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concerning Kean, ou Désordre et génie

     A drama in five acts, written in 1836 (at the height of Dumas' popularity as a playwright), and set in London in about 1820. For his subject, Dumas takes the character of the greatest British Shakespearian actor of his day, Edmund Kean (1787-1833). Born in poverty and obscurity, Kean swiftly became Britain's most famous (and best remunerated) actor by sheer force of ability, gaining the favor of London society. Kean's private life was a chaotic stew of debt, violence, intoxication, and other people's wives. He collapsed on stage in 1833 (playing Othello) and died broke.
     Kean's humble origin, genius, and sudden popular acclaim mirrored Dumas' experience in France, and Dumas took as his particular topic the relationship between the aristocracy of talent and the aristocracy of birth, a topic he also explored throught the character of Benvenuto Cellini in Ascanio.
     In the play, Kean is embroiled in an unhappy love affair with Countess Elena Koefeld, wife of the British ambassador. Waking from a drunken stupor, Kean meets a star-struck underage heiress, Anna Damby, who has just fled from an arranged marriage with a powerful politician, Lord Melville, leaving his Lordship standing at the altar.
     The meeting comes to the attention of Lord Melville, who, knowing of Kean's reputation as a womanizer, plans to abduct Miss Damby and blame the episode on Kean. Meanwhile, Kean comes to believe that his Countess is being courted by his royal patron, the Prince of Wales. In a series of tightly plotted scenes, Kean unmasks Lord Melville in the act of trying to kidnap Anna, challenges him to duel, only to have Melville refuse on the grounds that he is a peer of the realm while Kean is "a buffoon and a clown."
     The next day, preparing for performance of "Romeo and Juliet," Kean receives the Countess in his dressing room, and begs her not to see the Prince of Wales. Immediately, the Prince knocks on the door, the Countess is quickly bundled out a side exit, and Kean then begs the Prince not to seduce the countess, because he could not uphold his honor against a member of the royalty. The Prince puts him off, and Kean is distraught.
     The play begins, and, in the audience, Kean spies the Countess sitting with the Prince of Wales as well as Lord Melville. Abandoning the play altogether, Kean delivers a fiery denunciation of Lord Meville as a kidnapper and of the Prince of Wales as a seducer. Kean collapses onstage in a fit of madness.
     In the fifth act, Dumas masterfully pulls all the strings together and delivers a happy ending, with Kean and Anna Damby departing for a year's tour in America, and the Count and Countess returning to Denmark.

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