- Cover Note
Mr Kean as Bertram. Originally appeared as the frontispiece to Hone's popular cabinet edition, Bertram; or, The Castle of St Aldobrand, Being the Romance of the Tragedy by the Rev. R. C. Maturin (London, 1816). Engraving by George Cruikshank. Reproduced from The Life of E. K., 2 vols. (London, 1835), I, 158–59. British Library shelfmark 10825.bb.1. © The British Library. All Rights Reserved.
This issue's cover image depicts the actor Edmund Kean (1787–1833) in the title role of Irish author Charles Robert Maturin's Bertram; or, the Castle of St Aldobrand (1816).1 The play's success upon its first performance at London's Drury Lane resulted, in no small part, from Edmund Kean's portrayal of Bertram as a dark and brooding Italian aristocrat whose exile and estrangement registered the anxieties of post-Union Ireland at the level of style. Edmund Kean came to prominence in 1814, playing Shakespearean and other tragic roles. His new style of acting broke with existing dramaturgical norms, especially those associated with the rhetorical and stately style of John Phillip Kemble, the famous eighteenth-century tragedian. Bold, romantic, and volatile, Kean drew attention to the expressive power of his own body and perfected an adversarial, melodramatic, and muscular mode characterized by sudden [End Page 9] transitions from words to gesture: as Bertram, he famously turned from a vitriolic speech at the end of Act II, to gently and wordlessly kiss the child of his lover.
This contemporary print captures Kean's realization of Bertram's "thick black locks" and "wild and sun-burnt features" as noted in the playwright's stage directions. The image is typical of theatrical engravings of the day in portraying a single actor on a flat plane, looking sideways as if to an audience and in mid-gesture. From 1810, such images were printed four and later six to a sheet, with the name of actor and character printed beneath each figure. The rich and vivid tones of the image, which was probably colored by hand, would have drawn attention to the shop windows where such prints were sold as theatrical souvenirs.
1. For related analysis, see Claire Connolly's "Theater and Nation in Irish Romanticism: The Tragic Dramas of Charles Robert Maturin and Richard Lalor Sheil," 185-214.