Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rare Footage of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet

Le duel d'Hamlet. Dir. Clément Maurice. Perf. Sarah Bernhardt, Pierre Magnier, and Suzanne Seylor. 1899. Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre.
The Divine Sarah's enormous popularity cannot easily be overstated. She wowed the world with her performances for decades.

She's also known for playing Hamlet—and for playing the role with remarkable energy and verve.

I don't know how this clip made its way onto YouTube, but it did. It's a nearly-two-minute-long film of the duel scene from Hamlet, and it's the only extant clip of her in that role:


The giant chicken silhouette adds an air of the surreal to the clip, but I don't think we can read much into it beyond assuming that it's part of the film developing process. Either that or it's a shadowy echo of Horatio's lines in the play's first scene:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation. (I.i.149-56)
Or is that reading too much into it?

Note: I'm informed by Twitter user @silent_london that the rooster image is the logo of the Pathé company. According to @silent_london, all their early films contain the logo, though it usually isn't as large as it is in this film.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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