In 1823, Richard Brinsley Peake, a forgotten “hack” playwright, adapted Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the melodramatic stage and produced the image of the monster that has dominated since. Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein and its lead actor, T.P. Cooke, introduced the convention of playing Shelley’s creature as an inarticulate beast. The few scholarly works on Presumption accuse Peake of merely silencing and thereby dehumanizing Shelley’s expressive creation. Yet the production radically reinterpreted the monster by way of the most sympathetic and articulate role of the melodramatic stage: the voiceless but virtuous mute. “Frankenstein and the Mute Figure of Melodrama” traces the way Presumption appropriates and adapts the conventions of melodramatic muteness. It shows how Peake physically constructed Shelley’s monster as both victim and villain, juxtaposing the creature’s innocence, expressed in mute gesture, with the inhumanity conveyed by Cooke’s makeup and costume, thus compelling nineteenth-century theatregoers to locate both within a single character. Such a conclusion suggests not only a radical re-evaluation of Peake’s engagement with Shelley: it implies as well a revised and much richer history, even at this early date, of the valence and operations of melodramatic muteness as well as the ostensible moral legibility of melodramatic drama.


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pp. 437-458
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