Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Playwright Richard Brinsley Peake holds the distinction of writing the first stage adaptation of Mary Shelley's Gothic novel Frankenstein. He began writing dramatic sketches in 1817, and the following year wrote the notable operatic farce Amateurs and Actors.

Peake's main claim to fame, however, came in 1823, when he wrote Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein. It had an initial run of 37 performances and remained in the repertoire of the English Opera House through the middle of the century. Leaflets distributed by picketers claimed the play was impious, but protesters apparently had never seen the show. Reviewers actually found the play to have an admirable moral, warning mankind not to pursue things beyond our scope.

The manuscript filed with the censor and a published version provide substantially different texts, and both depart tremendously from Shelley's novel. In the book, Elizabeth is Victor Frankenstein's adopted sister, but the two later fall in love and plan to marry. Peake makes them actual brother and sister, and gives both of them new love interests. Elizabeth is engaged to Victor's friend Clerval, and Victor is in love with Agatha De Lacey, a character from the narrative the Creature tells in the book.

And what does the Creature say in Peake's play? Absolutely nothing! Keeping with the tradition of mute characters in melodramas, the Creature expresses himself only through pantomime. In the original playbill, the part of the Creature was denoted simply by a dash. He was played by noted actor T.P. Cooke.