Interpreting a Life: Theophilus Cibber, Celebrity Biography, and Public Adjudication,

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking Stars
Subtitle of host publicationBiography and Eighteenth-Century Celebrity
EditorsNora Nachumi, Kristina Straub
PublisherUniversity of Delaware Press
ISBN (Print)978-1-644-53265-2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

Publication series

NamePerforming Celebrity
PublisherUniversity of Delaware Press


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