The Tragical History of King Richard III

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Cibber, Colley, and William Shakespeare. The tragical history of King Richard III as it is acted at the Theatre Royal.  London: 1700. 

Cibber, Colley, and William Shakespeare. The Tragical History of King Richard III. In The Dramatic Works of Colley Cibber, Esq. In Five Volumes. Vol. 2.London: J. Rivington and Sons, 1777. 

Image sources: The Huntington Library and University of Oregon Rare Books Collection

Like Hamlet, Richard III  is the rare Shakespeare play that has been popular and much performed from its writing to the present. Yet approaches to it have changed over time. In 1699, theater manager and actor Colley Cibber radically adapted the play. Cibber made vast cuts, including cutting major characters (among them, Richard’s chief antagonist, Queen Margaret), adding monologues for Richard from other plays by Shakespeare, and writing additional material himself. While Cibber’s changes were both praised and mocked, his version of the play was wildly popular for some 200 years. Moreover, while many of Cibber’s changes were reversed in productions in the 19th century, others remain regularly performed, including in recent and well-regarded film versions of the play by Laurence Olivier (1956) and Richard Loncraine (1995, starring Ian McKellen).

Our images show two important early editions of Cibber’s altered Richard III. The first, below, printed as a stand-alone edition of the play, displays Cibber’s efforts to disclose the scope of his revision precisely. The parts of the play that are exclusively Shakespeare’s original text are printed in italics, and those passages that are suggested by Shakespeare but altered by Cibber are marked with an apostrophe (‘) on the left margin. Meanwhile, contributions that reflect Cibber’s own ideas are printed in normal pitch (i.e., not italicized) and unmarked. This contrast, with Shakespearean material indicated with textual devices and Cibber's material neutral, seems to present Shakespeare as the less normative textual source. The weaving of Shakespearean, Cibberian, and hybrid writing may be seen here in Richard’s dialogue with Lady Anne. Note that Cibber has incorporated criticism of Lady Anne into the play.

You may read Cibber’s explanation of his method in the preface below, including his proud nod toward the content that is “intirely my own,” in which, he says, he imitates Shakespeare’s “Style and manner of thinking.” We also include the opening of the play, entirely by Cibber.

The second set of images comes from the version of Richard III  ultimately printed in Cibber’s complete works. This edition no longer distinguished Cibber’s and Shakespeare’s contributions. Here you can see how the entrance of Lady Anne reads when Cibber and Shakespeare’s words mingle without textual apparatus to distinguish them.