Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lady Macbeth's Unwanted Spectre

Sarah Siddons was hailed in her day as the Queen of Tragedy, the Muse of Tragedy, the best actress on the London stage, etc. and was well known for her stately dignity and the grandeur of her emotions in the great tragic roles of her day. Her most famous role was that of Lady Macbeth, a part which her contemporary critics all seem to agree was perfect for her. In fact, on her last performance, her audience refused to let Macbeth continue on past the sleep-walking scene.

Of course, Macbeth has its own fame as an extraordinarily difficult play to perform. Bad luck haunts the footsteps of each player who attempts the Scottish play. In fact, something else haunted Sarah Siddons's footsteps during one performance. During a particularly hot performance with the theatre crowded almost past capacity, Mrs. Siddons mentioned that she was thirsty to her dresser and desired something to drink.

The dresser, assuming Mrs. Siddons shared her tastes, immediately sent a boy for a tankard of beer and told him to give it to Mrs. Siddons at once. Unfortunately, Mrs. Siddons was onstage at that point and in the middle of the famous sleep-walking scene. Mrs. Siddons attempted to wave him away, as if he were an addition to her waking nightmare, but the lad proved extremely dedicated to his appointed task. Mrs. Siddons continued to wave him away and to carry on with the scene until the boy lost his temper and said, "If you please, ma'am, I've brought you your beer."

The audience was in hysterics.


  1. HAHA, priceless! I wonder what became of that boy, though...

  2. Great anecdote!

    We were in the National Art Gallery years ago and saw a painting of Mrs.Siddons. I was very impressed but my husband said that actresses were like prostitutes in those days. A lady nearby snapped at him and said that Mrs.Siddons was a wonderful actress and most certainly not a prostitute!

  3. Though they technically were, Mrs. Siddons is definately an exception. I don't think she ever took on a lover and was considered one of the most respectable women of her day.

    lol, I quite like the lady you were next to!