Venus of Dublin


95 pages
ISBN 0-921833-69-5
DDC C812'.54





Reviewed by David E. Kemp

David E. Kemp, a former professor of drama at Queen’s University, is
the author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.


Edmund Kean was the greatest actor on the London stage during the first
part of the 19th century. A self-made genius, he virtually redefined the
public’s understanding of the great Shakespearean roles. He was the
first to add a brooding introspection to the role of Hamlet and a tender
heart to Romeo, while his portrayal of Shakespeare’s villains and
outcasts—Shylock, Richard III, Macbeth, and Othello—were unsurpassed
in his lifetime.

In 1826, Kean made a trip to New England and Quebec. While performing
in Quebec, he met a group of Huron chiefs who took him to their village,
presented him with a ceremonial dress, and gave him a Huron name. On his
return to London, Kean claimed that he had gone mad during his time in
the Huron village. He believed that his Huron name, Alancenouidet, was
his true identity. He had calling cards printed with the name on them
and could often be found wandering the streets in his native dress.
Hanging in the Garrick Club in London is a portrait of Kean in his
native dress: this portrait is the springboard for Venus of Dublin,
which conjures up circumstances in which the portrait might have been

The play is set in a hotel room in Dublin where an ailing Edmund Kean
challenges a young artist to paint him as Alancenouidet against a highly
romanticized wilderness landscape of Quebec. During the sitting, Kean
seems intent on seducing the vivacious hotel keeper, Ginger Hogan, while
fulfilling a pathological need to sermonize and to act out in the
boldest terms the personal cost that his fame has brought him.

Ackerman’s play brilliantly illuminates Kean’s titanic struggle to
live up to the public’s image of him and at the same time be true to


Ackerman, Marianne., “Venus of Dublin,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,