The Arts

Sarah Siddons

Sarah Siddons

Sarah Siddons

In the late 18th Century Sarah Siddons was the object of superfluous admiration and recommendation. Theatrical reviews were having a heyday and while an actor could be criticised for playing the King in Lear as if somebody somewhere was about the play the Ace, Mrs Siddons’ appearance was always greeted with excess praise. Hence…

“On Saturday 9 July 1783, Mrs Siddons, about whom all the world has been talking, exposed her beautiful, adamantine, soft and lovely person, for the first time in Smock-alley theatre, in the bewitching, melting, and all-tearful character of Isabella. From the repeated panegyrics in the impartial London newspapers, we were taught to expect the sight of a heavenly angel; but how were we supernaturally surprised into the most awful joy, at beholding a mortal Goddess? The house was crowded with hundreds more than it could hold – with thousands of admiring spectators who went away without a fight. This extraordinary phenomenon of tragic excellence, this star of Melpomene! – this comet of the stage! – this sun of the firmament of muses! – this moon of blank verse! – this queen and princess of tears! – the Donnellan of the poisoned bow! – this empress of the pistol and dagger! – this chaos of Shakespeare! – this world of weeping clouds! – this Juno of commanding aspects! – this Terpsichore of the curtains and scenes! – this Prosperine of fires and earthquakes! – this Katterfelts of wonders! exceeded expectation, went beyond belief, and soared above the powers of description. [what price Kenneth Tynan now? – Ed]. She was nature itself – she was the most exquisite work of art – she was the very daisy, primrose, tuberose, sweetbriar, firze blossom, gilliflower, wallflower, cauliflower, auriculus and rosemary – in short, she was the bouquet of Parnassus.

“Where expectation was raised so high it was thought she would be injured by her appearance, but it was the audience who were injured. Several fainted even before the curtain went up, but when she came to the scene of parting with her wedding ring, Oh! What a sight was there! The very fiddlers in the orchestra, albeit unused to the melting mood, blubbered like hungry children crying for their bread and butter and when the bell rang for music between the acts, the tears ran from the bassoon players’ eyes in such plentiful showers that they choked the finger stops, and making a sport of the instrument, poured in such torrents on the first fiddler’s book, that not seeing the overture was in two sharps, the leader of the band actually played in one flat. But the sobs and sighs of the groaning audience, and the noise of the corks drawn from the smelling bottles, prevented the mistake between the flats and the sharps being discovered. 109 ladies fainted, 46 went into fits, and 99 had strong hysterics. The world will scarcely credit the truth when they are told that 14 children – 5 old women – 10 tailors – 6 common councilmen, were actually drowned in the inundation of tears that flowed from the galleries, lattices, and boxes to increase the briny pond in the pit. The water was 3 feet deep, and the people that were obliged to stand up on the benches, were in that position up to their ankles in tears.” (John Forster, critic of The Examiner).

Another view of the same event
“At the time necessary for her entrance, she kept the audience waiting for 10 minutes or more – a measure very impolite and very improper. The acting of Mrs Siddons is truly great but Mrs Crawford’s acting has not so much grandeur but my feelings prompt me to imagine it partakes more of nature. Mrs Crawford’s eye is totally destitute of fire and meaning but her voice is full of harmony. Mrs Siddons has an eye labouring with expression, but her voice is confused, and not agreeable: she had infinite difficulty to conquer a whining monotony she possesses. There is a want of power.”

Categories: The Arts

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