Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein (1823 Play)

The Play, Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein has the honour of being the first interpretation of Frankenstein ever published, coming out in 1823, even before the reprinting of Frankenstein in 1831. It also is the only interpretation that Mary Shelley ever got to experience. The Author of this play, Richard Brinsley Peake, chose not to name the Creature at all, only delineating a *** for the places in which he would appear in the script and not choosing to take a side in that area on whether he was a creature, a monster, or something else entirely. Peake also chose to add in the character of an assistant to be an alternative voice to Frankenstein, named Fritz.

Cover of Presumption

Cover of Presumption

The creation scene comes in Act 1, Scene 3 and goes as follows,

Music. – Fritz takes up footstool, he ascends the stairs, when on the gallery landing place, he stands on the footstool tiptoe to look through the small high lattice window of the laboratory, a sudden combustion is heard within. The blue flame changes to one of a reddish hue.

FRANK.(Within.) It lives! it lives!

FRITZ.(Speaks through music.) Oh, dear! oh, dear! oh, dear!

Fritz, greatly alarmed, jumps down hastily, totters tremblingly down the stairs in vast hurry; when in front of stage, having fallen flat in fright, with difficulty speaks.

FRITZ. There’s a hob – hob-goblin, 20 feet high! wrapp’d in a mantle – mercy – mercy –

[Falls down.]

Music. – Frankenstein rushes from the laboratory, without lamp, fastens the door in apparent dread, and hastens down the stairs, watching the entrance of the laboratory.

FRANK. It lives! [It lives.] I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open, it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. What a wretch have I formed, [his legs are in proportion and] I had selected his features as beautiful – beautiful! Ah, horror! his cadaverous skin scarcely covers the work of muscles and arteries beneath, his hair lustrous, black, and flowing – his teeth of pearly whiteness – but these luxuriances only form more horrible contrasts with the deformities of the Demon.

Music. – He listens at the foot of the staircase.

[It is yet quiet – ] What have I accomplished? the beauty of my dream has vanished! and breathless horror and disgust fill my heart. For this I have deprived myself of rest and health, have worked my brain to madness; and when I looked to reap my great reward, a flash breaks in upon my darkened soul, and tells me my attempt was impious, and that its fruition will be fatal to my peace for ever. (He listens again.) All is still! The dreadful spectre of a human form – no mortal could withstand the horror of that countenance – a mummy endued with animation could be so hideous as the wretch I have endowed with life! – miserable and impious being that I am! [ – lost – lost] Elizabeth! brother! Agatha! – faithful Agatha! never more dare I look upon your virtuous faces. Lost! lost! lost!

(Peake 143-144)

Many of the descriptions made in the stage directions and script match closely with those of the original novel, especially what comes out of the mouth of Frankenstein, but it is the words of Fritz that give new life and interpretation to the Creature. The fact that this man is “seven-and-twenty feet high” paints a very different picture of the Creature  as well as the words describing him like a hobgoblin (143).

Peake seems to take the side the Creature is human, at least in looks, as he is “the dreadful spectre of a human form”, but instead of the more neutral “Creature” has chosen to use the word “monster” in the stage directions to describe what Frankenstein has created (143).
The Creature in PresumptionPeake-1823-play

As the play is from such a long time ago we have very little in terms of visuals to go off of when looking at the appearance of the Creature, only this one picture that shows an almost Grecian or Roman looking dress and another with Frankenstein looking oddly very sensual instead of monstrous. The description from the beginning of the play about what the Monster should look like reads,

“dark black flowing hair – a la Octavian – his face, hands, arms, and legs all bare, being one colour, the same as his body, which is a light blue or French gray cotton dress, fitting quite close, as if it were his flesh, with a slate colour scarf round his middle, passing over one shoulder.” (135-136)

While referred to as a Monster, he is described in dress much like a human, with hair exactly as described in the novel. This may have to do with the ability to write things in print and not be able to act them out on stage with the limited resources and special effects like we have now.

In any case, Presumption set the stage, literally, for all the adaptations of Frankenstein to come. The Creature was tall, menacing, yet human, and in pictures sensual and beautiful. This shows that from the very beginning Frankenstein’s Creature will always be walking the line between human and other, beautiful and ugly.

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