Richard III (1699 play)

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This pamphlet promotes the performance of the, in these days, popular play Richard III according to Cibber's adapted version in Drury Lane Theatre London at the night of 14 May 1838.

Richard III (1699) is an adapted version of Shakespeare's history play of the same name (1591), reworked for Williamite or Orange audiences by Colley Cibber.

Some modern catalogues such as ECCO list the play as Cibber's work, others, such as EEBO, offer Shakespeare as the author and reduce Cibber's role to that of an author and theatre expert who simply adapted the play.


Cibber, a noted theatre manager, first attempted to stage his version in 1699. The performance was a disaster. The Master of the Revels censored the entire first act, which Cibber had completely redesigned. Cibber published his version (1700), including the problematic act, with a short note on its suppression. Ensuing performances from 1704 eventually risked the entire play in Cibber's new form. The play became a success with leading actors such as David Garrick playing Richard.

The Shakespeare renaissance of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries deprecated modifications of Shakespeare's plots. Cibber's adaptation could not stand comparison with Shakespearean originals.

Plot summary[edit]

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 summarises 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 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.

Cibber's Changes[edit]

Even though Cibber takes fewer than 800 lines from Shakespeare, he stays for the most part with the original design, mainly adapting the plot to make it more suitable for the Orange stage, as well as performable in less than two hours. Cibber did add aspects and scenes and therefore created plot extensions; nevertheless his adaptation leaves out several Shakespearean characters and passages.

Plot extension[edit]

Cibber contrived a completely new opening act, including the murder of Henry VI taken from the play Henry VI, Part 3;[1] this event is entirely left out in the original.

Parts from the original first act are mentioned in the course of Cibber’s adaptation. One example is the conversation between Lady Anne and Richard in Cibber's second act, after the death of King Henry VI, in St. Paul's Cathedral. Another is Tressel's lines, Your Queen yet Lives, and many of your Friends, / But for my Lord your Son--- (Cibber I.i), dealing with the report to King Henry of his son's death, are also taken from Henry VI, Part 3.[2]

New scene: between Lady Ann and Richard, after marriage, during which they have an argument.

Newly created monologues: Seven newly designed soliloquies for the main character were created for the actor Samuel Sandford. But as Sandford was not part of Drury Lane actors' repertory, he was not able to perform the role of Richard, and Cibber himself played the part in the first performance.[3]


The character of Queen Margaret is ignored completely. In the original she appears in I.iii and in IV.iv. 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.

Reduced use of ghosts: 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.[4] With only Richard and nobody else seeing the ghosts, the King is referred to as being a little wicked.

Simplification: 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, giving a more brutal picture of the main character as well as a more dramatic and entertaining piece of performance.

Off-stage: Shakespeare never brings the two princes back to the stage after they have been guided to the Tower. He 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.

On-stage: Cibber shows the murder. 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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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 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 27 January 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 quite nicely.

Famous actors[edit]

David Garrick as Richard III, oil on canvas by William Hogarth (1745). The painting depicts a scene from Colley Cibber's adaptation of the William Shakespeare play. The king has just awakened from a nightmare. The painting was made in 1745, but based on Garrick's appearance in 1743.

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 19 October 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 × 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 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) as Richard III. Engraving by Charles Turner (1774-1857) after John James Halls (1776-1834). "Mr. Kean in Richard the Third Act IV Scene 4". Mezzotint.

Edmund Kean (1787–1833) was another famous English actor who was celebrated for the role of Richard III. A frenetic and lively manner characterised 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 29 November 1820 he played Richard III in New York. (Theatre History Online – People Play UK, 03.01.07)

John Philip Kemble as Richard III, from Act V, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's Richard III.

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 led. In Hull he appeared for the first time as Macbeth on 30 September 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, 2 February 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.


Printing history (until 1801)[edit]

Year        Imprint
  • 1700 London: printed for B. Lintott at the Middle Temple-Gate, in Eleet-street [sic], and A. Bettesworth at the Red-Lyon on London-Bridge 1700
  • 1718 London: printed for W. Mears, and J. Browne, and W. Chetwood, 1718
  • 1731 Dublin: printed by A. Rhames, for R. Gunne, 1731
  • 1734 London: printed for W. Feales; R. Wellington; J. Wellington; and A. Bettesworth and F. Clay, in trust for B. Wellington, 1734
  • 1735? Dublin: printed by M. Rhames; for R. Gunne, 1735?
  • 1735 London: printed for W. Feales; and the book-sellers of London and Westminster, 1735
  • 1736 London: printed for J. Tonson, and J. Watts, and sold by W. Feales, 1736
  • 1736 London: printed for W. Feales, R. Wellington, J. Wellington; and A. Bettesworth, and F. Clay, in trust for B. Wellington, 1736
  • 1745 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, and J. Watts, 1745
  • 1750 Dublin: printed for James Dalton, 1750
  • 1751 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, and J. Watts, 1751
  • 1753 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, and J. Watts, 1753
  • 1753 Dublin: printed for James [D]alton, 1753
  • 1754 [London?] : Printed in the year, 1754
  • 1755? Dublin: printed for Thomas Wilkinson, 1755?
  • 1756 Dublin: printed for Brice Edmond, 1756
  • 1756 Dublin: printed for William Williamson, 1756
  • 1756 London: printed for W. Feales, and the booksellers of London and Westminster, 1756
  • 1757 London: printed for the proprietors, and sold by the booksellers in town and country, 1757
  • 1757 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, 1757
  • 1757 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, 1757
  • 1762 Dublin: printed by Cusack Greene, 1762
  • 1766 Edinburgh: printed in the year, 1766
  • 1766 London: printed for J. and R. Tonson, 1766
  • 1769 London: printed for the proprietors, and sold by the booksellers in town and country, 1769
  • 1769 London: printed for T. Lowndes, T. Caslon, W. Nicoll, and S. Bladon, 1769
  • 1774 London: printed for T. Lowndes, T. Caslon, W. Nicoll, and S. Bladon, 1774
  • 1775 London: printed and sold by W. Oxlade, 1775
  • 1784 London: printed for T. and W. Lowndes, W. Nicoll, and S. Bladon, 1784
  • 1785? 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, 1787
  • 1790 Dublin: printed for P. Wogan, 1790
  • 1793 London: printed for W. Lowndes and S. Bladon, 1793

(Source: English Short Title Catalogue, 27 November 2006)

Performance history[8][edit]

Date of performance Theatre Comment 4 April 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 March 1705 Drury Lane At this date Aesop was performed. But in the Daily Courant of 30 March 1705 Richard III had been announced. 28 January 1710 Queen’s At the Desire of several Persons of Quality. 27 March 1710 Queen’s Benefit Mrs Porter. At the Desire of several Ladies of Quality. 13 May 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 February 1713 Drury Lane 26 February 1713 Drury Lane 27 April 1713 Drury Lane Benefit Mrs Bicknell 02.01.1714 Drury Lane 27 February 1714 Drury Lane 27 April 1714 Drury Lane 15 October 1714 Drury Lane 27 January 1715 Drury Lane By His Royal Highness’s Command (Prince and Princess present) 06.12.1715 Drury Lane 1 January 1717 Drury Lane/ Lincoln Inn Fields

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Payne Fisk, Deborah, 2000: The Cambridge Companion to English Restoration Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.135
  2. ^ Kalson, Albert E.: The Cronicles in Cibber’s Richard III. in: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 3:2 (1963:Spring), p.258
  3. ^ Owen, Susan J., 2001: A companion to Restoration drama. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 282
  4. ^ Hughes, Derek, 1996: English Drama 1660–1700. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p.432
  5. ^ Payne Fisk, Deborah, 2000: The Cambridge Companion to English Restoration Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.135
  6. ^ Cibber, Colley, 1725: An Apology For the Life of Colley Cibber. The Golden Cockerell Press, p.150
  7. ^ Hume, Robert D., 1983: The Rakish Stage: studies in English drama, 1660–1800. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, p.71
  8. ^ The London Stage 1660–1800, part 2, 1700–1729


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  • 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.
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  • 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, 2 February 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