Aspects of Keats's theatrical experience, 1817-1819

  • Winifred Wing Yin Liu

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


This thesis explores Keats’s experience of live theatre during the years 1816-1819, focusing primarily on performances he saw in the London and provincial theatres, as well as the poet’s relationship with Regency actor Edmund Kean.

My introduction acknowledges previous scholarship pertaining to two fields: Keats’s understanding of Shakespeare, and his idea of ‘negative capability’, which came into existence after he attended the Christmas pantomime of December 1817.

In my first chapter, I discuss Keats’s visit to Margate in summer 1816 – few letters from this period have survived, so I use historical guidebooks to reconstruct Keats’s Margate and its theatre, and illustrate Margate’s theatrical background. My second chapter then addresses the poet’s frequent visits to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Covent Garden in 1817, and using Keats’s theatrical reviews from this year, I assess his relationship with the actor Edmund Kean. Developing these findings, my third chapter underlines Keats’s attention to stage detail, and considers how his opinions on Kean differ from those of the rest of his coterie, such as Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt. Leaving London once more, my fourth chapter focuses on two previously unexplored areas: Keats’s visit to the theatres in Teignmouth and Inveraray in 1818. Finally, my fifth and final chapter evaluates Keats’s first play Otho the Great, which I consider to be a crystallisation of his earlier experiences of live theatre. I conclude by suggesting that Otho the Great contains two sources of inspiration that were very personal to Keats: Edmund Kean, his theatrical presider, as well as his lover Fanny Brawne, who prompted Keats’s conceptualisation of jealousy in his play.
Date of Award2 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorNicholas Hugh Roe (Supervisor)


  • John Keats
  • Regency theatre
  • Edmund Kean
  • Otho the Great
  • Romanticism

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  • Full text embargoed until
  • 31st August 2025

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