The popular actor Edmund Kean replaced Kemble as the darling of the London stage after making his Drury Lane debut as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 1814. Kean was one of the few actors who could fill the vast Drury Lane theatre to its capacity of 3,000.
Hand coloured and etched portrait of Edmund Kean (1789-1833) as Sir Giles Overreach in A New Way to Pay Old Debts by Philip Massinger (1583-1640), ink and wash on paper, published by William West, London, 19 October 1818, Harry Beard Collection. Museum no. S.2192-2009. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London</p>
The character of Sir Giles Overreach in Philip Massinger’s 'A New Way to Pay Old Debts' provided a bravura role for a great actor like Edmund Kean, who revelled in the variety it required. American critic Richard Henry Dana admired his restraint in the early scenes: ‘His manner at meeting Lovell and through the conversation with him, the way in which he turns his chair and leans upon it, were as easy and natural as they could have been in real life, had Sir Giles been actually existing, and engaged at that moment in conversation in Lovell’s room’. But the avaricious cruelty of the character, and his fits of impotent rage as the plot progresses, also fitted Kean’s talents like a glove. According to one account, on the first night the effect of his impersonation was such that the pit rose en masse and even the actors and actresses themselves were overcome by the terrific dramatic illusion.
Edmund Kean as Richard III, by John James Halls, oil on canvas, England, 1814. Museum no. DYCE.7. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Miniature portraits of Edmund Kean (1789-1833) as Brutus, Richard III, Rolla and Othello, hand coloured etching, ink on paper, published by Matthew & Martin Skelt, Minories, London, Harry Beard Collection. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Hand coloured etching of Edmund Kean (1787-1833) as The Theatrical Atlas, by George Cruikshank, published by McCleary, ink on paper, London, England, about 1820. Museum no. S.2531-2009. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London</p>
This print shows Edmund Kean as Richard III balancing a model of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (Whitebreads Intire) on his shoulders. Samuel Whitbread, shown wearing a barrel and standing on the steps of the model, shouts 'now by St Pauls the work goes bravely on'. The print is a comment on Samuel Whitbread's dependence on Edmund Kean's popularity and success to ensure the future financial security of the Drury Lane Theatre which at that time was close to bankruptcy.