Six Characters in Search of Their Lost Playwrights
Coinciding with the real terrors of the French Revolution and the riotous aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, an era of Gothic melodrama brought to the stage a host of theatrical monsters still familiar in present-day cinema. We recognise the perennial characters—the Mummy, the Wolfman, the phantom Highwayman, the Dead Bride, the Monster animated from dead body parts, and the Pirate of the ghost ship. We may remember one or two of the literary sources—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819)—but we have largely forgotten the playwrights and players who first brought these characters onto the stage. My present purpose is to trace these characters back in time to the playwrights who gave them their dramatic, or melodramatic, time, place, and action, and their essential theatrical being. To reclaim what we have lost, we will need more than their names: we will need to know as well their place in the literary culture of their era.
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