The Chutzpah of Sarah Bernhardt

6xfxanLASarah Bernhardt had chutzpah. This illegitimate daughter of a Dutch Jewish courtesan had already gained wide renown as the best actress of her day when she decided to take on an exceptionally high-profile, high-risk role: She wanted to play Hamlet. Not girlfriend Ophelia or mother Gertrude, but the Danish prince himself, considered by many to be Shakespeare’s most difficult and iconic character. 

It was a glass-ceiling-breaking move, one among several in Bernhardt’s career, and it inspired playwright Theresa Rebeck to build a play, set in 1897, around Bernhardt’s struggles. First Bernhardt had to overcome the dismissive skepticism of some men: “It’s grotesque. If Shakespeare meant for Hamlet to be a woman, he would have named the play ‘Hamlet princess of Denmark,” Rebeck has one critic protest.

One comment on “The Chutzpah of Sarah Bernhardt

  1. Amy Stone on

    What an interesting blog — especially learning more about Bernhardt.
    And timely re: “Colette” film — breaking new ground as a woman finally writing in her own name (not her philandering husband’s) after publicly
    performing as an erotic dancer with her lesbian lover. Just imagine the possibilities
    of “When Sarah Met Colette.”

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