Sarah Kemble Siddons

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Sarah Kemble Siddons, 1755–1831, English actress. The most distinguished of the famous Kemble family, she had early theatrical experience in her father's traveling company, and at 18 she married William Siddons, an actor. Brought to the attention of David Garrick, she was engaged by him for a Drury Lane performance in 1775–76, which failed. In 1782, after appearances in the provinces had greatly increased her powers, she played Isabella in Southerne's Fatal Marriage at Drury Lane. Her success was instant and indisputable, and her fame grew in such roles as Queen Katharine, Desdemona, and as Volumnia to the Coriolanus of John Philip Kemble, her brother, with whom she often starred. In the role of Lady Macbeth, which she first played in 1785 and which was her farewell performance in 1812, she was unequaled. Siddons' warm, rich voice and majestic presence held audiences in awe, and though she shunned publicity, she won the praise of the poets and critics of her day. Her portrait was painted by Gainsborough and by Reynolds, the latter representing her as The Tragic Muse. Her statue, by Chantrey, is in Westminster Abbey.

See her Reminiscences, 1773–1785 (ed. by W. Van Lennep, 1942); J. Boaden, Memoirs of Mrs. Siddons (1827); biographies by R. Manvell (1971) and T. Campbell (1839, repr. 1972).

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Siddons, Sarah (1755–1831). Actress. The eldest of Roger Kemble's twelve children, her early years were spent travelling widely with the family company until marriage to the young actor William Siddons. Her first London season (1775/6) was a failure, but, having established a reputation in the provinces, she reappeared at Drury Lane and rapidly regained recognition in a theatre where neo-classicism and tragic posing were replacing the relative naturalism of Garrick's day. Described by Hazlitt as ‘tragedy personified’, painted by Reynolds as The Tragic Muse, and acting with her brother John, she inspired admiration rather than affection, though as her girth increased (a Kemble characteristic) some poses threatened to become grotesque and empire-line dresses were unflattering. A strong voice and declamatory style contributed to a legend that she sustained until her farewell at Covent Garden in 1812, when she played Lady Macbeth, the role most associated with her.

A. S. Hargreaves