Plays of Frankenstein

Frankenstein is best known today through the many films based on the novel, although the most famous movie Frankenstein came after more than a century of popular stage adaptations. As early as 1823, Frankenstein had been adapted for the stage: Richard Brinsley Peake's Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein appeared on the stage only five years after Mary Shelley's novel was published. In response to its success, William Godwin published the second edition of Frankenstein in the same year.

Peake's adaptation was not, however, the last. Steven Earl Forry, the best authority on this dramatic history, has catalogued nearly one hundred dramatic adaptations between 1821 and 1986. He writes in "Dramatizations of Frankenstein, 1821-1986: A Comprehensive List":

Pre-Karloffian dramatizations played an important role in disseminating popular conceptions—and misconceptions—of Mary Shelley's novel, from the incipient gothic melodramas such as Peake's Presumption, Henry M. Milner's The Demon of Switzerland and The Man and the Monster (1826), and Merle and Antony's Le Monstre et le magicien (1826) to their burlesque counterparts—Humgumption; or, Dr. Frankenstein and the Hobgoblin of Hoxton, Presumption and the Blue Demon, and Frankin-Steam; or, The Modern Promise to Pay—through political burlesque in the form of William and Robert Brough's Frankenstein; or, The Model Man (1849), the musical comedy of Richard Butler and Henry Chance Newton's Frankenstein; or, The Vampires Victim (1887), the farce of Paul Dickey and Charles Goddard's The Last Laugh (1915), and finally Peggy Webling's drawing room melodrama Frankenstein: An Adventure in the Macabre (1927). (65)

His comprehensive catalogue of adaptations includes details on performances and publications for ninety-six plays, including the 1927 play of Frankenstein by Peggy Webling, which was the basis of the 1931 movie Frankenstein , directed by James Whale and starring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff.

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Richard Brinsley Peake's dramatic adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel, Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, premiered at the English Opera House in July 1823. It was the first of many dramatic and film adaptations, and was quite popular in its day, running for 37 performances. The success of the play inspired copy-cat burlesque versions in other theatres.

Peake was a popular and prolific dramatist, producing his first play in 1818 and continuing to write until his death. For many years he was employed by the English Opera House. Few of his works are remembered now, but in addition to Presumption, he wrote a large number of successful melodramas and farces, including the Gothic melodrama The Bottle Imp (1823) and The Evil Eye (1831).

A electronic edition of Presumption has been published at Romantic Circles.

Henry M. Milner adapted Mary Shelley's novel for the stage twice. The first time was in 1823, and the play was entitled Frankenstein, or the Demon of Switzerland. It was produced at the Cobourg Theatre within a month after Richard Brinsley Peake's dramatic adaptation, Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein , premiered at the English Opera House. A second adaptation of Milner appeared in 1826. It was called Frankenstein; or, The Man and the Monster and it drew upon Shelley's novel and a French adaptation by Jean-Toussaint Merle and Béraud Antony entitled Le Monstre et le magicien (1826).

Little is known of Milner beyond what is suggested by his publications. He was apparently a very successful playwright; his works included a great many melodramas and popular tragedies, including Barmecide; or, The Fatal Offspring (1818), The Philosopher: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1819), Twelve Precisely! or, A Night at Dover: An Interlude in One Act (1821), The Hertfordshire Tragedy; or, The Victims of Gaming: A Serious Drama in Two Acts (Founded upon Recent Melancholy Facts) (1824), The Death-Fetch; or, The Fatal Warning: A Romantic Melo Drama in Two Acts (Founded on a Well-Known Superstition) (1826), The Hut of the Red Mountain; or, Thirty Years of a Gambler's Life: A Drama, in Three Acts (1827, also known as The Gambler's Fate), Lucius Catiline, the Roman Traitor: A Drama, in Three Acts (1827), Masaniello, or, The Dumb Girl of Portici: A Musical Drama, in Three Acts (1829), Mazeppa: A Romantic Drama in Three Acts: Dramatised from Lord Byron's Poem (1831), and Gustavus the Third; or, The Masked Ball! A Romantic Drama, in Three Acts (1833).

Peggy Webling's 1927 stage adaptation of the novel was the basis for the most famous Frankenstein movie of all, Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale, starring Boris Karloff and Colin Clive. The play's success on its original run in 1927 was continued in a 1930 revival, which first brought it to the attention of Universal Pictures.