Authors: Colley Cibber

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


Love’s Last Shift: Or, The Fool in Fashion, pr., pb. 1696

Woman’s Wit: Or, The Lady in Fashion, pb. 1697

The Tragical History of King Richard III, pr. 1699 (adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play)

Xerxes, pr., pb. 1699

Love Makes a Man: Or, The Fop’s Fortune, pr. 1700

The School Boy: Or, The Comical Rivals, pr. 1702

She Wou’d and She Wou’d Not: Or, The Kind Imposter, pr. 1702

The Careless Husband, pr. 1704

Perolla and Izadora, pr. 1705

The Comical Lovers, pr., pb. 1707

The Double Gallant: Or, The Sick Lady’s Cure, pr., pb. 1707

The Lady’s Last Stake: Or, The Wife’s Resentment, pr. 1707

The Rival Fools, pr., pb. 1709

The Rival Queens, pr. 1710 (burlesque)

Ximena: Or, The Heroic Daughter, pr. 1712

Myrtillo, pr., pb. 1715 (masque)

Venus and Adonis, pr., pb. 1715 (masque)

The Non-Juror, pr. 1717

The Refusal: Or, The Ladies’ Philosophy, pr., pb. 1721

The Plays of Colley Cibber, pb. 1721 (2 volumes), pb. 1980 (reprint)

Caesar in Aegypt, pr. 1724

The Provok’d Husband: Or, A Journey to London, pr., pb. 1728 (completion of Sir John Vanbrugh’s play)

Damon and Phillida, pr., pb. 1729 (ballad opera)

Love in a Riddle, pr., pb. 1729 (ballad opera)

Papal Tyranny in the Reign of King John, pr., pb. 1745

The Lady’s Lecture, pb. 1748

The Dramatic Works of Colley Cibber, pb. 1777 (5 volumes)


An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, 1740

A Letter from Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope, 1742

The Egoist: Or, Colley upon Cibber, 1743

A Second Letter from Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope, 1743

Another Occasional Letter from Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope, 1744

The Character and Conduct of Cicero, 1747

A Rhapsody upon the Marvellous, 1751


Colley Cibber (SIHB-ur) is in the unfortunate position of being remembered mainly as the chief target of ridicule in Alexander Pope’s Dunciad–to be immortalized as the King of Dullness is a poor sort of fame. Although Cibber’s name would not have been immortal but for Pope, he was far from being dull. He was, in fact, a remarkable actor, a playhouse manager, and a competent, though unoriginal, playwright who had the misfortune to make the best writers of England his enemies: Cibber suffered not only from the verbal assaults of Pope but also from the wit of Henry Fielding and Samuel Johnson. His Whig politics helped him in his career but also made him a ready butt for the Tory satirists.{$I[AN]9810000626}{$I[A]Cibber, Colley}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Cibber, Colley}{$I[tim]1671;Cibber, Colley}

Colley Cibber

(Library of Congress)

Colley Cibber was the eldest son of Caius Gabriel Cibber, a popular Danish sculptor. Born in London on November 6, 1671, he left school at sixteen and in 1688 enlisted with his father in the Devonshire volunteers to support the cause of William of Orange. In 1690, he joined Thomas Betterton as an actor at the Drury Lane Theatre. Not able to find his niche within the company, Cibber wrote the successful Love’s Last Shift to tailor-make the role of Sir Novelty Fashion, an ignorant but essentially good-hearted fop, for his specific talents. This play about a rakish husband who reforms when he finds out how much his wife loves him broke the Restoration tradition of libertine comedy and helped initiate the new taste for sentimental comedy that was to dominate the English stage for almost a century. John Vanbrugh satirized Cibber’s sentimental ending by writing The Relapse (1696), a play that recounts the further affairs of the “reformed” husband. Cibber established his reputation as an actor by playing the role of the fop in both plays.

Although Cibber did not restrict himself to the formula established in Love’s Last Shift, he resorted to it again in his masterpiece, The Careless Husband, praised even by Pope himself. However, much of his later work was imitative. He adapted Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, John Dryden, Molière, William Shakespeare, and Pierre Corneille to suit the taste of his audience. The Non-Juror, for example, was a Whig version of Molière’s Tartuffe (pr. 1664), with the hypocrite now a Roman Catholic priest who incites rebellion; for this political stroke George I awarded him two hundred guineas. Cibber’s extremely popular version of Shakespeare’s Richard III (pr. c. 1592-1593) kept the stage until 1821 and even left its mark on Laurence Olivier’s 1955 film of the classic.

He became one of the managers of the Drury Lane Theatre in 1711 and for political reasons he was made poet laureate in 1730. Even Cibber knew that he was unsuited to be a poet by nature, and his official odes were commonly ridiculed. His famous Apology is a valuable and absorbing account of contemporary English stage history. In 1742, he attained permanent fame when Pope published The New Dunciad and in the fourth book made Cibber the “hero.” Nevertheless, Colley Cibber outlived many of his enemies and detractors and, despite the financial setbacks and reversals that plagued much of his life, he died a wealthy man in London in 1757.

BibliographyAshley, Leonard R. N. Colley Cibber. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Ashley devotes one chapter to Cibber’s youth and then gives an account of him as an actor, listing the various roles he played. One chapter judges Cibber’s work as a dramatist, and three chapters deal with his life in the theater. His quarrel with Alexander Pope is also summarized. A good bibliography completes this study.Barker, Richard Hindry. Mr. Cibber of Drury Lane. 1939. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1966. A well-written and comprehensive biography, especially good for the discussions of the rise of the actors-managers and their last years.Cibber, Colley. An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, with an Historical View of the Stage During His Own Time. Edited by B. R. S. Fone. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968. First published in 1740, Cibber’s autobiography, though usually faulted for being poorly written, is valuable for its intimate view of stage life during Cibber’s time.Cibber, Colley. Colley Cibber: Three Sentimental Comedies. Edited by Maureen Sullivan. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973. Sullivan has edited Love’s Last Shift, The Careless Husband, and The Lady’s Last Stake. She provides a forty-page introduction, an appendix with the first scene of Love’s Last Shift as printed in the early quartos, and ample detailed notes.Koon, Helene. Colley Cibber: A Biography. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986. Besides offering an authoritative biography, Koon includes invaluable appendices titled “The Genealogy of the Cibber Family,” “Cibber’s Second Letter to Alexander Pope,” “Colley Cibber’s Will,” and “Chronological List of Cibber’s Roles.” The notes and bibliography are excellent sources for further information.Roper, Alan. “Language and Action in The Way of the World, Love’s Last Shift, and The Relapse.” Journal of English Literary History 40 (1973): 44-69. Roper analyzes Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift, along with William Congreve’s The Way of the World and Sir John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse and finds in the Cibber play a clash between the language of wit and that of morality.Szilagyi, Stephen. “The Importance of Being Easy: Desire and Cibber’s The Careless Husband.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 41, no. 2 (Summer, 1999): 142-159. This discussion of The Careless Husband examines the desires of its characters and their longing for ease.Viator, Timothy J. “Colley Cibber: A Bibliography, 1967-1987.” Restoration and Eighteenth Century Theatre Research 4 (Winter, 1989). A good bibliography.Wallace, Beth Kowaleski. “Reading the Surfaces of Colley Cibber’s The Careless Husband.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 40, no. 3 (summer, 2000): 473-489. Wallace argues that although at first reading The Careless Husband appears to be a conventional sentimental comedy, it actually makes a deeper statement.
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