365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

134. Good night, sweet princess…

with 2 comments

The legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt once played Hamlet. This is new information to me, which I learned while doing a small project about her for my Oscar Wilde senior seminar.

Nowadays, we wouldn’t even blink if a woman were playing Hamlet. Women are frequently cast in male roles, since there are so many women in theatre (how funny is it that back in the day, women weren’t even allowed to be on stage, and today we have to duke it out for the roles available to us since we come to auditions in droves?), and the cross-gender casting is quite normal for plays by Shakespeare. We had a female Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, and the role of Egeus is frequently turned into Hermia’s mother instead. I have seen a female Sebastian in Twelfth Night as a result of the five-actor convention, and I myself am planning to take on the role of Horatio just as soon as Adam and I can figure out how the heck to get our own production of Hamlet off the ground and on the stage.

But it was 1899 when Sarah Bernhardt took on one of the most difficult and iconic roles that has ever been put upon the stage. Though plenty of women had played men before, and surely at least a handful had played Hamlet, none had reached the level of acclaim that Bernhardt had when she took on the role. I can’t imagine the pressure!

Check out this fantastic photo of her in her Hamlet garb:

To see her in action, here is a clip of “Le Duel d’Hamlet”:


Written by Caroline Mincks

February 15, 2010 at 12:31 PM

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Cool! This is one I didn’t know about. Certainly leads to some interesting subtext possibilities with Ophelia, Horatio, etc…

    Ted Leach

    February 15, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    • Oh, definitely. And that’s one reason why Adam and I want to have a female Horatio in ours…we want to add yet another female dynamic in the play and see how a female best friend will affect Hamlet’s overall attitude towards women.


      February 15, 2010 at 5:57 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: