Shakespeare has had an unbroken theatrical run since the Restoration. The 18th-century player-manager David Garrick is the prime mover here. With his rapid, naturalistic style of acting, he fixed roles like Richard III (arguably the most popular play in England in the 18th and 19th centuries), Hamlet and Macbeth.
MY PORTRAYALS WERE CANONIZED IN ACTING MANUALS … … AND IN PAINTINGS BY ARTISTS LIKE MYSELF, HENRY FUSELI.
Garrick’s attraction was that he found expression for the quality of immensity in Shakespeare. He made the roles appear to be too large for the stage.
WE DO NOT LIKE TO SEE OUR AUTHOR’S PLAYS ACTED, AND LEAST OF ALL, HAMLET … HAMLET HIMSELF SEEMS HARDLY CAPABLE OF BEING ACTED. HIS DRAMA WILL BECOME INCAPABLE OF LIVING PERFORMANCE, AND WILL BECOME THE FRAGMENT OF A COLOSSUS, AN EGYPTIAN PYRAMID WHICH EVERYONE GAZES AT IN AMAZEMENT AND NO ONE UNDERSTANDS. SHAKESPEARE WAS ESCAPING FROM REPRESENTATION. THE GERMAN CRITIC JOHANN GOTTFRIED HERDER (1744-1803) CLAIMED THAT …
Yet these were heavily rewritten roles. Colley Cibber (1671-1757) had adapted Richard III, for example, and some of his changes were even adopted by Laurence Olivier in his own film version.