Every once in a while, an artist presents a new combination of familiar tools and from the public’s point of view coalesces incipient trends so as to radically overhaul notions of style. Mention of gaslight is not a frivolous detail; indeed, it suggests a possible decoding for some of the earliest written records of Kean’s performances. Gaslight was transforming life in the city. A charter for Londons first gasworks, the Gas Light and Coke Company, was granted in 1812; a year later the company set Westminster Bridge alight. The key to challenging the “Romantic” appellation of Edmund Kean and destroying the credibility of “the century’s most quoted piece of dramatic criticism” may lie in a scatological gloss. Theater historians have appropriated the Table Talk phrase to signify the new style of acting, but Kean’s function as a paradigm shifter is still intact in the more complex ascriptions of Coleridge’s meaning.
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