January 12 1816: Edmund Kean as Sir Giles Overreach


On January 12 1816, Edmund Kean gives his first performance as Sir Giles Overreach in Phillip Massinger’s play “A New Way to Pay Old Debts”, a comedy of 1633. It appears that the performance was a triumph. Byron may have been present and convulsed with fright. Legend even has it that Mrs. Glover, who was on stage with him, fainted during one dramatic scene.

The painting above is of Edmund Kean playing Sir Giles Overreach by George Clint (1820). It is described this way:

Philip Massinger’s comedy of 1633 deals with the deception and ultimate fall of the unscrupulous Sir Giles Overreach; in the last scene, finding he has helped unwittingly to marry his daughter to the wrong man and has lost all his property, he goes insane. The finished painting shows him drawing his sword to kill his daughter: ‘This moment and the ensuing fit brought the strongest reaction from audiences and Lord Byron was one of the many, both on and off the stage, who had hysterics on the first night’ (The Georgian Playhouse).

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