Based off of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, Henry Milner wrote Frankenstein; or the Man and the Monster. This play debuted in the Royal Coburg Theater July of 1826. This melodrama is considered the magnum opus of Milner’s career and is often compared in scholarship with Richard Peake’s Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein (1823). Besides being based off of Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Man and the Monster is also loosely based off of the French play Le Monstre et le Magicien.
The plot follows Frankenstein, who is living under the patronage of Prince Del Piombino, the Prince of Sicily. While the Prince and his sister Rosaura plan a party, Frankenstein is occupied with his ultimate work of science: "victory o're the grave." (Milner, 193) After the monster is brought to life, Frankenstein is forced to deal with his creation, or rather, is stuck between ending the monster and trying to forget its existence all together. As Frankenstein continues to clash with the monster, two subplots are taking place during the main action. As the play continues, three plot lines converge, forcing all characters to devote their efforts to stop the monster from continuing his reign of terror on the Sicilian village.
A token piece of Frankenstein's character, in both Mary Shelley's novel and The Man and the Monster, is pride. Pride is his downfall, in Shelley's version imagining "a new species bless(ing) (Victor) as its creator and source," (Shelley, 34) and in Milner's play, declaring that he will become "the first of men" by bringing the dead to life. (Milner, 192) Both the book and the play show a Frankenstein blinded by vain delusion which is violently unraveled when the monster comes to life.
Milner's Frankenstein contemplates running away from the problem of the creature, but as the monster begins to kill, Frankenstein owns up to his actions. (Milner, 198) He takes responsibility when someone's life is on the line. This is a stark contrast from Shelley's Victor, who, when the monster attacks William and frames Justine, remains silent. Pride brings Shelley's Victor into isolation, while Milner's Frankenstein draws himself out of seclusion to confront the monster.
Pride is an isolating factor, and forces the vain one away from society. As Shelley's Frankenstein perceives trouble, he isolates himself with the thought that he is the only one who can understand the problem. Milner's Frankenstein does the opposite. At the death of Julio, he confesses his crimes and thus gets help directly involved. The end of the creature is due to the fact that everyone bands together to stop the monster.
Nature versus Nurture
In Shelley's novel, the debate of Nature versus Nurture is the quest for the root in which good and evil stems from inside a being, particularly the monster. The Man and the Monster also throws its hat into the ring with a Lockean "blank slate" sort of view. As the monster interacts with the world, he is always described with open and kind gestures.
The Monster's First Experiences
At his awakening, the stage instructions describe the monster's actions as done "with the utmost care", using light "touches" and "slight exertion" to express his feelings. (Milner, 194) The monster tries to reach Frankenstein with "friendly gestures", but nothing goes through. Even when Frankenstein attacks the monster with a dagger, the monster takes it away and inspects it curiously. It is not until Ritzberg wounds the monster with a gun that the disdain and hate that has been inflicted reaches the monster. (Milner, 196)
Shifting from Friendly to Violent
There is an odd balance of childlike naivete and deep understanding in the monster that show the play's stance for nurture as an affecting agent. Its infantile curiosity and kindness becomes tempered with the experience. In Act I Scene VII the stage directions say that the monster is supposed to depict that he knows "his kindly feeling(s) towards the human race have been met by scorn," a very astute statement. (Milner, 196) This change is not unexpected. Since the monster has been treated horribly, nurture logic says he should repay in kind. When Frankenstein tries to prevent the death of Emmeline's child by playing to the monster's sympathetic nature, the monster merely points to his wound. The statement is profound. The monster tried his best to become a friend and servant to Frankenstein, but was met with savagery, which he plans to return tenfold.
If The Man and the Monster had believed nature the cause of the monster's actions, he would have been a fiend from the beginning. But the newborn monster's actions had a child-like purity that became tainted with each wrongful act against the monster.
While Modern Prometheus does not necessarily have the mixing of classes, a picture of a 19th century view of class structure is painted in the Man and the Monster. This point of view considers the lower class as devoted to their masters, yet the presence of that class is unimportant to the bourgeoisie.
Part of the serving class, Strutt is Frankenstein's loyal servant, boasting "the great man" that is Frankenstein. (Milner, 190) The only person Strutt values more than Frankenstein is Lisette, yet Strutt's devotion to Frankenstein eclipses that at times. Even when Strutt's life is in jeopardy after escaping the prison cell that was a cellar, Strutt still feels the need to help take care of Frankenstein's creature simply because he serves Frankenstein.
Quadro is along the same line as Strutt, considering the Prince an "important master", but there is a bit of duplicity, as Quadro steals wine from the Prince's stores. (Milner, 190) Rather than being read as oppressed or poor, Quadro is characterized as unfaithful, for there is a scene where Strutt and the village peasants drink the wine he stole to give to the priest, saying "old Quadro's sins will always keep his cellar well stocked." (Milner, 203)
Emmeline not only presents the class presence of peasantry, but displays double standards for marriage and gender of the lower class. When Frankenstein lived in Germany, it was apparent that Emmeline and Frankenstein had a relationship, but Emmeline is forgotten as Frankenstein goes to Sicily. Emmeline convinces her father to come with her to find Frankenstein, knowing that surely Frankenstein will marry her because of the child. Frankenstein does not even consider marriage until he views it as an escape from the monster.
Milner displays the lower class as sub-servant faithful creatures, happy to be loyal, and condemns the two-faced servant. There is a distinct mindset that lower class people want to be ruled, and are here to serve. This makes the Man and the Monster a mirror for the 19th century aristocratic point of view, and shows an uneven characterization of humanity.
Out of all of Henry Milner’s plays, the Man and the Monster is considered the best piece he ever wrote. Like Presumption, Milner’s play was popular enough to be replayed on the stage well into the 1840s and a reported playing in 1850. (Forry, 19) The Man and the Monster was popular enough that Robert Elliston attempted, and failed, to capitalize on the play by taking it to the Surrey Theater and retitling it Frankenstein; or the Monster. (Forry, 19)
Significance of Adaptation
The Man and the Monster plays an important role in both furthering Mary Shelley’s work and the fame of the Frankenstein genre. This play also adds to the laboratory images we know in Frankenstein adaptations today.
The Relationship Between The Man and the Monster and its Contemporary Works
The debut of The Man and the Monster was preceded by Shelley’s work The Last Man, published six months before the play began showing. Part of the original success of The Man and the Monster is attributed to The Last Man. The closeness of the publishing of Shelly's work and the debut of the Man and the Monster bolstered interest, and therefore increased sales in both novels and seats. The success of these works, along with the help of Presumption, kept the monster alive on stage and in Shelley’s novel throughout the 19th century.
Aspects of Peake's Presumption are present in Milner's play, such as the idea that Frankenstein has presumed too much of himself, as well as the creature's lack of a voice. The entirety of the creature is conveyed through the stage direction of the monster. His movements determine his character rather than his rhetoric, but unlike Presumption, the Man and the Monster specify the monster's emotions rather than just directing his movements.
While T.P. Cooke was considered the best Frankenstein monster to appear on stage, O. Smith gained fame as the Frankenstein monster when Cooke was performing in France. Being able to project the monster's complex feelings written in the stage directions, O. Smith gained fame for himself and the Man and the Monster due to his skill.
Influence on Future Works
Some important aspects The Man and the Monster brought to Frankenstein adaptations is the showing of Frankenstein bringing the monster to life in the lab in Act I Scene II. Milner was the first to bring this aspect to adaptations and with it, increased dramatic tension in the scene. There is overt instruction in the script of the showing of the rise of the monster, set to dramatic music.
Resources/More to Read
Forry, Steven Earl. "The Hideous Progenies of Richard Brinsley Peake: Frankenstein on the Stage, 1823 to 1826." Theatre Research International: 13. Cambridge Journals. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://old.unipr.it/arpa/dipling/GT/Theatre_Research.pdf>
Milner, H. M., Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and England London. The Man and the Monster, Or, The Fate of Frankenstein a Peculiar Romantic Melo-dramatic Pantomimic Spectacle in Two Acts. John Duncombe's ed. London: John Duncombe, 1826. Print. (a copy of this play can be found at this weblink: http://www.encyclopaedia.com/ebooks/37/14.pdf)
Image credited to:
Henry M. Milner - TS Promptbook, Houghton Library, Harvard University Houghton Library at Harvard University Location Cambridge, Massachusetts Coordinates 42° 22′ 23.48″ N, 71° 06′ 57.36″ W Established 1942 Website http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/houghton/Authority control VIAF: 155530939 LCCN: n80097499 GND: 2037118-4 BnF: cb11880590h ULAN: 500307208 WorldCat