Portrait of Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth by George Henry Harlow, 1814


Sarah Siddons (1755–1831) was one of the greatest actors of her day. Particularly renowned for tragedy, she was the first woman ever to play Hamlet, but was best-loved in her portrayal of Lady Macbeth. Here she is depicted in the sleepwalking scene. In 1785, Siddons caused a great commotion by placing the candle on the ground during this scene. London theatre-goers were very conservative and not holding the candle throughout the whole scene was a radical departure from tradition, which occasioned a detailed account in the national press. Such was Siddons’ popularity however that putting the candle down became the new tradition.

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Portrait of Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth
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George Henry Harlow
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