Amherst Magazine

College Row

From the Folger

Visitors to the Folger are always afforded a glimpse of the library’s Elizabethan Theatre, a charming and atmospheric theatrical space that combines architectural elements from several London theaters of Shakespeare’s time, including stage columns and an overhanging cloth canopy copied from the Globe. Repertory for our three-play season is chosen from the Folger’s magnificent theater collection. We emphasize Shakespeare, to be sure, but like to choose among classic plays that we have in our broader collection. One of the biggest hits in recent seasons, for example, was our award-winning production of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, which was so successful that we extended its run.

In April 2005, Folger theatergoers will have the rare opportunity to enjoy a theatrical revival that is happening for the first time on these shores—or so we think—since the presidency of George Washington. Folger Theatre is producing The Clandestine Marriage, a funny and frank comedy of manners co-written in 1766 by David Garrick and George Colman and performed to great success in London’s Drury Lane Theatre. Indeed, it’s fair to call it a minor masterpiece of its genre. We chose to revive the play partly because of its liveliness and novelty, but mostly because it will coincide with the spring exhibition David Garrick (1717-1779): A Theatrical Life.

An actor of great power and originality, a theater impresario and a playwright, David Garrick is probably the most influential figure in English stage history after Shakespeare. Garrick understood the greatness of Shakespeare’s plays and promoted them tirelessly with revivals, adaptations and Shakespeare jubilees designed to make Shakespeare the National Poet of England. Shakespeare’s uniquely canonical stature all over the globe owes its original impetus to Garrick’s energy and vision.

The Folger has a world-class collection of Garrick artifacts: playscripts, playbills, portraits, personal possessions and myriad decorative objects. These artifacts richly demonstrate Garrick’s unique place in theater history and offer a richly detailed view of London’s lively theatrical culture in the 18th century. We are thrilled that the exhibition will display the Folger’s copy—in Garrick’s hand—of the manuscript for The Clandestine Marriage. Theatergoers will thus have the unusual opportunity of moving from the Folger’s Elizabethan Theatre into the Folger Great Hall to see the play’s origins as a physical document and a biographical artifact, replete with Garrick’s corrections and second thoughts. Such dramatic manuscripts are an invaluable record of a playwright’s creative process. Would that Shakespeare’s dramatic manuscripts were extant! But The Clandestine Marriage is well worth seeing even without the additional attraction of the dramatic manuscript, as it offers not only sharp portraits of such comic types as the aging suitor Lord Ogleby and the ancient harridan Mrs. Heidelberg, but also a sentimental pair of injudicious lovers, Lovewell and Fanny Sterling, who have secretly married and chosen to conceal their union for financial reasons. It is Fanny’s pregnancy that provokes the crisis of the play and leads to its hilarious resolution in a stunning scene of perfectly timed bedroom farce, with doors popping open to reveal beleaguered wooers and eavesdroppers.

Henry Clay Folger (Class of 1879) and Emily Jordan Folger designed their great library to house a theater where performances, concerts, readings and lectures might take place. I like to think that they envisioned the kind of theatrical performances that we are now offering: small-scale, intimate, crisply directed productions that emphasize the spoken word and demonstrate the liveliness, richness and complete stageability of classic English drama. It was the Folgers—not a later benefactor—who bought the Garrick manuscript of The Clandestine Marriage in 1912 from London bookseller Bertram Dobell as part of their expanding collection of theatrical material. While the Folgers could not have planned for a revival of Garrick’s play to take place in their theater, I know they would have attended our opening night with great pleasure and deep satisfaction.

—Gail Kern Paster

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