Comparing Virtue and Vice in Garrick’s Romeo and Juliet and Bowdler’s Romeo and Juliet

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Virtue versus vice is of great concern in the 18th century, an issue that causes a major shift in the presentation of plays on the stage. Stage writers adapted well-known plays to meet the criteria and expectations of the time. Contributing to the overall acceptance of virtue on stage is the enforcement of decency and cleanliness by both the ruling class and the audience. A famous actor of the time, David Garrick, not only abided by these rules but also worked them to his advantage. Garrick packed theater houses with his talent and versatility as an actor, while at the same time promoting an acceptance of cleaner versions of plays. Many of these adapted plays were by Shakespeare, though Garrick himself wrote plays that were as universally accepted. Audiences today may criticize the inadequacy of these adaptations, but during the 18th century audiences expected and loved them.

What were these changes exactly and where did they originate? Garrick himself does not begin this movement towards virtue, but simply accepts the changes present. In 1698, Jeremy Collier wrote A Short View of the Immortality and Profaneness of the English Stage. This piece strongly attacks the current conditions of the theater and the various "immoral" works by certain authors currently published. The Longman Anthology of British Literature writes, "by portraying wickedness in ways that give delight, [Jeremy Collier] argued contemporary plays cultivated in their audiences the vices of their characters" (2270 Longman Anthology of British Literature). These authors include such notable minds as John Dryden, William Congreve and William Wycherley. Collier especially criticizes the profane use of language and the abuse of clergy all of which, he felt, manage...

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