Born, London, 1671
Died, London, 1757
The following biography was originally published in A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

Actor, playwright, and miscellaneous writer Colley Cibber was born in London, November 6, 1671; son of Caius Gabriel Cibber (a sculptor and native of Holstein) and Jane Colley, an English lady of good family; was sent in 1682 to school at Grantham where he remained till 1687, distinguishing himself by writing odes on the death of Charles II and the coronation of James II. His earliest aspirations were towards the stage, but he suppressed them with a view successively to going to college and to obtaining a commission in the army. He had some hopes of assistance at the hands of the Earl of Devonshire, his father's patron, but in the end drifted to the theatre. He admits, in his Apology, that, in the matter of physique, he was not over well qualified for the profession. He refers to the "insufficiency" of his voice, "to which might be added an uninform'd meagre person (tho' then not ill-made), with a dismal pale complexion." He says he joined the company at the Theatre Royal, where he seems to have been "billed" at first as "Mr. Colly." He says that the first part in which he made any success was that of the chaplain in The Orphan. He was afterwards highly complimented by Congreve himself on his Lord Touchwood in The Double Dealer.

In 1693--"when" (to quote him again) "I had but twenty pounds a year, which my father had assur'd me, and twenty shillings a week from my theatrical labours"--he married; the lady being a Miss Shore, whose father, it is said, disapproved of the union so keenly that he diverted to other purposes the fortune he had intended for her. In 1695, when the leading members of the company quarrelled with the patentees, and seceded, Cibber remained with his employers, and had his salary advanced to thirty shillings a week. For a revival of Mrs. Behn's _Abdelazer_ in April of this year he wrote his first prologue. A little later he made some mark by playing Fondlewife in The Old Bachelor in imitation of Dogget, the first interpreter of the part. Still, he did not sufficiently impress either the patentees or his colleagues with a full sense of his histrionic capacity, and at last determined to write a good part for himself. This was Sir Novelty Fashion in his Love's Last Shift, which was recommended to the management of Drury Lane by Southerne, and duly accepted and produced (1696). It would seem that later in 1696 Cibber was for a time associated with the Betterton company at Lincoln's Inn Fields, but it is certain that in 1697 he figured at Drury Lane as Longville in his own Woman's Wit. Meanwhile Sir John Vanbrugh had paid him the compliment of writing The Relapse as a sequel to Love's Last Shift, Sir Novelty Fashion being therein represented as ennobled, with the title of Lord Foppington. The part was assigned by Vanbrugh to Cibber, who says that the play (which was produced at Drury Lane) gave him, as a comedian, "a second flight of reputation along with it." In 1700 he was seen at the same theatre as the Duke of Gloster in his famous adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III--a work which held the stage, to the exclusion of the original text, for a century and three-quarters. Cibber was also the original Clodio in his Love Makes a Man (1701), the first representative of his School Boy (1702), the original Don Manuel in his She Would and She Would Not (1702), the first Lord Foppington in his Careless Husband (1704), and the first Pacuvius in his Perollo and Izadora (1705). He was also the original Captain Brazen in The Recruiting Officer (1706). In 1706-8 he was a member of Owen Swiney's troupe at the Haymarket, where he was the original Celadon in his Comical Lovers (adapted from Dryden), Atall in his Double Gallant, and Lord George Brilliant in his Lady's Last Stake, besides being the first Gibbet in The Beaux Stratagem. In 1708-9 (the rival companies having united) he was again at Drury Lane, figuring in such characters as Ben in Love for Love, Gloster in King Lear, Glendower in Henry IV, Cranmer in Henry VIII, Subtle in The Alchemist, and Iago. In 1709 he became, with Swiney, Wilks, and Dogget, joint manager of the Haymarket. In 1710 he returned to Drury Lane, with which he remained closely connected for the next twenty-three years. In 1714 he became one of the licensees, the others being Sir Richard Steele, Wilks, Booth, and Dogget, of whom the last named speedily retired (with compensation). In the period between 1710 and 1733 Cibber was the original representative of Gloster in Jane Shore, Tinsel in The Drummer, Dr. Wolf in his own Nonjuror (which greatly offended the Jacobites), Wilding in his Refusal, Achoreus in his Caesar in Egypt, Sir Francis Wronghead in his (and Vanbrugh's) Provoked Husband, and Philautus in his Love in a Riddle. In 1730, in succession to Laurence Eusden, and apparently in recognition of his anti-Jacobite tendency, he was appointed Poet Laureate. In 1733 he retired from the stage, only to return to it in the following year. His last appearances were made at Covent Garden in 1745, as Pandulph in his adaptation from Shakespeare called Papal Tyranny in the Reign of King John. In December, 1757, he died.

In addition to plays above named he was the author of Xerxes (1699), The Rival Fools (1709), The Rival Queens (1710), Ximena (1712), Venus and Adonis (1715), Bulls and Bears (1715), Myrtillo (1716), Damon and Phillida (1729), and, with Sir John Vanbrugh, The Provoked Husband (1728). He published an edition of his plays, in quarto, in 1721. In 1740 came his famous Apology for his Life; in 1742, A Letter from Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope, who had made him the hero of The Dunciad, in succession to Theobald; in 1743, The Egotist; or, Colley upon Cibber; in 1744, Another Occasional Letter from Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope; in 1747, The Character and Conduct of Cicero. Says Hazlitt: "Cibber is the hero of The Dunciad; but it cannot be said of him that he was by merit raised to that bad eminence. He was pert, not dull; a coxcomb, not a blockhead; vain, but not malicious.... In his plays, his personal character perhaps predominates too much over the inventiveness of his Muse; but so far from being dull, he is everywhere light, fluttering, and airy. His pleasure in himself made him desirous to please; but his fault was, that he was too soon satisfied with what he did.... Cibber, in short, though his name has been handed down to us as a bye-word of impudent pretension and impenetrable dullness by the classical pen of his accomplished rival [Pope], was a gentleman and a scholar of the old school; a man of wit and pleasantry in conversation, a diverting mimic, an excellent actor, an admirable dramatic critic, and one of the best comic writers of his age" (The English Comic Writers).


  • The Careless Husband - A brief history of the play by Cibber.
  • Restoration Drama - An overview of Restoration theatre; includes information on the appearance of women on the English stage, the persistance of Elizabethan plays, parody of heroic drama, the nature of Restoration comedy, women playwrights, and Collier's attack on the stage.
  • Purchase Plays by Colley Cibber
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