Sarah Siddons is thought by many to have been the greatest English tragic actress of her time. She is celebrated for such Shakespearean roles as Desdemona in Othello and Volumnia in Coriolanus, and she was unequaled as Lady Macbeth. As an actress Sarah Siddons stands unapproached in every line of tragedy. Her passion, her rage, her despair, her sufferings, her grief, all being perfect in expression and convincing in naturalness.
Sarah Siddons was born in Brecon, Breckonshire, Wales on July 5, 1755, the eldest child of Roger and Sarah Kemble. Roger Kemble was a respectable manager of a small traveling theatrical company, whose circuit was the midland and westerns parts of England. From her earliest childhood she was a member of her father’s troupe, and in a playbill, dated February 12, 1767, her name appears in the production of Charles the First, assigned to the character of the Princess Elizabeth. Even though she was accustomed to appearing on stage as a child, Mrs. Kremble took special care to send Sarah to schools in the towns where the company played, so she received a particularly good education.
As a young woman of seventeen, Sarah became infatuated with William Siddons, a member of her father’s theatrical company. While he was a handsome man, he was somewhat of a dull actor. Her parents did not approve of the romance, but she married to him on November 26, 1773. Shortly afterwards she was recommended to Garrick by the Earl of Ailesbury and the result was an engagement at Drury Lane, where she made her first appearance in the character of Portia. At the end of the season she was let go and for the next six years she toured in the country, becoming well known as the queen of tragedy on the English Stage. Her reputation grew exceedingly fast and she was invited to return to Drury Lane. She accepted the offer and made her reappearance as Isabella in “The Fatal Marriage”. She met with immediate success and was from this time to her retirement the unquestioned queen of the stage. She reigned the queen at Drury Lane until 1803 when she and her brother went to Covent Garden. In 1783 she was appointed to teach oratory to the royal children. Sarah retired from the regular stage on June 29, 1812, with a farewell performance as Lady Macbeth.
Sarah played many of the great roles of tragedy during her career. Among her greatest roles were Isabella, Belvidera in “Vanice Preserv’d”, Jane Shore in “The Tragedy of Jane Shore”, Katharine in “Henry VIII”, Constance in “King, John”, Zara in “The Mourning
Bride”, and Volumnia in “Coriolanus”, but it was Lady Macbeth that was her most successful role. It is said that her success was due to her complete concentration upon the characters that she played. She identified herself with appeared oblivious to all around her.
After her retirement from the stage, Sarah gave occasional public readings, from Shakespeare and Milton. She died on June 8, 1831 and was buried in Padington churchyard.
Excerpt from History’s Women – The Unsung Heroines written by Patricia Chadwick. It is available in both print and ebook formats at www.HistorysWomen.com. Stop by and pick up your copy today.