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Sarah Bernhardt

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MatC
319102.  Fri Apr 18, 2008 4:59 am Reply with quote

An old Mythcon on an old myth ...

<<<<MYTHCONCEPTIONS: Sarah Bernhardt’s wooden leg by Mat Coward.

THE MYTH: In old age, the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt played the title role in _Hamlet_ - despite having had one of her pins amputated and replaced with a wooden leg.

THE "TRUTH": This is the one thing everyone knows about Bernhardt; it is a story which epitomises the way in which genius and/or determination can overcome any obstacle. According to AN Wilson, for instance (in the _Sunday Telegraph_ 21 April 2002), “Bernhardt could play Hamlet when she was an old woman with a wooden leg, because she had ‘it’.” Sadly, not only didn't she play Hamlet with a wooden leg - she also didn't have a wooden leg. Her leg was amputated in 1915, at her insistence and against medical advice (it’s a long story); she refused an artificial limb, preferring a cane and a carrying-chair. She continued to tour the world until only months before her death in 1923, taking parts needing little mobility, often in specially-written plays. But she never again played in _Hamlet_, or anything similar. This is a wholly unnecessary myth, its absurdity belittling to its heroine, since the truth is so much more impressive than the fiction.

SOURCES: _Being Divine_ by Ruth Brandon (Mandarin, 1992).

DISCLAIMER: FT never claims to have unearthed final truths; but to convince us that you witnessed Bernhardt’s one-legged Hamlet, you’ll have to show us your ticket stub. Meanwhile, can anyone date this myth, or identify an antecedent?

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