The Celebrity of Edmund Kean: An Institutional Story

  • Jacky Bratton


Cultural analysis has begun to suggest that the period 1789–1830 staged crucial moments in the emergence of modern identities. It is not a new idea that the age of revolutions was the first act of the psychological drama of modernity; but now we are beginning to understand that the emergent modern self was literally as well as symbolically theatricalised — played out, explored and contested publicly in the theatres of late Georgian London. The celebrity of the great Romantic actor Edmund Kean is a fruitful case in point.


British Public Sexual Ideology Fruitful Case Poor Girl Public Decency 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Thomas Colley Grattan, Beaten Paths and Those Who Trod Them, 2 vols (London: Chapman and Hall, 1862), II, pp. 195–6. See Jane Moody, Illegitimate Theatre in London, 1770–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 229, for the significance of this linking and Kean’s ‘illegitimate celebrity’.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Leigh Woods, ‘Actors’ Biography and Mythmaking, the Example of Edmund Kean’, in Interpreting the Theatrical Past ed. Thomas Postlewait and Bruce A. McConachie (Iowa, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1989) pp. 230–47.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On the potential for humiliation, see Jacqueline Rose, On Not being Able to Sleep: Psychoanalysis and the Modern World (London: Chatto and Windus, 2003), p. 4; on status-stripping and the body, see Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), p. 82.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Marc Baer, Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Jacky Bratton, New Readings in Theatre History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    He was almost always pictured as Richard III — in the most famous print, by George Cruickshank (May 1814) bearing Drury Lane on his hump; even in the bawdy prints of him with Charlotte Cox he (or she) tends to wear the trunk hose of the Shakespearean character.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Drury Lane Journal: Selections from James Winston’s Diaries 1819–1827 ed. Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1974), p. 105.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Raymond Fitzsimons, Edmund Kean: Fire from Heaven (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1976), pp. 192–201.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    See Gillian Russell, ‘Theatre’, in An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age ed. Iain McCalman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 223–31, p. 223.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Drury Lane Journal, p. 59: on the first night it played for 1 hour and 23 minutes; subsequent performances were shortened by 15 minutes.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    This withering scorn of the prize-ring and its ‘vermin’ comes from a gentleman who, according to the official Times biography, was proud of his own boxing ability and once inadvertently challenged Tom Cribb to fight because the champion did not step quickly enough out of the young gownsman’s way in a Cambridge street; Cribb was polite enough to enlighten the five-foot student boxer as to who he was, rather than knocking him down. Kean was a small man, too.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    See Survey of London ed. F. H. W. Sheppard, 42 vols (London: Athlone Press for the GLC, 1970), 35, p. 64.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Winston’s Drury Lane papers in 23 volumes, BL C.120.h.1, volume for 1821–2, unidentified cutting dated 13 October — ‘we cannot decide whether this is an improvement, you certainly cannot remove from one seat to another with such ease, as before.’Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 23.Google Scholar
  15. 26.
    It was also pervasively present in the surrounding streets. See Tracy Davis, ‘The Actress in Victorian Pornography’, in Victorian Scandals: Representations of Gender and Class ed. Kristine Ottesen Garrigan (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1992), pp. 99–133; and see Dewey Ganzel, ‘Patent Wrongs and Patent Theatres: Drama and the Law in the Early Nineteenth Century’, PMLA 76:4 (1961), pp. 384–96, p. 391, where he demonstrates from the evidence to the Select Committee of 1832 that the reason speculators continued to pour money into Covent Garden, despite its constant losses from productions, was that they were buying into the proceeds of prostitution, carried on in a neighbouring brothel owned by the theatre.Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    See Drury Lane Journal, p. 4, where he records Kean’s habit of lining up women back stage, having two more waiting while he ‘served’ the first.Google Scholar
  17. 31.
    Kristina Straub, Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 27–28, 40.Google Scholar
  18. 33.
    Alfred Bunn, The Stage: Both before and behind the Curtain, from Observations Taken on the Spot, 3 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1840), I, pp. 54–66.Google Scholar
  19. 34.
    Christopher Murray, Robert William Elliston, Manager (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1975), p. 150.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jacky Bratton 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacky Bratton

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations