The Divine Sarah Bernhardt

By | March 15, 2019

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Stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, arguably the greatest tragedienne of her day, in a scene from an unnamed theatre production. Original Publication: People Disc - HW0437 Source: (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The most famous actress of her day, the dramatic Sarah Bernhardt, born in October of 1844, was an expert at creating a media buzz about herself and had a knack for redefining theatrical gender roles. In fact, in 1899, Bernhardt became the first female to tackle the role of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She was known the world over and toured the globe extensively. Mark Twain once quipped, “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses—and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” Let’s look at the extraordinary life of the divine Sarah Bernhardt.

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Bernhardt’s Strange, but Privileged Childhood

Sarah Bernhardt was the illegitimate daughter of a high-class prostitute and a wealthy, powerful father. The name of her father is unknown, but he and his family paid large sums of money to ensure that Bernhardt had a privileged upbringing and was educated at all the best schools. Her mother, who worked as a French courtesan, sent Sarah to boarding school. When her mysterious father died and his money stopped coming, Sarah’s mother called her back to Paris to decide what she should do. One of her mother’s clients was Charles de Morny, the half-brother of Napoleon III. He suggested that Sarah try acting.