Friday, December 1, 2023

Frankenstein on Stage

Depiction of O. Samson in costume as Frankenstein's MonsterMary Shelley's Frankenstein wasn't just a hit in the bookstores. Just a few years after its publication it was adapted in 1823 as Presumption! or the Fate of Frankenstein, and then again a few years later, in 1826, as The Man and the Monster! or, the Fate of Frankenstein. The two shows appear to have competed against each other for a period of time in London. We have a set of playbills for Presumption! from the Theatre Royal, English Opera House, on the Strand, starting in 1823 and running through 1827. Then we have the script for the 1826 production of The Man and the Monster! "as it is performed at the London Theatres."

Playbill for August 15, 1823, performance of PresumptionBoth the playbill and the script give us all kinds of information about the productions. The August 15, 1823, playbill for Presumption! states it is the 16th performance and they have added new scenes. By 1827 it has a whole new ending "comformably to the termination of the original Story" with a "schooner in a violent storm." Apparently you could keep them coming back if you just kept changing the play. The 1827 playbill has the dream double feature--the evening's entertainment opened with The Vampire!, the stage adaptation of another story conceived late one night on Lake Geneva, followed by Frankenstein.

The script gives us the original cast, instructions on costuming and the basic stage set, but most importantly it shows the actor who played the monster in costume, making this the earliest depiction of the monster.

August 3, 1827, playbill for the Vampire and Presumption

When you come in to see them, be sure to ask for the 1831 edition Shelley's classic--it is the first time the Monster's image appears in the novel. You can see the script by asking for Rare PR5021 .M62 M3 1826. The Playbills are in MS-1414, Box 1, and the 1831 third edition is Rare PR5397 .F7 1831.