Act Like A Vampire

The importance of the theater to our notions

6 min readAug 4, 2021

The theater is an institution replete with horrid creatures that will suck innocent life, corrupt the unsuspecting, and cower at the site of a crucifix.

It also has vampires.

Theater has played a crucial role in how vampires have come to be represented in popular media, from the French theater productions in the 1800s to the crucial work of Hamilton Deane.

Leaving that broad tapestry aside, let’s focus on one particular theater.

The Lyceum Theater in London went live in 1765, presumably with a light grid that wouldn’t pass OSHA standards. That probably explains why it burned down in 1830 before being rebuilt.

But skipping over act 1, we arrive in the 1870s when renowned Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving takes over the theater and plays the lead in shows for an astonishing 25 years. Irving was not only critically acclaimed, he was popular too. The Robert Downey Jr. of his day, but without the rehab.

Irving was the first actor to ever be knighted. The tall, erudite Irving brought on a business manager, an eager theater critic named Bram Stoker. If that names sounds familiar it’s because good evening, you’re reading a vampire blog.

Stoker was enamored with Irving. Like, to an unhealthy degree. I’m not saying he watched over Irving while he slept, but you prove to me that Stoker didn’t keep a lock of Irving’s hair in his Bible.

Stoker was so enthralled with Irving that he wrote a character partly based on him; a famous character you may have heard of because, again, you are reading this blog. Don’t make me say it out loud.

The years as a theater critic and theater business manager taught Stoker a thing or two about copyright. So after Stoker’s masterpiece was published, he was sharp enough to establish copyright for the theater. To do so, he staged a one-time, no frills reading at — payoff from 5 paragraphs ago — the Lyceum Theater.

It’s reported that only two paying customers came in to see the reading which lasted four hours
Not the official play that would give us a tuxedoed, caped Count. In fact, it’s doubtful any costumes were used; aside from the rose-colored glasses Stoker wore when gazing at Irving.

Stoker’s bro-crush on Irving was so strong that he desperately wanted Irving to play the title role. For his part, Henry Irving never seemed to express any interest whatsoever. Legend has it that Irving’s called Stoker’s book “Dreadful!”

Irving never seemed to openly express much interest in anything Stoker undertook. This, despite what the Chicago Daily News found in 1888 (a decade before Stoker became world-famous):

“Mr Irving’s great success in this country has been due to a very considerable extent to the shrewd management of Bram Stoker. We know of no manager more vigilant, more indefatigable, more audacious than he… In the manipulation of Mr Irving’s intricate and enormous business he exhibits a coolness, a shrewdness, and an enthusiasm that are simply masterful…Irving is fortunate in having so able and so loyal an associate.”

Irving was happy to benefit from Stoker’s labors and loyalty, but gave almost nothing back to Stoker in return. Remind you of someone? Someone who sucks the life force from others until they are drained?

It’s not clear what form Stoker’s book would have taken if Stoker had not invested those years at the Lyceum and met Irving. In fact, it’s not clear if the famous book would have been written at all.

But keep in mind Stoker’s utter devotion to Irving as you read what the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, under Stoker’s entry, noted:

“Complex and highly symbolic, the plot illustrated his fears about a world approaching a new century, about male insecurity and the dangers of subservience to another person. Dracula was also a shape-shifter. Is an actor not also a shape-shifter?” (italics mine)

What are you trying to say, Oxford?

The script, with book snippets cut with Stoker’s handwritten additions

In his day, Irving was the famous one and Stoker was the punching bag. Today, every child can name Stoker’s leading character and Henry Irving is the footnote in Count Dracula: Behind The Music. My, how the white worm has turned.

Lately, the Lyceum has hosted the Lion King and has done so since 1999. If it lasts four more years from this writing, Mufasa will outstrip Irving’s residency. And while Robert Downey Jr. may be forever associated with “Iron Man,” Henry Irving has been relegated to more of an “Iron Man 2” zone.

But there’s just one more thing

This is pure speculation, I want to be clear. But it’s damn good speculation.

We don’t know where Stoker got his inspiration for the obsessed madman R.N. Renfield. But if noted people-user Henry Irving was indeed an inspiration for Dracula, could the loyal-to-a-fault Stoker himself be the inspiration for Dracula’s acolyte, Renfield? Renfield’s love of, loyalty to, and obsession with the Count has been portrayed as many times as Stoker’s own devotion has been noted. What’s more, the way Renfield is used and discarded by that same Count must have felt familiar to Stoker.

What’s more, Renfield, in a moment of clarity (or conscience?) manages to break with his infatuation long enough to warn the heroes that his master was up to no good. Was Stoker venting his frustrations with his famous employer and letting us know to be ware?

Renfield, here seen being underrated

I submit to you that inasmuch as Henry Irving was an inspiration for Count Dracula, Stoker himself was an inspiration for R.N. Renfield.

Somewhere out there is an A list actor who is dismissive of his/her personal assistant. I’m not saying that actor is Robert Downey Jr. but I am saying that everyone should be kinder to those who try their best to serve and serve loyally. Would it kill you to show up to Jill’s birthday party, Robert? Would it? She covered for you on the 1987 hit-and-run for God’s sake!

Where do you see the inspiration for Renfield coming from? How did Henry Irving personally piss you off in the 1890s? Iron Man 3 is better than the first two, we all agree on that don’t we?

Toothpickings is a blog you can read. It is generally about vampires. Robert Downey Jr. probably didn’t leave a kid paralyzed in a car accident and make his assistant take the fall. Not in 1987, anyway.

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Image credits: Simon Bartica, Lock and Whitfield, London; The British Museum; The Lud (public domain); Universal Pictures




Investigating the Western fascination with vampires, one dad joke at a time.