Two seasons before his extraordinary debut as an actor, David Garrick had his first play produced. Henry Giffard and his wife were members of the Drury Lane company in the 1739-40 season and for Giffard's benefit night, 15 April 1740, the couple appeared as Sir Charles and Lady Betty in Colley Cibber's The Careless Husband. Their afterpiece that evening was "a new Dramatic Satire," Garrick Lethe; or, Esop in the Shades. For its second performance, however, the new play had to wait an entire season, while the Giffard family took advantage of a relaxation in the enforcing of the Licensing Act to reopen "the Late Theatre" in Goodman's Fields ( 15 October 1740) and establish an efficient repertoire. Once Garrick had become an acting sensation on 19 October 1741, Lethe was revived at Goodman's Fields on 7 April 1741 for seven (benefit) performances that season and twenty-six in 1741-42. After an inauspicious beginning, Lethe became an established property and, with many changes in its scenes, one of the standard afterpieces during Garrick's lifetime.
Lethe has no formal plot, rather a framework within which Garrick could add or subtract scenes throughout his stage career. Using a formula of trial by derision the author is able to satirize any group of characters appropriate to his whim and the changing taste of his audiences. In what would seem a daring gesture, Garrick seized upon James Miller An Hospital for Fools, a comedy performed quite recently at Drury Lane ( 15 November 1739) and hissed off the stage two nights later. Miller's play had in turn been based partially on VadéL'Hopital des Foux and damned by Miller's enemies because he had introduced scenes in a previous play, The Coffee-House ( Drury Lane, 26 January 1738), which the Templars thought disparaged their pet haunt.
From Miller Garrick took his basic structure. Aesculapius, at Jupiter's order, is assigned the task of assisting mortals to rid themselves of folly. But when the mortals fail to respond to Mercury's invitation because they won't admit their follies, the call goes out to have them bring friends and neighbors so afflicted. This summons they do heed, and the stage is soon filled with fools