Staging Manfred

Frederick Burwick (University of California)

Opening with a Faustian scene in which Manfred abjures his previous studies that “did not avail” (I.i.12), Byron introduces the time-conscious “vigil,” the compulsive need to “watch” and “to look within” (I.i.7-8). In each of the successive encounters, the temporality of “watching” is modulated in accord with a scheme other than the familiar course of earthbound time. With the spirits of earth and air, as with the demons of the Hall of Arimanes, Manfred shares an unconstrained vista of universal time and space. “The lightning of my being,” he tells the Seven Spirits, “is as bright, / Pervading, and far darting as your own” (I.i.155-6). Affirming his lot outside of normal mortality, he tells the Chamois Hunter “Look on me.” (II.i.42). “Look on me / Or watch my watchings,” he tells the Witch of the Alps (II.ii.128-9). To the Phantom of Astarte, he says, “Look on me!” (II.iv.119). To the Abbot of St. Maurice, the request is again repeated: “Look on me!” (III.i.138) and “Look upon me!” (III.i.149). While keeping watch upon the tower, Manuel relates to Herman how Astarte was once “companion of his wanderings / And watchings” (III.iii.43-4). Even as he prepares to die, Manfred defies the demons who come to fetch him. Unlike his Faustian prototype, Manfred has made no pact with the devil. He owes his mastery of dark powers to his “superior science” and “length of watching” (III.iv.116).

The staging of Manfred might have readily realized the motif of watching by implicating the audience in the different modes of witnessing Manfred as dominant character from scene to scene. Instead, Alfred Bunn’s premier production of the play at Covent Garden (October 29, 1834 to February 18, 1835) decentred the role of the title character with the theatrical enhancements of lighting, setting, and music. To take advantage of the poetic contexts of the demonic and sublime, Bunn commissioned a series of immense theatre paintings by the Grieves. Henry Gaskell Denvil was expected to perform the character of Manfred in the established manner of impersonating Byron performing the role of the Byronic character. Bunn was persuaded by Francis Jeffrey to accept that “obscurity is part of its grandeur.” This entailed a pretence of secrecy regarding “the painful nature of the circumstances,” which Jeffrey declared arose “from the disappointment or fatal issue of an incestuous passion on which its distress is founded” (Jeffrey 122). The hints of brother-sister incest in Manfred’s relation to Astarte were understood to be Byron’s own confession of his illicit relationship with his half-sister, Augusta Mary Byron. On August 17, 1807, Augusta married her cousin, Colonel George Leigh, and had a number of children by him, but Byron was acknowledged as father of her daughter, Elizabeth Medora Leigh, born in 1814. Two years later, Byron’s marriage to Annabelle Milbank had failed and he departed from England amidst rumours of incest with his half-sister (Broadview 13-4).

Among Bunn’s entrepreneurial ploys to insure a sensation on opening night at Covent Garden was the invitation of a special guest. There was an electric buzz of excitement as the audience waited for the curtain to rise on the premier performance of Manfred (29 October 1834). The buzz was hushed when the audience witnessed one last spectator take her place in one of the central boxes. The Honorable Augusta Leigh had arrived to watch the play that fueled the stories of incest (Tunbridge 212-36). Twenty years had passed since the birth of their daughter (April 15, 1814), and ten years since the poet’s death at Missolonghi (April 19, 1824), but the old scandals were as lively as ever. During the conjuration of Astarte (II.iv), heads were twisting back and forth in the attempt to judge the reactions to the events on stage by the lady in the box seat.

The impersonations of Byron had become more familiar to London audiences than any of the fading memories of the poet. As Byron himself confessed, Edmund Kean was exceptionally skilled in his impersonations of Byron. Kean’s impersonations were only mildly embarrassing when performed in private. They were far too convincing when performed publicly, as in Kean’s performance as Salim in The Bride of Abydos (Drury Lane, February 5, 1818). When Denvil took on the role of Manfred at Covent Garden, his performance was burdened by expectations that he would not simply impersonate Byron in that role but also reprise Edmund Kean’s well-known impersonations of Byron.

At odds with his own denial of any ambitions for theatre performance, Byron achieved a far more extensive stage presence than any other playwright of the Romantic era. He attained this prominence in spite of the limited and belated success of his own dramatic works. The popularity of the Byronic character seemed to follow inevitably from the partially autobiographical revelations developed in his literary protagonists. Many years ago, David Erdmann observed a closely related paradox that Byron should declare his purpose “to reform the stage” yet repeatedly deny his intentions to have his plays performed (Erdman 5-6). Upon submitting Manfred to his publisher, John Murray, Byron confessed “an invincible repugnance” of the stage (March 9, 1817, BLJ V:185). In a letter to Douglas Kinnaird, he declared that Manfred is “the very Antipodes of the stage and is meant to be so—it is all in the Alps & the other world—and as mad as Bedlam—I do not know that it is even fit for publication—the persons are all magicians—ghosts—& the evil principle — with a mixed mythology of my own” (March 25, 1817, BLJ V:194-195).

One week later, Byron wrote again to Kinnaird to offer yet another reason why “success on the stage is not to me an object of ambition.” The reason is much like the one he borrowed from Milton’s Satan and gave to Manfred: “’Tis better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven” (Paradise Lost, I.254-5; III.i.73). Neither success nor failure in serving the fickle audiences of London would bring any satisfaction. “Unless I could beat them all—it would be nothing” (March 31, 1817, BLJ V:196). At odds with his disclaimers, Byron expressed again and again his thoughts on how his plays might be successfully performed (Erdman 219-43). The argument whether Byron’s works were to be relegated to the sub-genre of “closet drama” is rendered specious and irrelevant by the repeated success of the plays when revived on stage following the poet’s death.

Of Byron’s eight plays, Marino Faliero was the only one performed during his lifetime, and Byron protested vehemently against that performance. In the Preface to the play, he wrote “I have had no view to the stage.” As principle reason, he cited his doubt in the competency of an audience to judge his work for better or worse: “Were I capable of writing a play which could be deemed stage worthy, success would give me no pleasure, and failure great pain. It is for this reason that even during the time of being one of the committee of one of the theatres, I never made the attempt, and never will” (Poetical Works 407-8). The performance of Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice (Drury Lane, April 25, 1821) featured John Cooper in the title role. The aged Doge is first angered by Steno’s taunts about the infidelity of his young wife, then enraged by the refusal of the Council to punish the perpetrator, and finally driven in frenzy to a conspiracy to overthrow his own government. Partly because Robert Elliston, manager at Drury Lane, had cut the scenes of the psychological self-torment, and partly because Cooper as an actor was incapable of expressing that capacity of an Othello to be his own Iago, the play closed after five performances (Murray 195-6). Elliston’s abbreviated version stripped away the subtle increments of the Doge’s frustration and infuriation, and Cooper’s performance of the character offered few of the attributes of Byronic temperament that might excite a gossip-craving audience.

Several actors, including Edmund Kean (Manning 188-206) and William Charles Macready (Barker 342-4), sought to make the most of Byron’s autobiographical presence in the Byronic character. Responding to the public celebration of the virtuoso performer, actors engaged a rivalry in performing Byronic roles. Needing much more than simply enacting the spirit of the Byronic character, the actors had to make it appear as if Byron himself were on stage performing that character. Parallel to the double role that Byron assigns himself as narrator and character in Childe Harold and Don Juan, the doubleness was also manifest in the stage performance (Burwick, “Subinsinuation” 98-110). Peter Cochran was among the first to give close attention to the staging of Byron’s plays (Cochran “Byron and Drury Lane” 1-34, 201-2). To the staging of Byron’s plays must be added the stage adaptations of such romances as The Corsair and The Bride of Abydos. Too, the appraisal of a stage Byron ought to include the stage adaptations of novels featuring the most notorious representations of Byron: Lord Glenarvon Ruthven in Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon (1816) and Lord Ruthven in John Polidori’s The Vampire (1819). William Barrymore’s stage adaptation of Glenarvon (Coburg, July 13, 1819) featured Henry Kemble as the Byronic Lord Glenarvon. J. Amherst’s version of Glenarvon (Coburg, December 3, 1821) cast H. H. Rowbotham as Ruthven Glenarvon. Both Kemble and Rowbotham turned the role into a studied impersonation of Lord Byron (Burwick, “Playing” 71-86). James Robinson Planché, in The Vampire (English Opera House, August 9, 1820), brought John Polidori’s short story to the stage. He retained the now-familiar sinister name of Lord Ruthven, performed as a stage Byron by Thomas Potter Cooke (Burwick, Romantic Drama 230-57). The best of the Byron impersonators was Kean, who exercised that ability effectively as Selim in The Bride of Abydos (Drury Lane, February 5, 1818), adapted for the stage by William Dimond. When Charles Dibdin, Jr. prepared the staging of The Corsair (Sadler’s Wells, August 1, 1814), he gave Conrad all the poses and situations popularly associated with Byron (Burwick and Powell 59-72).

Given its antecedents, the performance of Manfred at Covent Garden on October 29, 1834 was anticipated as another stage enactment of Lord Byron and his personal scandal (Playbill Manfred, Covent Garden, 1834). With scenery by Thomas and William Grieve (Grieve Theatre Designs) and music by Henry Rowley Bishop (Corder 78-97; Caldwell 179-80), stage-manager Alfred Bunn intended a spectacular production of Manfred. Denvil would be performing as Byron performing as Manfred, or as Kean performing as Byron performing as Manfred. Performing before Grieves’ imposing scenery, Denvil confronted the challenge of being upstaged magnificently by the stage itself. Several reviews appraised Denvil’s performance from the perspective of his audience. Bunn, as manager of Covent Garden, communicated the high expectations he had for his young tragedian (Bunn 214-7). William Macready’s account expressed cynicism masked as pity and the noblesse oblige of an experienced senior actor (Macready I:165-6, 187, 269-70). Planché, who had introduced Denvil to Bunn, assumed the role of a concerned mentor but also as playwright offering advice on performing an unusually challenging text (Planché I:213-4.).

In spite of delivering with gusto those lines in which Manfred commanded the Chamois Hunter, the Witch of the Alps, Astarte, the Abbot of St. Maurice to look upon him, Denvil found it difficult to step out of the shadows. Determined to represent a reincarnated Byron/Manfred in the grips of a succession of passions, Denvil’s efforts were effectively stifled by an artistic exposition of the Byronic sublime in which Denvil served only as tour guide. According to one reviewer, the great attraction was neither Byron’s poetry nor Denvil’s acting, but rather “the beauty of the scenery, its music, and its mechanical and scenic effects, which are equal, if not superior, to any thing ever yet seen” (Observer, qtd. in Meisel 175). The review continues: “The Messrs. Grieve have exhibited some of the most beautiful specimens of their art; the Jungfrau Mountains, the Cataract of the Lower Alps, and a Terrace of Manfred’s Castle are exquisite pictures, & the Hall of Arimanes, a copy of Martin's Pandemonium was terrifically grand” (Meisel 175). The reviewer in the London Literary Gazette objected to the mistake of rendering the spiritual as physical, and expecting more of Denvil than the monologue provided. “To avoid the ridiculous was a great point, and in that he succeeded” (rpt. in Broadview 127-8).

Planché’s main reason for introducing Denvil at Covent Garden was “the old obstacle, the want of a singer who could act.” Covent Garden was without “a popular melo-dramatic performer,” who could sing (Planché I:214). Although Planché made it clear that Denvil was to be reserved for those singing roles in melodrama, “Bunn, fancying he had secured a second Edmund Kean, insisted on Denvil making his first appearance as Shylock.” Reviewers attacked Denvil for his presumption. Denvil, for his own part, knew he was being cast in roles beyond his experience. “He is putting me,” were his words, “on a pinnacle to break my neck: but what can I do? I have, for weeks past, walked Kensington Gardens without a dinner, in order that my wife and little ones should not lose a crumb by me. Mr. Bunn offers me five pounds per week, which is affluence to us and salvation! How can I refuse?” (Planché I:214). Denvil did his best to fulfil the demanding Shakespearean roles, then at the end of October came the rehearsals for the grand spectacle of the season. On the evening of October 29, Denvil stood alone in the dark. Literally. The playbill forewarned the audience that “Chandeliers around the Front of the Boxes will not be used on the Evenings of the Performance of Manfred.” The backdrop paintings were crucial to Bunn’s production. “In order to produce the necessary effects of Light and Shade,” downstage action took place in the shadows. A voice in the shadows, a voice in the vastness (as rebuilt in 1809 Covent Garden seated 2,800 with no amplification), Denvil’s Manfred was further constrained by a musical score in which Manfred was silenced by the series of solos and choruses. Denvil was a strong tenor—as Planché declared, he could sing as well as act. Nevertheless, he was given no opportunity to sing in Henry Bishop’s score.

Denvil was so conscious of performing the character as an incarnation of Byron that he seemed to leave him but half resurrected from the tomb. In part that effect was owing to the breathy quality of Denvil’s voice. He seemed as much a supernatural being as Astarte or any of the characters conjured in the court of Arimanes (Planché I:213-5). Denvil rose to the challenge of performing multiple roles in the character of Manfred. He was the poet exiled in scandal and returned as a vampire from the grave; he was the tormented lover longing for the forgiveness of his lost Astarte; he was the defiant apostate fearing neither demons nor death. Singled out for special praise was the scene with the Witch of Alps performed by Ellen Tree (Planché I:214).

As Planché explained, Bunn cast Denvil in a succession of demanding roles, as Shylock, as Richard III, and as Bertram. Not surprisingly, the critics blamed the actor for an overeager ambition: ‘The diversity of opinion, not only as to the extent of his abilities, but respecting almost every scene of his performance, is, perhaps, scarcely to be equaled in the annals of criticism. After three performances with the same result; the conflicting evidence of the Times, Herald, Chronicle, and Morning Post being most amusingly summed up by the True Sun in the evening. In these, and other characters, he had to endure comparison with Edmund Kean; but in Lord Byron’s Manfred, which was subsequently produced, he had the advantage of an original part, and united the suffrages of the critics. (Planché I:213-5).’ But it was not an original part, for Denvil once again was cast in a role in which he had to follow Kean as an impersonator of Byron. Denvil was a boy of twelve years when Byron left England. As an actor now aged thirty, Denvil knew Byron only at second-hand, through the poetry and through the acting of Kean and Macready. From neither could he receive any direction or practical counsel.

When Manfred opened at the end of October, William Macready was on tour and performing at Dublin. The audience reception remained sufficiently strong throughout the first season to sustain the run for thirty-six performances. Macready read the reviews and expressed his opinions in his letters to Bunn, who several months earlier had urged Macready to “perform Manfred, postponing for that purpose my Dublin engagement.” Macready told Bunn that it would be impractical to prepare for Manfred in advance of his visit to Dublin. In his diary, however, he recorded his conviction that there was “no chance for the success of Manfred—it is . . . not a monodrama, but a monologue; splendid as the poetry is, it is not at all dramatic.” Macready had already gained acclaim for bringing to the stage both Werner (Drury Lane, December 15, 1830) and Sardanapalus (Drury Lane, April 10, 1834), roles that he would reprise during his Dublin engagement (Macready, 1:165).

When Bunn engaged Denvil for the 1834-1835 season, Macready watched with interest the criticism in the Examiner. From “his repetition of Shylock and his announcement to-morrow for Richard III,” John Forster, the respected literary reviewer, saw a flaw in Bunn’s confidence in Denvil, “whose exact place in the scale of actors he seems unable to determine” (Macready I:187). Based on additional reports, Macready’s estimation is similarly reserved: “he has, from what I have read of him, a mind above the common theatrical level and the intellectual material to furnish forth an artist.” Unable to anticipate the consequences of Bunn’s aggressive use of Denvil’s talent, Macready concludes, “What will come of it is in the will of other powers” (Macready I:187). A generous review of Denvil’s Shakespearean roles prompted Macready to denounce the Times as a “base and profligate paper” guilty of “dirty malignity” for praising others and ignoring him (Macready I:189).

Lamenting Denvil’s “brief career and his ill-treatment by Bunn, and melancholy exit from the stage of life,” Planché wrote as if Denvil were burdened with hardship and failure following his performance as Manfred. “Under a more judicious management” than Bunn had offered, Denvil might have been “permanently established in the higher position which . . . he had attained.” In spite of Planché’s gloomy pronouncement, Denvil fared well in his subsequent career. As soon as the season at Covent Garden ended, Denvil accepted an invitation from John Farrell at the Pavilion Theatre to perform as Manfred for the week of July 20, 1835. At the Pavilion in 1835, and in years following, Denvil’s performances as Manfred were no longer diminished by Bishop’s grand score, nor by the imposing scenes of the Grieves. Edward Woolf composed the new music, and scenery on a more modest scale was constructed by the Gordons, father and son, with sublime vistas by Brunning (Playbill, Manfred, Pavilion, 1835).

In January 1836, Denvil was in Bristol playing Macduff opposite Macready’s Macbeth, and Iago opposite Macready’s Othello. In what may have been a warning, Denvil told Macready of pitching a fellow actor “from a height of eighteen feet” during a performance. Macready also complained of being “very much inconvenienced and embarrassed” by Denvil, as Iago, repeatedly upstaging him (Macready I:269-70). In addition to one character tormenting the other, the audience witnessed one actor tormenting the other. When Bunn ceased casting Macready in leading roles, leaving him to play only in an afterpiece, Macready lost his temper, called Bunn a “damned scoundrel,” and punched him in the face. Bunn defended himself by biting Macready’s little finger (April 29, 1836, Macready I:301-2).

Denvil accepted an invitation from Park Theatre, New York, where he repeated the roles of his first season at Covent Garden, with his “début . . . in October, 1836, as Shylock. Which he followed up with Richard III, and Manfred, returning to England in 1837” (Adams 392-3). Denvil returned to performing the singing roles in melodrama, the roles for which Planché had said he was best suited. On one occasion (June 1, 1840) Denvil played the lead in The Pirate of Manfredonia, adapted from Maturin’s Bertram, a role that he had played for Bunn during the fall of 1834. As evident from his appearances in New York, he had not utterly abandoned the Shakespearean roles Bunn had imposed upon him. At the City of London Theatre in 1843 he appeared again as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and as Rolla in Sheridan’s Pizarro.

Jointly with his wife, Alice Matilda, Denvil was managing and performing at the Pavilion Theatre in Whitechapel Road during the 1840s. Alice Matilda Denvil not only acted but also authored several of their plays, and by 1842 Master Manfred Denvil was on stage for the interlude performing a sailor’s hornpipe. On August 21, 1857, Charles Kean, lessee of Princess’s Theatre, signed an agreement for the engagement of Alice Matilda Denvil (Memorandum, Y.d.380, Folger Library, Manuscript). Planché’s reference to Denvil’s “melancholy exit from the stage of life,” suggested a gloomy fate for Denvil’s latter career. In spite of financial difficulties Denvil enjoyed a period of relative success at the Pavilion.

Theatre critic Westland Marston began his account of Manfred by describing not Denvil but Ellen Tree: ‘Miss Ellen Tree (whom I then saw for the first time) declaimed the lines allotted to the Witch of the Alps, lines which are not only few, but almost devoid of dramatic force, serving only to draw out Manfred's long and gloomy retrospect. Nevertheless, in her appearance, as she stood within the arch of a rainbow in her garments, which seemed woven of aerial colours touched by the sun, and in her voice, the tones of which, though sweet, were remote and passionless, she realized all the weird charm of a genius of lake and mountain. There was something glacial in her unsubstantial loveliness, something that belonged to the forms of sleep rather than those of common day. (Marston, 13-4)’ The scene with the Witch’s declamation, “Son of Earth! I know thee!” also impressed Augusta Leigh, who wrote: “Miss Ellen Tree's Witch of the Alps I shall dream of” (Marston, 14). Manfred’s lines on Astarte — “She was like me in lineaments, . . .” (II.ii.106-18)—Denvil delivered “with an intensity of horror and remorse that no actor could well have surpassed” (Marston 15). Marston remarked specifically on Denvil’s ability to mould his face to capture the moods of “the haughty and mysterious hero of the drama.” Marston was especially impressed by “the look of self-recoil” that contorted his face during the pause in saying, “I loved her, —and destroyed her!” (II.ii.118). Denvil had some measure of poetic feeling, and considerable power of facial expression. ‘General praise was accorded to his Manfred . . . his pale, almost spectral face, thrown out by his dark garb, and a haughty isolation and melancholy in tone, look, and gesture that well conveyed the mingled pride and remorse of one who, though racked by the sense of a hidden crime, has won commerce with supernatural beings. (Marston 14)’ In spite of his positive appraisal of Denvil’s acting, Marston is still left with a puzzle: “Why an actor should be fairly successful in Richard the Third and Shylock, really fine in Manfred, and yet fail totally in Othello, is not at once obvious” (Marston 15-6). The fault lay, Marston suggested, in the actor’s failing to separate the acting of serious tragedy from that of popular melodrama. Denvil allowed his acting to degenerate “into the worst style of provincial rant.” As Manfred he had sustained “the ease, refinement, and poetic appreciation and quick insight into character and motive.” That higher order of acting was undermined by frequent performance in melodrama: “Distorted features, violence of gesture, and strain of lung were all the resources left to him” (Marston 15-6).

Denvil’s impersonation of Byron as Manfred at Covent Garden was accompanied by a burlesque at the Strand Theatre ridiculing Bishop’s score, mimicking other composers, as fitting accompaniment to Denvil’s mimicking Byron and Kean (Tunbridge 212-36). Gilbert Abbott à Beckett’s Man-Fred (December 26, 1834) amused the crowds with Mitchell’s impersonation of Denvil’s impersonation of Byron as Manfred (à Beckett ix.6). According to the reviewer in the Times, the best scene in the burlesque involved Mitchell’s mimicking “the attitude in which Mr Denvil lately astonished the visitors at one of the patent theatres, and in which he is represented in the shop windows” (December 27, 1834). That Manfred in Byron’s tragedy was perceived as needing a comic counterpart in burlesque is reconfirmed when Manfred was revived thirty years later (Drury Lane, October 14, 1863) with Samuel Phelps in the lead role as Manfred. No time was lost in bringing forth Manfred’s madcap double in Martin Dutnall’s Mad Fred at the Royal Surrey Theatre (Times, November 20, 1863).

The opening scene in the Grieves’ “Gothic gallery” provided Denvil with a comfortably enclosed stage space, and presented the audience with a scene already familiar. Billed as “Goethe’s Terrific Drama of Faustus” (Coburg, June 7, 1824), the partial translations by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley were woven together by Henry M. Milner (Burwick, “The Faust Translations” 30-42). Better known and more often performed was Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1594, published 1604), which also opened with a scene of abjuration. “Settle thy studies Faustus,” Marlowe’s character tells himself, “and beginne / To sound the depth of that thou wilt professe.” Aristotle’s Analytics, Galen’s Medicine, Justinian’s Law, are put aside, for Faustus will now devote his mind to mastering necromancy (Marlowe 164, 166). Goethe’s Faust similarly dismisses his study of the traditional disciplines—Philosophy, Law, Medicine, Theology—as having failed to bring him closer to the knowledge he seeks (Faust ll.354-9). The abjuration scene occurs in other early plays. In Robert Greene’s Bacon Friar and Friar Bungay (1594), the faculty charges Friar Bacon for having turned to magic, a trespass he readily confesses:

What art can worke, the frolicke frier knowes,
And therefore will I turne my Magicke bookes,
And straine out Nigromancie to the deepe. (226-8)

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611), Prospero’s abjuration in the final act is not to adopt but to foreswear magic:

But this rough magic
I here abjure . . .
. . . I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound5
I’ll drown my book. (V.i.50-7)

Manfred’s abjuration of philosophy and science is preceded by his declaration of his ceaseless watching, a vigil which is a leitmotif in all his subsequent encounters. The abjuration of all previous endeavors which “availed not,” is followed by the conjuration of the spiritual powers of the universe.

The lamp must be replenished, but even then
It will not burn so long as I must watch:
My slumbers—if I slumber—are not sleep,
But a continuance of enduring thought,
Which then I can resist not: in my heart5
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within . . . (I.i.1-7)

Manfred’s vigil is a mode of introspection, a constant monitoring of thought and feeling. As noted in my opening paragraph, Manfred seeks to enlist into this vigil each of those whom he meets in the ensuing scenes. The grandly insistent egocentrism in which Manfred commands all others to look on him could not be realized on the stage at Covent Garden, certainly not by the relatively inexperienced Denvil, probably not by Kean himself. Bunn, after all, had cut much of Manfred’s monologues, and had ordered a shadowy stage.

Left with only pieces of monologue, Denvil’s Manfred was nevertheless able to abjure outmoded disciplines with a broad indictment of arcane knowledge. In the Hall of Arimanes, the First Destiny declares that Manfred’s aspirations have taught him the wisdom of hell: “That knowledge is not happiness” (II.iv.59-62). Recognizing the importance of Manfred’s opening monologue in establishing character, Denvil was able to lay claim Manfred’s ethical independence in the opening lines when he reframes the words of Genesis (2:9, 17) to define the futility and fatality of knowing.

Sorrow is Knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life. (I.i.10-2)

Manfred is less concerned with knowing good and evil as the consequence of eating the forbidden fruit, as he is with the revelation of forbidden knowledge. Manfred dismisses the three major endeavors of his life: first, the mastery of “Philosophy and science, and the springs / Of wonder and wisdom of the world.” Even though his mind had the “power to make these subject to itself . . . they avail not.” So too the consequences of good works “availed not,” and the ability to vanquish foes with military power “availed not.” In this limbo of ineffectuality, there remains no moral constancy or stability. “Good, or evil, life, / Power, passions, all I see in other beings,” have “since that all-nameless hour” (I.i.13-25) lost their meaning. That hour, as Manfred reveals in ensuing scenes, was the hour of Astarte’s death.

The three-part abjuration is followed by three attempts at conjuration: first he conjures with a “written charm,” and then by the “sign, / Which makes you tremble.” When neither charm nor sign arouse the spirits, he utters a third incantation “By the strong curse which is upon my soul” (I.i.28-49). This spell succeeds, calling forth the spirits (I.i.50-131), whose respective songs are accompanied by full orchestra. The spirits of the four elements sing in succession. Air descends from the cloud, Earth from the mountain, Fire from the volcano, and Water from “the blue depth.” Then come the three powers: “the rider of the wind,” the “stirrer of the storm,” “the shadow of the night.” Next would come light, “The star which rules thy destiny,” but Bunn has omitted the role of the seventh spirit, who has no song, no lines, no place among the dramatis personae. Instead, Bunn’s score moves directly into the chorus, where all seven are listed: “Earth, ocean, air, night, mountains, winds, thy star, / Are at thy beck and bidding” (I.i.132-3). To Manfred’s request for “forgetfulness,” the spirits reply that they “can but give thee that which we possess.” The forgetfulness that Manfred desires is an end to his unrelenting vigil, the image of “that which is most within me” (I.i.137). When he then calls upon the spirits to assume some form that he may behold them, the otherwise absent seventh spirit, played by Miss Clifton, appears and disappears in the form of Astarte:

Oh God! if it be thus, and thou
Art not a madness and a mockery,
I might yet be most happy, I will clasp thee,
And we again will be— [The figure vanishes.] (I.i.189-92)

Manfred faints, and a voice recites an incantational curse, “I compel / Thyself to be thy proper hell!” (I.i.250-2). Bishop’s songs for the spirits were fully adequate to overpower Manfred.

In Act I, scene ii of Bunn’s production Manfred is transported to “A Wild Rocky Pass,” where Denvil lies on the scaffolding while the spirits sing their incantation, “When the moon is on the wave, And the glow-worm in the grass” (I.i.193-4). In the original text, the incantation continued for sixty-nine lines. Bishop has reduced the song to the first two ten-line strophes. When Manfred awakens from the trance, he must acknowledge the inefficacy of his conjuration.

The spirits I have raised abandon me,
The spells which I have studied baffle me,
The remedy I recked of tortured me. (I.ii.1-3)

They too have “avail’d not.” Worse, he has been taunted by the phantom of Astarte.

In the next scene (I.iii in Bunn’s production), the dimensions of the Grieves’ settings become evident. Denvil is poised on the concealed scaffolding half way up the face of “the Mountain of the Jungfrau,” sufficiently high above the stage to lend credibility to his reflections on a suicidal leap. The Chamois Hunter was played by John Cooper, who thirteen years earlier was “the young actor doubly damned” by Byron for his performance in the title role of Marino Faliero (Bunn 154). As a transition to the scene with the Witch of the Alps, Denvil must again fall into a trance as Bishop introduces two more ten-line strophes from the Invocation, now adapted as a Malediction, “And a magic voice and verse / Hath baptized thee with a curse” (I.i.223-32, 253-62).

Cutting the dialogue and rearranging the scenes, Bunn explained, was necessary to take advantage of Byron’s “vast contribution of the ‘marvellous’ and the ‘improbable’.” “By favoring us with little plot, little action, and few characters,” Bunn further argued, “the noble poet did his utmost to render his progeny unfit for representation.” By condensing the text, and enhancing the performance with grand set designs and appropriate music, Bunn was able to overcome the presumed dramatic deficiency. The resulting production “was eminently successful — applauded by a crammed auditory, lauded, with but one exception, by the press” (Bunn 215). That “one exception” was the reviewer in the Morning Chronicle (October 30, 1834).

Denvil was dwarfed by the grand backdrops painted by the Grieves, and the reviewer of the Morning Chronicle said so. Bunn expressed his anger over this review in his correspondence with J. P. Collier, proprietor of the Morning Chronicle. Bunn accused Collier’s newspaper with having “belaboured the production of Manfred (as it had done all the preceding efforts of the season) unmercifully.” Among the “preceding efforts,” Bunn referred particularly to the vilification of Joseph and Mary Anne Wood (Memoir 15-8), whom Bunn had engaged for their performance in Rossini’s Cinderella (Covent Garden, October 1834). Bunn made it clear that he blamed the “theatrical reporter, and believed by me to be my theatrical opponent.” He wrote, ‘My complaint to the Proprietor of the Morning Chronicle did not refer to Manfred alone, but to the tissue of falsehood and nonsense which has appeared about Cinderella and other pieces from time to time in that paper, and which has rendered it, in that particular department, the ridicule of all its readers. (Bunn 217)’ As described by the reviewer, Denvil was hindered in standing forth prominently as an empowered protagonist, but appeared rather as “little more than the showman of a series of splendid scenes painted by the GRIEVES; and as the house was kept in darkness, the effect was quite dioramic” (October 30, 1834). Other reviews had been more positive, but the Morning Chronicle was not alone in objecting to Denvil having to deliver abbreviated passages on a darkened stage. Henry Crabb Robinson, noting that Denvil had been deprived of the best of Manfred’s monologues, wrote that the production afforded no “pleasure except from the splendid scenery.” For that reason, “it should be called a show in which grand pictures are explained by words” (Robinson 145).

Surviving in the performance script were Manfred’s lines repeating Satan’s declaration in Paradise Lost (1664) that “The mind is its own place, and it itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven” (PL I.254-5), lines already echoed in the incantation, “Thyself to be thy proper hell!” In the scenes with the Chamois Hunter, Byron defines the Swiss sense of liberty with allusions to Wilhelm Tell (Giddey 179-90; Piccitto 168-82). For the scene with the Witch of the Alps Byron drew from the legend of Tannhäuser, the celebrated medieval minnesinger who was captivated by the Venus of the Mountain (Grimm 246-7). For the scene in the Hall of Arimanes Byron may again have drawn from Milton’s description of Satan with the fallen angels in Pandemonium, but Milton introduced no mortal interloper defying Satan’s reign.

Until Bunn decided to trim the monologues, half the lines in Manfred belonged to Manfred himself. The other characters, including Astarte, had no abiding presence in the plot, appear only in one or two scenes, and function to reveal aspects of Manfred’s character. Each scene thus functioned separately from the others, a division that was rendered more emphatic by the gallery-like exhibition of the massive canvases painted by the Greives. The Chamois-Hunter, living at one with the sublimity of Alpine nature, represents the Swiss spirit liberty and independence and the ethos of patience in adversity. At a distance he perceives in Manfred one who is “Proud as a free-born peasant,” but on closer approach recognizes a “madman” about to leap from the cliff. Aggressive intervention is necessary to halt the suicidal leap of Manfred, whom the Chamois-Hunter seizes with the chastising words, “Stain not our pure vales with thy guilty blood” (I.ii.111). Manfred confesses, as he will again and again, the origin of that guilt:

. . . my blood! the pure warm stream
Which ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours
When we were in our youth, and had one heart,
And loved each other as we should not love,
And this was shed: but still it rises up, 5
Colouring the clouds, that shut me out from Heaven,
Where thou art not---and I shall never be. (II.i.24-30)

Recognizing Manfred as the victim of “some half-maddening sin,” the Chamois-Hunter urges him to exercise “heavenly patience.” When Manfred scorns the advice as useful only for “brutes of burden,” the Chamois-Hunter replies that he would not share Manfred’s order “for the free fame / Of William Tell,” and whatever his sin, “it must be borne, and these wild starts are useless” (II.i.31-41). “Look on me,” Manfred answers. He bears his pain by maintaining his vigil, and watching his own thoughts, “I look within.” (II.i.42, 72).

Confessing his fatal embrace and the injuries that befell those who loved him (I.i.84-7), Manfred departs from the Chamois Hunter and descends to the foot of an Alpine waterfall. Beneath the sunbow hovering in the mists of the cataract arises the Witch of the Alps, to whom he again confesses the loss of Astarte, and from whom he once more requests forgetfulness. John Martin’s painting, Manfred and the Witch of the Alps (1837), is a painting of a painting, preserving the appearance of Denvil and Ellen Tree in the scene painted by the Grieves. In relating his love for Astarte, Manfred reveals a narcissistic fascination with the mirrored image he perceives in the traits and features of his female companion. Astarte, Manfred declares, “was like me in lineaments—her eyes, / Her hair, her features, all, to the very tone / Even of her voice . . . were like to mine.” She had the “same lone thoughts and wanderings, / The quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind / To comprehend the universe” (II.ii.105-11). This most harmonious of all possible heterosexual relationships is undermined by cultural taboos and familial or social opposition: “I loved her, and destroy’d her! / Not with my hand, but heart—which broke her heart” (II.ii.111-21).

The rumored incest seemed to be confirmed in Manfred (published June 16, 1817) in the implied incestuous relationship between the Count and Astarte (Glass 211-26). The titillating gossip was repeatedly revived. Just as Childe Harold and Don Juan attracted attention for their presumed autobiographical revelations, the character of Manfred was deemed to be a thinly disguised dramatization of a forbidden love between Byron and his half-sister.

Reiterating his need for spectator participation in his suffering, Manfred tells the Witch of the Alps to “look on me in my sleep, / Or watch my watching” (II.ii.129-30). She assures him that she can secure the forgetfulness that he desires, but it will require “obedience to my will” and a surrender to her bidding. Manfred scorns the offer. In his soliloquy that closes the scene, Manfred declares his intention to call the dead, as David had the Witch of Endor summon the ghost of Samuel or Pausanias had his priests call the spirit of Cleonice so that he could ask her forgiveness. The reviewer for the Observer (November 2, 1834) wrote that Denvil lost his dramatic leverage in these scenes. Instead of the living interrogating the spirits, Denvil presented the dead shuffling among the dead. In the brief scene on the summit of the Jungfrau Mountain, the Destinies and Nemesis anticipate the night of “our great festival” (II.iii.15), an event that suggests a parallel to the Walpurgis Night in Goethe’s Faust (Chew 174-8). Nemesis was played by Miss Taylor, who had previously performed as Rebecca in Thomas John Dibdin’s Ivanhoe and as Zapolya, in Dibdin’s adaptation of Coleridge’s play. Tree’s best moment was her dynamic speech, “Son of Earth! I know thee.” Following Denvil’s moving rendition of the monologue, “We are fools of time and terror” (II.ii.165), the scene closed with “The Witches Carnival,” in which Bishop developed Byron’s lyric as a Walpurgis-like revel.

Bishop was ingenious in rescuing the song from the canceled version of Act III and placing it at the end of the scene with the Witch of the Alps. The comic grotesque of Byron’s lyrics and Bishop’s melodic shifts effectively prepare for the arrival at the Hall of Arimanes, yet it is also worthwhile to recall the satirical charge of the original context. In the first version, Byron exposes the Abbot’s piety as a mask for greed. “Charity, most reverend father,” Manfred tells him, “Becomes thy lips so much more than this menace.” The Abbot promises to refrain from malediction, unless Manfred “dost not all devote thyself / To penance, and with gift of all thy lands / To the Monastery.” In response, Manfred offers a gift to the Abbot—a demonic jack-in-the box. “There is a gift for thee within this casket,” he says, and opening it, out pops the demon Ashtaroth, singing the song of the raven and the Witches’ Carnival.

The raven sits
On the Raven-stone,
And his black wing flits
O’er the milk-white bone;
To and fro, as the night-winds blow, 5
The carcase of the assassin swings.
And there alone, on the Raven-stone,
The raven flaps his dusky wings.
The fetters creak—and his ebon° beak
Croaks to the close of the hollow sound; 10
And this is the tune, by the light of the moon,
To which the Witches dance their round.
Merrily—merrily—speeds the ball:
The dead in their shrouds, and the Demons in clouds, 15
Flock to the Witches’ Carnival. (Manfred, ms. Act III, 64).

Peter Cochran argued this discarded song was “the one detail of Manfred lifted directly from Faust.” (Cochran, Manfred n36). Ben Hewitt analyzes the textual parallels: first the brief scene (Faust 4399-404) in which Faust asks what is occurring at the raven stone (Rabenstein, a gallows), and Mephistopheles answers that a witches coven has gathered, but he know not what they cook and brew; and second the “raging magic song” (wütender Zaubergesang) sung by the witches who have gathered for their demonic orgy on Walpurgis Night (Faust 3958-4015). Hewitt also observes that Byron “echoes Goethe’s use of quatrains” (83-4). The significant difference is that Ashteroth’s song is in tetrameters, combining iambs and anapests and a scattering of internal rhymes (as in: “The fetters creak—and his ebon beak”). The pecking beat of the first ten line gives way to the rhythmic dance of the latter ten lines.

The realm of evil into which Manfred intrudes, as already noted, borrows indirectly from Milton’s Pandemonium. As observed by two reviewers (Times and Morning Chronicle, October 30, 1834), the setting replicates John Martin’s Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council (1823-27). Martin’s later version, Pandemonium (1841), bears the influence of the Grieves. The emphasis is rather on the bold defiance of the presumed sovereignty of Arimanes. Manfred, like Prometheus defying Jupiter, refuses to “Bow down and worship” (II.iv.29-49). Arimanes, who speaks but one word, grants the request to call up the dead. Nemesis calls forth the spirit of Astarte. “Look on me,” he tells her, but thrice repeats his more urgent plea, “Speak to me!” (II.iv.117-50). Like Pausanias calling the spirit of Cleonice, Manfred wants Astarte’s forgiveness, and like Cleonice, Astarte replies with the revelation of his impending death. Thrice she utters his name; thrice she bids him farewell. Her sole message: “Tomorrow ends thine earthly ills” (II.iv.150-7). In the songs of Nemesis, the Destinies, and the Spirits (II.iii and iv), Bishop sought to fulfill his operatic aspirations with compositional hints of the aria sung by the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

Byron adhered to the three-act format that distinguished melodrama from the traditional five-act structure of comedy and tragedy. Bishop further reduced the structure by combining Acts II and III. Act I, scene v presented Manfred’s reflection on the kalon as transitory illusion. He is visited by the Abbot of St. Maurice, who comes to save Manfred’s soul. This is a very different Abbot than the one in the manuscript version who represented the corruption of the Catholic Church. As staged at Covent Garden in 1834, the Abbot was played by James Prescott Warde, known for his role as Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and as Mortimer in The Iron Chest, adapted from William Godwin’s Caleb Williams by George Colman the Younger. This revised Abbot is free of greed and corruption but still constrained by dogma. Manfred tells him that there is no charm in prayer, no purification in penitence. As Milton’s Satan declared, the mind can “make a hell of heaven.” His fate, Manfred insists, is a matter exclusively between himself and heaven, and he wants neither church nor priest as his mediator. To behold one who has aged more than a mortal life time, he instructs the Abbot, “Look on me!” And to observe one who has experienced a full range of the maladies of fate. “Look on me!” (III.i.138, 149).

In the next short scene, Manfred watches the sinking sun and declares himself ready to follow. Then in the third scene, the servants Herbert and Manuel recall former days --Manfred’s youth and his devotion to Astarte:

The sole companion of his wanderings
And watchings—her, whom of all earthly things
That lived, the only thing he seemed to love, —
As he, indeed, by blood was bound to do,
The Lady Astarte, his— (III.iii.43-7)5

The word “sister” remains, as it does throughout the play, unspoken.

In the final scene, the Abbot returns, but again his offer of prayer is spurned. When the spirits come to claim Manfred’s immortal soul, the Abbot makes a futile effort to exorcise them. Manfred, however, rejects their claim. His power, he tells them, “Was purchased by no compact with thy crew,” rather by his own “length of watching, strength of mind, and skill” (III.iv.114-6). “Back to thy hell!” he commands them, “Thou hast no power upon me.” Just as he rejected the mediation of church and priest, he denies the claims of hell’s minions. The declaration of Milton’s Satan that “The mind is its own place, and it itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven” (PLI.254-5), as I have previously observed, has already been echoed in the lines, “I call upon thee! and compel / Thyself to be thy proper hell!” (I.i.252), and again in the lines, “The innate tortures of that deep Despair, / Which is Remorse without the fear of hell, / But all in all sufficient to itself / Would make a hell of Heaven (III.i.70-3). The words of Milton’s Satan are repeated for the third time:

The Mind which is immortal makes itself
Requital for its good or evil thoughts,—
Is its own origin of ill and end---
And its own place and time—(III.iv.129-32)

The demons are driven off. The Abbot remains at Manfred’s side, still urging him to a final prayer. Instead, Manfred bids farewell with a simple statement: “Old man! ’tis not so difficult to die.” (III.iv.151).

Although Manfred declares himself ready to kneel with Arimanes to “The overruling Infinite—the Maker” (II.iv.48), and the Abbot expresses his faith in Heaven, Byron’s Manfred offers no further confirmation of a divine paradise. The existence of Hell is sustained by the reign of Arimanes and by the demons who seek to take possession of Manfred’s soul. From beginning to end the play never questions a spiritual afterlife. With the song of the Witch’s Carnival revived and reinserted at the end of the scene with the Witch of the Alps, Bishop recognized that another song was needed for the finale following Manfred’s death.

Following the witches’ song at the end of Act I, Bunn’s altered Act II opens with the Manfred atop the Jungfrau, where the spirits and destinies sing prior to Manfred entrance into the Hall of Arimanes. The spirits’ song of “The Captive Usurper” was the most political of the play, and its account of the fall and resurrection of Napoleon had a powerful resonance when Manfred was published in 1817.

The Captive Usurper
Hurl'd down from the throne
Lay buried in torpor,
Forgotten and lone;
I broke through his slumbers,.5
I shiver'd his chain,.
I leagued him with numbers—
He's Tyrant again!
With the blood of a million he'll answer my care,
With a nation’s destruction—his flight and despair. (II.iii.16-25)10

At the time of the performance of Manfred in 1834, Napoleon was no longer himself a threat. The possibility that, having escaped from Elbe, he might escape again from St. Helena no longer existed. He died in 1821. But a Napoleonic legacy still prevailed, and the added song predicts a second return to power. With the evocation of the “July Monarchy” of France in 1830, that prediction was not entirely false. In 1834 a spirit of resistance persisted. Byron had not anticipated the need for a second song calling for a second revolt against monarchical greed, but Bunn’s production needed a reaffirmation of political unrest. In The Giaour Bishop found the lyrics for his concluding chorus. Manfred utters his last words, “Old man! ’tis not so difficult to die.” The Abbot declares that “his soul hath ta’en its earthless flight.” Then Ashtaroth, who sang the song of the raven and witches in the deleted Act III, is reinstated to lead the spirits, witches, and destinies in the Finale. The Grieves had prepared the scene for an Alpine avalanche, and Bishop introduced the song with the booming roar of percussion to evoke the “Glaciers of the Upper Alps, partly borne down by a Violent Thunder Storm” (Programme 12):

Thus—as the stream and Ocean greet,
With waves that madden as they meet—
Thus join the bands, whom mutual wrong,
And fate, and fury, drive along.
The bickering sabres’ shivering jar;5
And pealing wide or ringing near
Its echoes on the throbbing ear,
The deathshot hissing from afar;
The shock, the shout, the groan of war. (The Giaour 632-640; Bunn’s Manfred II.iv)

During the previous year, F. Sutton played the island dweller Attoo, who led the native resistance against the mutineers in Richard Brinsley Peake’s Neuha's Cave; or, The South Sea Mutineers (Adelphi, April 8, 1833-April 23,1833). For Bunn that was experience enough to cast Sutton as the rebel spirit Astheroth. In political keeping with the song on Napoleon’s captivity, the lines from The Giaour provided a finale that in 1834 might well be perceived as a response to events in France following the July Revolution of 1830 and the new Monarchy.

Starting with the overthrow of the conservative government of Charles X and the House of Bourbon, this was supposed to be a liberal constitutional monarchy under Louis Philippe I. Calling himself King of the French, rather than King of France, he proclaimed himself a populist and leader of the people’s party. He promised to follow the juste milieu, the middle way between radical liberalism and arch-conservatism, the stream and the ocean. It soon became clear, however, that his government was supported by wealthy bourgeoisie and many of those who had been prominent in the conservative court of Charles X. The prophecy of a re-emergence of a “Captive Usurper” is realized when the stream and Ocean greet, / With waves that madden as they meet.” The “groan of war,” as the song predicts, would be heard again in the revolution of 1848.

The supernatural scenes dealt with an order of demonic spiritualism that had little in common with the ghosts and demons in the Gothic melodrama of the times. The visual dominance of the paintings may have been at fault, but so too was Denvil’s Manfred as a resuscitated Byron, an entity of a physical afterlife. Bishop’s music may have been more disruptive than conducive to the competing notions of time. Seventeen years after it was written, ten years after the poet’s death, Bunn’s production of Manfred was self-disrupting, omitting much of the dialogue crucial to developing Manfred’s character (Programme).

Bishop’s music may have complemented, or even enhanced, the sublime settings by the Grieves, but they also created obstacles for Denvil’s role. Byron’s Manfred challenged the eternal time of heaven, hell, and mythic realms as well as the personal time of suffering or merciful forgetting. Bunn’s production further required that the actor conjure the phantom of the poet in a sequence of moods and tempers. Neither Bunn, nor the Grieves, nor Bishop made Denvil’s task easier. In spite of Planché’s dire pronouncement of Denvil’s “melancholy exit from the stage of life,” Denvil continued to find success, even in his troubled performances with Macready, whose career was damaged by ill-temper. Denvil at the Pavilion Theatre maintained a far more successful career than he had in the years before taking on the title role in Manfred.