The Portrayal of Ophelia on Stage Over the Years Essay

947 Words Apr 4th, 2013 4 Pages
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Portrayal

Mary Catherine Bolton (afterwards Lady Thurlow) (1790-1830) as Ophelia in 1813, opposite John Philip Kemble's Hamlet
While it is known that Richard Burbage played Hamlet in Shakespeare's time, there is no evidence of who played Ophelia; since there were no professional actresses on the public stage in Elizabethan England, we may be certain that she was played by a boy.[11]
The early modern stage in England had an established set of emblematic conventions for the representation of female madness: dishevelled hair worn down, dressed in white, bedecked with wild flowers, Ophelia's state of mind would have been immediately 'readable' to her first audiences.[12] "Colour was a
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"The greatest triumph was reserved for Susan Mountfort, a former actress at Lincoln's Inn Fields who had gone mad after her lover's betrayal. One night in 1720 she escaped from her keeper, rushed to the theater, and just as the Ophelia of the evening was to enter for her mad scene, "sprang forward in her place ... with wild eyes and wavering motion." As a contemporary reported, "she was in truth Ophelia herself, to the amazement of the performers as well as of the audience—nature having made this last effort, her vital powers failed her and she died soon after."[16]
During the 18th century, the conventions of Augustan drama encouraged far less intense, more sentimentalized anddecorous depictions of Ophelia's madness and sexuality. From Mrs Lessingham in 1772 to Mary Bolton, playing opposite John Kemble in 1813, the familiar iconography of the role replaced its passionate embodiment. Sarah Siddons played Ophelia's madness with "stately and classical dignity" in 1785.[17]
Since that time, Ophelia has been a frequent subject in artwork, often in a Romantic or Classical style, as the images on this page show.
Many great actresses have played Ophelia on stage over the years. In the 19th century she was portrayed by Helen Faucit, Dora Jordan, Frances Abington, and Peg Woffington, who won her first real fame by playing the role.[18] Theatre manager Tate Wilkinson declared that next to Susannah Maria Cibber, Elizabeth

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