(14) Chapter 8.

With his wife Perdita holding proof of his adultery, Lord Raymond puts on a show and then loses his mind.

Edmund Kean as Richard III, Hand-Colored Engraving with Foil and Fabric, British, 1839; Cooper Hewitt

The most famous stage actor of Mary Shelley’s time was Edmund Kean, whose career was very nearly sunk by a highly-publicized adulterous affair in 1825, during the writing of The Last Man. The woman’s husband sued, and won; Kean had to pay damages, his own wife left him, and his public reputation was ruined. His critics became scathing. So, as Raymond always plans to do, he fled the country—for a tour in America, where our critics almost moralized him to death. In tune with so much current talk about “the greatest of all time,”  it seems possible, from all accounts, that for sheer stage presence Edmund Kean has never been surpassed. A Shakespearean, he specialized in the villains and anti-heroes; he brought King Lear’s original ending back to the stage, where no one had seen it for over 150 years (his audiences preferred Nahum Tate’s happier ending and Kean was forced to switch back). He was very short, the son of an actress, and met his downfall from “stimulants” at age 45. According to a number of sources, “Dying is easy—comedy is hard” were his last words.

Edmund Kean, Portrait by Thomas Wright; Folger Shakespeare Library
Edmund Kean as Othello, Hand-Colored Lithograph by J.W. Gear, c. 1820; Folger Shakespeare Library
Edmund Kean as Richard III, Derby Porcelain, c. 1815; Folger Shakespeare Library
Edmund Kean as Shylock, Mezzotint by H.H. Meyer, c. 1820 ; Folger Shakespeare Library

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