Regency Women of Character: Sarah Siddons

In an age when acting was only just becoming an acceptable profession for women, and against the wishes of her parents, Sarah Siddons rose to acclaim for her captivating portrayal of Lady MacBeth.

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Sarah “Sally” Kemble was born in Wales in 1755 to an actor father.  After a stumble at Drury Lane, she circuited the provinces until 1782 when she returned to Drury Lane with a vengence.

By the mid 1780s, she had succeeded at most major female Shakespeare roles and earned iconic status as a “mythical” and “monumental” actress.

In a farewell performance for the ages, Siddons appeared at Covent Garden in 1812…and audience refused to let the play continue after the climatic sleepwalking scene.  Siddons appeared on stage in her own clothing to give an emotional speech to the adoring crowd.

Married at eighteen to actor William Siddons, she outlived five of her children and eventually saw her marriage dissolve into an informal separation.

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Arguably the most beloved actress of British history, Sarah Siddon’s statue now stands in Westminster Abbey.

A reportedly tall and striking figure with beauty and expressive eyes and deep, rich voice, she was said to have been created for the role of Lady MacBeth.  Having never taken to comedy, the depth required of Shakespeare’s heroines was something Sarah excelled at.  Its imaginable that after so many years of seeing the bBard and other playwright’s female characters acted by young, effeminate men that audiences finally accepted the possibility—the need—for actresses.

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