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Publication - Professor Elaine McGirr

    Shooting Star

    Theophilus Cibber’s Disastrous Self-Fashioning


    McGirr, E, 2019, ‘Shooting Star: Theophilus Cibber’s Disastrous Self-Fashioning’. in: Nora Nachumi, Kristina Straub (eds) Making Stars: : Biography and Eighteenth-Century Celebrity. University of Delaware Press


    Colley Cibber justified being his own biographer by observing that the large public appetite for actors’ lives was inadequately served with “hasty,” inaccurate biographies that but “odly besmear’d [sic] (or at best but flatly white-wash’d)” their subject (Apology, 3). In addition to the often scurrilous and inaccurate Lives of contemporaries such as Anne Oldfield and Robert Wilks, Cibber may have been concerned about potential biographers, including his son, Theophilus Cibber, who was always on the lookout for a potentially lucrative publishing opportunity, and was not known for letting biographical fact get in the way of a good story. This chapter will explore Theophilus Cibber’s biographical publications in 1738-9 as he sued the public for sympathy while suing his wife’s lover (of his procuring). I will use Cibber’s Four Original Letters (1739) to show how Cibber employed the tropes of epistolary fiction in an attempt to rewrite his biography and transform himself from pimp to romantic victim. I argue that the Letters confirm Cibber’s celebrity – or rather infamy. The fictional correspondence between Cibber, his wife and her lover was widely read, but done so in dialogue with the proceedings of the trials for criminal conversation and detaining. These two biographies – the legal and the amorous – combined to make Cibber look even more despicable, as his tone-deaf foray into print established him as simultaneously vicious and pathetic.

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