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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, published in 1886 by R.L. Stevenson, became a Gothic tale that shook the nation. The thriller as a study of a split-personality where Dr Jekyll discovers a monster through a scientific experiment, where he separates his inner self. The use of a doppelganger, with one in an established career and the other being a murderous monster grasped Victorian England in a period where London was under threat of a number of terrible crimes. However, as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was adapted for the stage and embarked on London’s West End, the Whitechapel murders began with an unknown Jack the Ripper roaming the streets, much like Hyde.
The Whitechapel case generated fear in London, the murderer never being found. This has been researched in works varying from core scientific investigations, to speculative rumour as the persistent interest in these murders arises from the fact that the perpetrator still anonymous, as well as the horrendous disfigurements the victims endured. Consequentially, many people began comparing Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with the Whitechapel murderer. The actor portraying the characters, Richard Mansfield, possessed an uncanny ability to transform on stage, enhancing the potential of a doppelganger appearance influencing the killer. Sarah Winter observes that “The melodrama thus raised a perturbing question about the reliability of professional figures’ presumed integrity, as it stressed that their apparent distinction from poorer areas’ high crime rates should not be seen as a sure sign of their propriety”. It can be depicted from her suggestion that the Victorian audience began fearing not only the lower class who were associated with crimes, but also those in professions as Jekyll’s profession as a doctor induced fear as the killer was unknown to all and at large. Therefore, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde being portrayed on stage defied ideas of class hierarchy throughout London.
As The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde were viewed as doppelgangers, the contemporary audience was influenced to believe the same was occurring with Jack the Ripper, connecting the fictional novel with the horrifying murders of the time. The Ripper murders eventually impacted the play’s closure, as its uncanny links to the murders heightened the fear throughout London. However, Mansfield’s theatrical depiction of the roles played a crucial part in constructing the perceptions of the killer as someone in a respected career. The suspicions turned to Mansfield himself in one period, as his depiction of the role was so believable that audiences began to question if he was taking the characters further than the stage. The public began writing letters to the press with their suspicions of Mansfield being the Ripper, however he was never arrested as a suspect. However, the fear his acting and the theatrical display of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde that Mansfield induced intensified audiences’ concerns during the murders.
As demonstrated by the correlation of the performances and the terror of the Whitechapel murders, Stevenson’s novel as a play moulded the public’s ideas of who the killer was, enhancing the significance of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde during the Whitechapel murders. The play’s influence in heightening the terror of Jack the Ripper suggests that the production’s narrative foreshadowed the events, standing as a warning to the public of those not just in the working class. Jekyll and Hyde’s influence is still as important in the modern day depiction of Jack the Ripper, as portrayals frequently illustrate a mysterious figure, dressed in a cloak and top hat, similar to Hyde’s or a respectable Victorian man rather than working class clothing, thus concluding that Stevenson’s doppelganger tale perhaps influenced the Whitechapel Murders in some way.
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