History of Medicine
Escaping Shelly's Frame
The Monster in Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, 1823. Courtesy of the Harvard Theatre Collection.
In 1823 Mary Shelley's father told her of an English Opera House production of a play entitled Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein. Though inspired by her novel, the play departed from it freely — as playwrights, filmmakers, and political cartoonists have done ever since. Shelley's original novel, memorable for its story and ambitious in the large questions it poses, has invariably been simplified and distorted, sometimes almost beyond recognition.
The actor T.P. Cooke played the monster in this 1823 stage adaptation of Frankenstein. His make-up left him, by one account, with a "shriveled complexion, lips straight and black, and a horrible ghastly grin."
When nineteenth-century English editorial cartoonists wished to depict some group as brutish, primitive, or inclined to run amok, they routinely invoked the image of the Frankenstein monster. Here, their target was the Irish.
The Edison Kinetogram, March 10,1910. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Edison National Historic Site.
The first cinematic version of Frankenstein was a silent film produced by Edison Films; it came two decades before the famous 1931 Universal Studios picture.