As the reader for Drury Lane, Colley Cibber was widely hated for his many rejections of plays on the basis of their lack of theatricality. According to Richard Hindry Barker in Mr. Cibber of Drury Lane (1939), for Cibber, theatricality meant “effective situations, plenty of opportunities for stage business, good acting parts suitable for [Robert] Wilks, [Barton] Booth, Mrs. [Anne] Oldfield, and himself.” These criteria are surely the outstanding characteristics of his own dramas. He knew what worked on the stage, and he fashioned his plays accordingly.
Today, Cibber is remembered as the creator of the first eighteenth century sentimental comedy ; this accomplishment can best be understood in terms of the theatricality of his plays. Cibber did not set out to write a new kind of comedy. Rather, he set out to write a play that would show off the skills of his actors and that would leave his audience pleased and satisfied at the end of the evening. In his first play, he discovered a number of formulas that worked well on the stage. In a Cibber comedy, there are two plots involving a series of deceptions that lead up to discovery scenes in acts 4 and 5, in which the complications of the evening are resolved in a moral, decorous way. Usually, a leading character in the main plot comes to recognize that he has been living according to a false set of values. When he sees the errors of his ways, the problems of the evening are resolved. What makes...
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