Whereas even those with a casual interest in British theatre would recognise the name David Garrick, Charles Macklin’s contributions to the development of acting in the 18th century have been all-but forgotten. Macklin was an early mentor of Garrick’s and worked alongside him on the London stage for several decades; his influence on such diverse areas as theatrical management, Shakespeare in performance, dramatic instruction and intellectual property are all worthy of further investigation.

Macklin did have one advantage over Garrick: longevity. As this essay-collection shows, his stage career (begun around 1725) stretched from the reign of George I to the Regency Crisis of 1788, giving him a unique perspective on the development of 18th-century theatre. Macklin – frequently hot-tempered – was embroiled in legal cases throughout his life, the most serious being in 1735, when he accidentally killed the actor Thomas Hallam in a back-stage quarrel. Yet few could deny his contribution to Shakespearean drama via his portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (prior to 1741, Shylock was usually played as a comic grotesque, but Macklin brought both ferocity and realism to the role).

Charles Macklin and the Theatres of London (LUP, 2022).

As with many 18th-century figures, Macklin’s life encompassed a variety of interests, and it was good to see so many of them represented here. David Francis Taylor’s absorbing essay, Macklin’s Look, not only charts how the actor’s body was read on-stage but examines Macklin’s Shylock as the “bogeyman of Georgian culture” – ghosted by memories of Hallam’s murder (31). Other richly rewarding topics include a chapter by Paul Goring on Macklin’s book collection, in which the actor’s “Enlightenment credentials” are examined alongside his status as both player and autodidact (69-70). In “Strong Case”: Macklin and the Law, David Worrall explores the extent of the actor’s legal knowledge (I was fascinated to learn how Macklin’s lawsuit over a pirated version of his play Love à la Mode became a cornerstone of early copyright law).

However, I was less convinced by Michael Brown’s assertion (in Ethnic Jokes and Polite Language: Soft Othering and Macklin’s British Comedies) that Macklin’s Scotophobia was the result of “Competitive Celtism” and felt an analysis of the Plantation of Ulster and its impact might have been missing (182).

Nevertheless, the volume closes with two essays about recent stagings of Love à la Mode, which happily brings theatre practitioners into the debate. The final chapter is a discussion between Nicholas Johnson (Associate Professor of Drama at Trinity College Dublin) and Colm Summers (Theatre Director) about the practicalities of staging Macklin, all lavishly illustrated with colour plates. There’s much to like about this multi-faceted approach (which also includes an excellent introduction by Ian Newman and David O’Shaughnessy), and, while understanding Macklin’s long and diverse career is a challenge, Charles Macklin and the Theatres of London is a splendid and much-needed start.

Charles Macklin and the Theatres of London
Ian Newman and David O’Shaughnessy (eds.)
Liverpool University Press, 2022
£95.00 hb., £24.95 pb and e-book, 344 pp.; 23 b/w, 8 col ill.
ISBN 9781800855984; 9781800856912; 9781800855601