Portrait of Mary Anne Keeley in the character of Jack Sheppard


Mary Anne Keeley was born in Ipswich in 1805 and enjoyed a successful career as a character actor on the London stage. During the first half of the 19th century, Keeley appeared at all of the major theatres in the capital, including the Adelphi, the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane and the Haymarket. She later managed the Lyceum theatre off the Strand with her husband Robert. Keeley was especially popular for her portrayal of male characters (so-called ‘Breeches Roles’). She is best known for the title role in the stage play of the life and times of 18th-century thief Jack Sheppard, which opened in 1839 at the Adelphi.  

Jack Sheppard was a hugely successful play based on the novel of William Ainsworth and is illustrative of how folk tales and popular heroes maintained an important position in popular culture well into the Victorian period. Sheppard gained notoriety in the previous century for his daring burglaries, escapes from Newgate prison and court reprieves. Even by the mid-19th century the play was still deemed so controversial (in the way it appeared to glorify criminality) that is was later refused a license for performance by the Lord Chamberlain.

Full title:
Lithograph portrait of Mary Anne Keeley [1805-1899] in the character of Jack Sheppard, from The Adelphi Theatre. November 20th, 1839. [from the author's presentation copy of The Life of Dickens, 1872-74]
20 November 1839, London
Print / Image
The Theatre Royal, Adelphi, John Forster [compiler]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Dex 316 - Vol I, part II

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