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About Bernhardt/Hamlet

Mark Twain wrote: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses. And then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” In 1899, the international stage celebrity set out to tackle her most ambitious role yet: Hamlet. Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company, Theresa Rebeck’s new play rollicks with high comedy and human drama, set against the lavish Shakespearean production that could make or break Bernhardt’s career. Janet McTeer, “one of the finest classical actresses of her generation” (The Telegraph), brings the legendary leading lady to life. Directed by Mortiz von Stuelpnagel ("Present Laughter," "Hand to God").

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It was a career-defining moment for French actress Sarah Bernhardt. In 1899, she took on the titular role in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and now, nearly 120 years later, playwright Theresa Rebeck dramatizes the theatrical event. Tony, Olivier, and Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee Janet McTeer takes on the titular role under the direction of Tony Award-nominated director Moritz von Stuelpnagel.

Commissioned by Roundabout Theatre Company, under the company’s New Play Initiative — devoted to the development of new works by significant writers — the work examines the moment that defined Bernhardt’s career. After all, in the words of Mark Twain: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses. And then there is Sarah Bernhardt.”

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What To Watch For

  • Playwright Theresa Rebeck dramatized this specific moment in Sarah Bernhardt’s career because, Rebeck said: “To me, it’s the turning point in her life.”
  • Following “Hamlet,” Sarah Bernhardt continued to play male roles. “It’s not that I prefer male roles,” she was once quoted, “it’s that I prefer male minds.”
  • For the famous graveyard scene, Sarah Bernhardt used a skull given to her by the novelist Victor Hugo, who penned “Les Misérables.”
  • Sarah Bernhardt is also the first actress to play Hamlet on film.

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