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The Bernhardt Hamlet

Culture and Context


Gerda Taranow

Critics regarded Sarah Bernhardt's interpretation of Hamlet in 1899 as the revelation of Shakespeare's tragedy in France. The Bernhardt Hamlet is the first to investigate that production and to explain its context and its impact upon the cultural life of the time. Bernhardt's most significant innovation was her rejection of romantic sensibility in favor of the revenge tradition. In assuming a male role, she remained within the theatrical tradition of travesti that came to full fruition in the nineteenth century. Classically trained, the 54-year-old Bernhardt refashioned the Hamlet inheritance with insight, vigor, and originality.