaries and his successors (Welcome to William Hogarth’s Realm, 12.11.2006).

The painting helps to get a closer insight on the art of performance and creative work on stage during the time of the eighteenth century.

Edmund Kean (1787-1833) was another famous English actor who was celebrated for the role of Richard III. A frenetic and lively manner characterized Kean's style of performance. His tendency to drink too much alcohol before coming to work caused rumour and criticism. Nevertheless, the audience adored him for creating entertaining theatre. He mostly played villains such as Richard III. Moreover, Kean performed this role out of Britain. On November 29th 1820 he played Richard III in New York. (Theatre History Online – People Play UK, 03.01.07)

John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) played a large number of Shakespearian characters. Before he began to establish himself on the London stages he earned his living on the roads as a strolling actor, similar to the life his parents had lead. In Hull he appeared for the first time as Macbeth on September 30th 1783. The picture above shows him in the role of Richard III. In contradiction to David Garrick, Kemble’s style was a return to a rather motionless performance. Kemble dominated the London stage for three decades both as an actor and a manager. (Theatre History Online – People Play UK, 02.02.2007)


With putting the focus on selected aspects it was ensured to bring up an overview of Richard III. The staging of the adapted version from 1730 onwards shows that the playwrights as well as the audiences obviously found Shakespeare too long and exhausting. Shakespeare’s style to hide scenes from the onlookers might have been another reason. The clearly stated copied lines of the original however show the linking of the two versions. Still, Cibber can be seen as the author of the adaptation as he gave the play his very own style. He created a version based on Shakespeare’s words but clearly created an improvement as he focused on the main events of the play and created a more realistic art of performance. The original was apparently not flashy enough but the new version was cut short by censorship. This caused the first years of failing and made it hard on the play. The first act Cibber created was feared to arouse sympathy for King James II. King William, who reigned at the time of performance, may also have feared a generalisation of the play. The contemporary clothes worn on stage were thought to cause a close relationship to reality. The killing of a King on stage might have brought up suspicions about the death of the real King.

The twentieth century shows a general uprising of the author William Shakespeare and public opinion found it necessary to return to original versions, especially with Shakespeare plays. Modern times have refused to accept an apparently better stylistic version in comparison to an original, simply because of the name of the author. This at least seems to be the only possible conclusion for the return to the first edition after the nineteenth century. There seems to be no reason for ignoring Cibber as the author of an adapted version as there is no particular fact that should prevent the two versions from co-existing.


Printed versions of The Tragical History of King Richard III before 1801

Year Imprint1700 London: printed for B. Lintott at the Middle Temple-Gate, in Eleet-street [sic] , and A. Bettesworth at the Red-Lyon on London-Bridge 17001718 London: printed for W. Mears, and J. Browne, and W. Chetwood, 17181731 Dublin: printed by A. Rhames, for R. Gunne, 17311734 London: printed for W. Feales; R. Wellington; J. Wellington; and A. Bettesworth and F. Clay, in trust for B. Wellington, 17341735? Dublin: printed by M. Rhames; for R. Gunne, 1735?1735 London: printed for W. Feales; and the book-sellers of London and Westminster, 17351736 London: printed for J. Tonson, and J. Watts, and sold by W. Feales, 17361736 London: printed for W. Feales, R. Wellington, J. Wellington; and A. Bettesworth, and F. Clay, in trust for B. Wellington, 17361745 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, and J. Watts, 17451750 Dublin: printed for James Dalton, 17501751 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, and J. Watts, 17511753 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, and J. Watts, 17531753 Dublin: printed for James [D] alton, 17531754 [London?] : Printed in the year, 17541755? Dublin: printed for Thomas Wilkinson, 1755?1756 Dublin: printed for Brice Edmond, 17561756 Dublin: printed for William Williamson, 17561756 London: printed for W. Feales, and the booksellers of London and Westminster, 17561757 London: printed for the proprietors, and sold by the booksellers in town and country, 17571757 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, 17571757 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, 17571762 Dublin: printed by Cusack Greene, 17621766 Edinburgh: printed in the year, 17661766 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, 17661769 London: printed for the proprietors, and sold by the booksellers in town and country, 17691769 London: printed for T. Lowndes, T. Caslon, W. Nicoll, and S. Bladon, 17691774 London: printed for T. Lowndes, T. Caslon, W. Nicoll, and S. Bladon, 17741775 London: printed and sold by W. Oxlade, 17751784 London: printed for T. and W. Lowndes, W. Nicoll, and S. Bladon, 17841785? London: printed by H. Whitworth, 1785?1787 London: printed for the proprietors, and sold by Rachael Randall; and all booksellers in England, Scotland and Ireland, 17871790 Dublin: printed for P. Wogan, 17901793 London: printed for W. Lowndes and S. Bladon, 1793

(Source: English Short Title Catalogue, 27.11.2006)

Performances of The Tragical History of King Richard III after the premier in late December 1699

Date of performance Theatre Comment04.04.1704 Drury Lane At the Desire of several Persons of Quality. Mainpiece: With the Famous Battle of Bosworth Field, between him and the Earl of Richmond, afterwards King Henry the Seventh. Written Originally by Shakespear, who in the true and lively Character of Richard has shewn his most Masterly Strokes of Nature.31.03.1705 Drury Lane At this date Aesop was performed. But in the Daily Courant of 30.03.1705 Richard III had been announced.28.01.1710 Queen’s At the Desire of several Persons of Quality.27.03.1710 Queen’s Benefit Mrs Porter. At the Desire of several Ladies of Quality.13.05.1710 Queen’s Containing Distresses and Death of King Henry the Sixth, the Murther of young King Deuard the Fifth and his Brother in the Tower, with the Landing of the Earl of Richmond, and the Memorable and Decisive Battle in Bosworth Field.14.02.1713 Drury Lane 26.02.1713 Drury Lane 27.04.1713 Drury Lane Benefit Mrs Bicknell02.01.1714 Drury Lane 27.02.1714 Drury Lane 27.04.1714 Drury Lane 15.10.1714 Drury Lane 27.01.1715 Drury Lane By His Royal Highness’s Command (Prince and Princess present)06.12.1715 Drury Lane 01.01.1717 Drury Lane/ Lincoln Inn Fields

(Source: The London Stage 1660 – 1800, part 2, 1700 – 1729)


*Bevis, Richard W., 1988: English Drama: Restoration and Eighteenth Century, 1660 – 1789. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited.

*Booth, M. R., Southern, R., Marker F. & L., Davies, R.; 1975: The Revels History of Drama in English, Volume VI - 1750-1880. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.

*Cibber, Colley, 1725: An Apology For the Life of Colley Cibber. The Golden Cockerell Press.

*Dobrée, Bonamy, 1929: Restoration Tragedy 1660 – 1720. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

*Hughes, Derek, 1996: English Drama 1660 – 1700. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

*Hume, Robert D., 1976: The Development of English Drama in the late Seventeenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

*Hume, Robert D., 1980: The London Theatre World, 1600 – 1800. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.

*Hume, Robert D., 1983: The Rakish Stage: studies in English drama, 1660-1800. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.

*Jowett, John, 2000: The Oxford Shakespeare Richard III, Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: University Press.

*Kalson, Albert E.: The Cronicles in Cibber’s Richard III. in: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 3:2 (1963:Spring)

*Kavenik, Frances M., 1995: British Drama, 1660 – 1779 A Critical History. New York: Twayne Publishers.

*Keever, Tom Dale: Colly Cibber's The Tragical History of Richard III ASCII Text Version 12.11.2006

*Nettleton, George Henry, 1968: English Drama of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century (1642-1780). New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc.

*Owen, Susan J., 2001: A companion to Restoration drama. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

*Payne Fisk, Deborah, 2000: The Cambridge Companion to English Restoration Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

*Richard III Society, American Branch 29.11.06

*Theatre Database 12.11.2006

*Theatre History Online – People Play UK, 02.02.2007

*Theatre History Online – People Play UK, [ 03.01.07 link]

*Welcome to William Hogarth’s Realm [ 12.11.2006 link]

*Woodfield, James, 1984: English Theatre in Transition 1881 - 1914. Kent: Croom Helm

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