Colley Cibber

Colley Cibber. Portrait by Giuseppe Grisoni, circa 1696.

And has not Colly still his Lord, and Whore?
Alexander Pope, "An Epistle to Arbuthnot"
. . . I must own, that I believe I know more of your whoring than you do of mine; because I don't recollect that ever I made you the least Confidence of my Amours, though I have been very near an Eye-Witness of Yours . . .
Colley Cibber, "A Letter from Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope"

Eighteenth-century English playwright and Ur Example of the theatrical actor-manager.

Cibber entered the world of theatre in 1690, when Restoration Comedy was almost dead and more sentimental and moralistic comedies were coming into fashion. He wrote several such plays -- and acted in them, playing characters with names like Sir Courtly Nice, Sir Fopling Flutter, and Sir Novelty Fashion (later Lord Foppington).

He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1730, more for his support of Sir Robert Walpole than for his poetic output, which even Cibber himself didn't think much of. Alexander Pope, who had little enough respect for Cibber already, was particularly rankled by the appointment, and fired off a few scathing lines in the 1735 poem quoted above. Cibber retaliated with a claim that he had once stopped Pope from tupping a syphilitic prostitute, thereby saving Pope's life (and his translations of Homer). For that, Pope made Cibber the "hero" of the next edition of the Dunciad, which has since become Cibber's main claim to fame.

Cibber's other enduring mark on English letters is his Bloodier and Gorier rewrite of Shakespeare's Richard III, first published in 1700. For almost the next two hundred years, it completely displaced the original on the stage. Two of Cibber's additions remain famous:

Off with his head; -- so much for Buckingham.
Act IV

Hence, babbling dreams! you threaten here in vain.

Conscience, avaunt! Richard's himself again!
Act V

These are sometimes interpolated even into modern productions, including Laurence Olivier's 1955 film. Of all of Cibber's original works and adaptations (or as some contemporary critics remarked, "mutilations"), his Richard III is without doubt his most successful.

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