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{{Infobox person
| name = Sarah Bernhardt
| image = Sarah Bernhardt by Sarony cph.3a38656.jpg
| caption = Sarah Bernhardt; 1880
| birth_name = Henriette Rosine Bernard<ref>{{cite web|url=http://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/personnage/Henriette_Rosine_Bernard_dite_Sarah_Bernhardt/108572|title=Encyclopédie Larousse en ligne – Henriette Rosine Bernard dite Sarah Bernhardt|first=Éditions|last=Larousse|website=www.larousse.fr}}</ref>
| birth_date = 22/23 October 1844<ref name="Sarah Bernhardt | French actress | Britannica.com">{{cite web|url=https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sarah-Bernhardt|title=Sarah Bernhardt – French actress|publisher=}}</ref>
| birth_place = [[Paris]], [[July Monarchy|France]]
| death_date = {{Death date and age|df=yes|1923|03|26|1844|10|22}}
| death_place = Paris, [[French Third Republic|France]]
|death_cause =[[Uremia]]
| nationality = French
| occupation = [[Actor|Actress]]
| years_active = 1862–1922
| spouse = {{marriage|[[Jacques Damala|Ambroise Aristide Damala]]|1882|1889}}
| signature = Sarah Bernhardt signature.svg
'''Sarah Bernhardt''' ({{IPA-fr|saʁa bɛʁnɑʁt|lang}};<ref group="note">{{YouTube|FWGjd39dPg8|Her own pronunciation, listen e.g. to}}</ref> 22 or 23 October 1844 – 26 March 1923) was a [[French people|French]] [[Stage (theatre)|stage]] actress who starred in some of the most popular French plays of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including ''[[La Dame Aux Camelias]]'' by [[Alexandre Dumas, fils|Alexandre Dumas, ''fils'']], ''[[Ruy Blas]]'' by [[Victor Hugo]], ''[[Fédora]]'' and ''[[La Tosca]]'' by [[Victorien Sardou]], and ''[[L'Aiglon]]'' by [[Edmond Rostand]]. She also played male roles, including Shakespeare's [[Prince Hamlet|Hamlet]]. Rostand called her "the queen of the pose and the princess of the gesture", while Hugo praised her "golden voice". She made several theatrical tours around the world, and was one of the first prominent actresses to make sound recordings and to act in motion pictures.
==Early life==
[[File:Sarah Bernhardt and her mother.jpg|thumb|Sarah Bernhardt with her mother]]
Sarah Bernhardt was born Henriette-Rosine Bernard at 5 rue de L'École-de-Médicine in the Latin Quarter of [[Paris]] on 22 or 23 October 1844.<ref group="note">Some uncertainty exists about the date. See [https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sarah-Bernhardt ''Encyclopedia Brittanica'' online Tierchant (2009), page 15 and Skinner (1967) page 1, and section below on birthdate]</ref> She was the illegitimate daughter of Judith Bernard (also known as Julie and in France as Youle), a [[Dutch Jewish]] courtesan, a [[prostitute]] with a wealthy or upper-class clientele. The name of her father is not recorded. According to some sources, he was probably the son of a wealthy merchant from Le Havre.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|pages=13–14}} Bernhardt later wrote that her father's family paid for her education, insisted she be baptized as a Catholic, and left a large sum to be paid when she came of age.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|pages=13–14}} Her mother traveled frequently, and saw little of her daughter. She placed the child with a nurse in [[Brittany]], then in a cottage in the Paris suburb of [[Neuilly]],{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|pages=13–14}}
When Sarah was seven, her mother sent her to a boarding school for young ladies in the Paris suburb of [[Neuilly-Auteuil-Passy|Auteuil]], paid with funds from her father's family. There, she acted in her first theatrical performance in the play ''Clothilde'', where she had the role of the Queen of the Fairies, and performed her first of many dramatic death scenes.{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|pages=13–14}}
While Sarah was in the boarding school, her mother rose to the top ranks of Parisian courtesans, consorting with politicians, bankers, generals, and writers. Her patrons and friends included [[Charles de Morny, Duke of Morny]], the half-brother of Emperor [[Napoleon III]] and President of the French legislature.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|page=29}} At the age of 10, with the sponsorship of Morny, Sarah was admitted to Grandchamp, an exclusive Augustine [[convent school]] near [[Versailles (city)|Versailles]].{{Sfn|Gold|Fizdale|1991|pages=17–20}} At the convent, she performed the part of the [[Archangel Raphael]] in the story of ''[[Tobias and the Angel (opera)|Tobias and the Angel]]''.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|pages=25–26}} She declared her intention to become a nun, but did not always follow convent rules; she was accused of sacrilege when she arranged a Christian burial, with a procession and ceremony, for her pet lizard.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|page=28}}
In 1859, Sarah learned that her father had died overseas.{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|page=68}} Her mother summoned a family council, including Morny, to decide what to do with her. Morny proposed that Sarah should become an actress, an idea that horrified Sarah, as she had never been inside a theater. {{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|page=77}} Morny arranged for her to attend her first theater performance at the [[Comedie Française]] in a party which included her mother, Morny, and his friend [[Alexandre Dumas]], ''père''. The play they attended was ''Brittanicus'', by [[Jean Racine]], followed by the classical comedy ''Amphitryon'' by [[Plautus]]. Sarah was so moved by the emotion of the play, she began to sob loudly, disturbing the rest of the audience.{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|page=77}} Morny and others in their party were angry at her and left, but Dumas comforted her, and later told Morny that he believed that she was destined for the stage. After the performance, Dumas called her "my little star".{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=22–24}}
Morny used his influence with the composer [[Daniel Auber]], the head of the [[Paris Conservatory]], to arrange for her to audition. She began preparing, as she described it in her memoirs, "with that vivid exaggeration with which I embrace any new enterprise."{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|pages=78–85}} Dumas coached her. The jury was composed of Auber and five leading actors and actresses from the Comédie Française. She was supposed to recite verses from Racine, but no one had told her that she needed someone to give her cues as she recited. Bernhardt told the jury she would instead recite the fable of the Two Pigeons by [[La Fontaine]]. The jurors were skeptical, but the fervor and pathos of her recitation won them over, and she was invited to become a student.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=25–30}}
==Debut and departure from the Comédie-Française (1862–1864)==
<gallery mode="packed" heights="250">
File:Ma double vie sarah bernhardt 136.jpg|Debut of Bernhardt in ''[[Les Femmes Savantes]]'' at the Comédie Française (1862)
File:Sarah Bernhardt, par Nadar, 1864.jpg|Sarah Bernhardt in 1864; age 20, by photographer [[Nadar (photographer)|Félix Nadar]]
File:Sarah Bernhardt by Félix Nadar 2.jpg|Bernhardt photographed by Nadar (1865)
Bernhardt studied acting at the Conservatory from January 1860 until 1862 under two prominent actors of the Comédie Française, [[Joseph Isidore Samson|Joseph-Isidore Samson]] and Jean-Baptiste Provost. She wrote in her memoirs that Provost taught her diction and grand gestures, while Samson taught her the power of simplicity.{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|pages=102–103}} For the stage, she changed her name from "Bernhard" to "Bernhardt". While studying, she also received her first marriage proposal, from a wealthy businessman who offered her 500 thousand francs. He wept when she refused. Bernhardt wrote that she was "confused, sorry, and delighted—because he loved me the way people love in plays at the theater."{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|page=96}}
Before the first examination for her tragedy class, she tried to straighten her abundance of frizzy hair, which made it even more uncontrollable, and came down with a bad cold, which made her voice so nasal that she hardly recognized it. Furthermore, the parts assigned for her performance were classical and required carefully stylized emotions, while she preferred romanticism and fully and naturally expressing her emotions. The teachers ranked her 14th in tragedy and second in comedy.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|pages=42–44}} Once again, Morny came to her rescue. He put in a good word for her with the National Minister of the Arts, [[Camille Doucet]]. Doucet recommended her to Edouard Thierry, the chief administrator of the [[Comédie-Française|Théâtre Français]],{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|pages=42–44}} who offered Bernhardt a place as a ''pensionnaire'' at the theater, at a minimum salary.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=34–35}}
Bernhardt made her debut with the company on 31 August 1862 in the title role of Racine's ''[[Iphigénie]]''.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|pages=45–46}}<ref group="note">In her memoirs, Bernhardt gives the date of her debut as 1 September</ref> Her premiere was not a success. She experienced stage fright and rushed her lines. Some audience members made fun of her thin figure. When the performance ended, Provost was waiting in the wings, and she asked his forgiveness. He told her, "I can forgive you, and you'll eventually forgive yourself, but Racine in his grave never will."{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=37}} Francisque Sarcey, the influential theater critic of ''L'Opinion Nationale'' and ''Le Temps'', wrote: "she carries herself well and pronounces with perfect precision. That is all that can be said about her at the moment."{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=37}}
Bernhardt did not remain long with the Comédie-Française. She played Henrietta in [[Molière|Molière's]] ''[[Les Femmes Savantes]]'' and Hippolyte in ''L'Étourdi'', and the title role in [[Eugène Scribe|Scribe's]] ''Valérie'', but did not impress the critics, or the other members of the company, who had resented her rapid rise. The weeks passed, but she was given no further roles.{{Sfn|Tierchant| 2009|page=47}} Her hot temper also got her into trouble; when a theater doorkeeper addressed her as "Little Bernhardt", she broke her umbrella over his head. She apologized profusely, and when the doorkeeper retired 20 years later, she bought a cottage for him in Normandy.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=38}} At a ceremony honoring the birthday of Molière on 15 January 1863, Bernhardt invited her younger sister, Regina, to accompany her. Regina accidentally stood on the train of the gown of a leading actress of the company, Zaire-Nathalie Martel (1816–1885), known as Madame Nathalie.<ref>{{cite book |last=Monval |first=Georges |title=Comédie-française (1658–1900): Liste alphabétique des sociétaires depuis Molière jusqu'à nos jours |location=Paris |publisher=Aux Bureaux de l'Amateur d'autographes |year=1900 |page=93}}</ref> Madame Nathalie pushed Regina off the gown, causing her to strike a stone column and gash her forehead. Regina and Madame Nathalie began shouting at one another, and Bernhardt stepped forward and slapped Madame Nathalie on the cheek. The older actress fell onto another actor. Thierry asked that Bernhardt apologize to Madame Nathalie. Bernhardt refused to do so until Madame Nathalie apologized to Regina. Bernhardt had already been scheduled for a new role with the theater, and had begun rehearsals. Madame Nathalie demanded that Bernhardt be dropped from the role unless she apologized. Since neither would yield, and Madame Nathalie was a senior member of the company, Thierry was forced to ask Bernhardt to leave.{{Sfn|Gold|Fizdale|1991|page=52}}
==The Gymnase and Brussels (1864–1866)==
Her family could not understand her departure from the theater; it was inconceivable to them that anyone would walk away from the most prestigious theater in Paris at the age of 18.{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|page=135}} Instead, she went to a popular theater, the Gymnase, where she became an understudy to two of the leading actresses. She almost immediately caused another offstage scandal, when she was invited to recite poetry at a reception at the [[Tuileries Palace]] hosted by Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, along with other actors of the Gymnase. She chose to recite two romantic poems by Victor Hugo, unaware that Hugo was a bitter critic of the emperor. Following the first poem, the Emperor and Empress rose and walked out, followed by the court and the other guests.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=44}} Her next role at the Gymnase, as a foolish Russian princess, was entirely unsuited for her; her mother told her that her performance was "ridiculous".{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|page=135}} She decided abruptly to quit the theater to travel, and like her mother, to take on lovers. She went briefly to Spain, then, at the suggestion of Alexandre Dumas, to Belgium.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=42–46}}
She carried to Brussels letters of introduction from Dumas, and was admitted to the highest levels of society. According to some later accounts, she attended a masked ball in Brussels where she met the young [[Prince of Ligne|Prince de Ligne]], a young Belgian aristocrat, and had an affair with him.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=46–47}} Other accounts say that they met in Paris, where the Prince came often to attend the theater.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|page=55}} The affair was cut short when she learned that her mother had suffered a heart attack. She returned to Paris, where she found that her mother was better, but that she herself was pregnant from her affair with the Prince. She did not notify the Prince. Her mother did not want the fatherless child born under her roof, so she moved to a small apartment on rue Duphot, and on 22 December 1864, the 20-year-old actress gave birth to her only child, Maurice Bernhardt.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=48}}
Some accounts say that Prince Henri had not forgotten her. According to these versions, he learned her address from the theater, arrived in Paris, and moved into the apartment with Bernhardt. After a month, he returned to Brussels and told his family that he wanted to marry the actress. The family of the Prince sent his uncle, General de Ligne, to break up the romance, threatening to disinherit him if he married Bernhardt.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=47–52}} According to other accounts, the Prince denied any responsibility for the child.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|page=55}} She later called the affair "her abiding wound", but she never discussed Maurice's parentage with anyone. When asked who his father was, she sometimes answered, "I could never make up my mind whether his father was [[Léon Gambetta|Gambetta]], Victor Hugo, or [[General Boulanger]]."{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=52}} Many years later, in January 1885, when Bernhardt was famous, the Prince came to Paris and offered to formally recognize Maurice as his son, but Maurice politely declined, explaining he was entirely satisfied to be the son of Sarah Bernhardt.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|page=212}}
==The Odéon (1866–1872)==
[[File:Sarah Bernhardt - Le Passant.png|thumb|Bernhardt as the boy troubadour, Zanetto, in ''Le Passant'' (1869) by [[François Coppée]]]]
To support herself after the birth of Maurice, Bernhardt played minor roles and understudies at the Port-Saint-Martin, a popular melodrama theater. In early 1866, she obtained a reading with Felix Duquesnel, director of the [[Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe|Théâtre de L’Odéon]] on the Left Bank. Duquesnel described the reading years later, saying, "I had before me a creature who was marvelous gifted, intelligent to the point of genius, with enormous energy under an appearance frail and delicate, and a savage will." The co-director of the theater for finance, Charles de Chilly, wanted to reject her as unreliable and too thin, but Duquesnel was enchanted; he hired her for the theater at a modest salary of 150 francs a month, which he paid out of his own pocket.{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|page=62}} The Odéon was second in prestige only to the Comédie Française, and unlike that very traditional theater, specialized in more modern productions. The Odéon was popular with the students of the Left Bank. Her first performances with the theater were not successful. She was cast in highly stylized and frivolous 18th-century comedies, whereas her strong point on stage was her complete sincerity.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=54}} Her thin figure also made her look ridiculous in the ornate costumes. Dumas, her strongest supporter, commented after one performance, "she has the head of a virgin and the body of a broomstick."{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=55}} Soon, however, with different plays and more experience, her performances improved; she was praised for her performance of Cordelia in ''[[King Lear]].''{{Citation needed|date=July 2017}} In June 1867, she played two roles in ''[[Athalie]]'' by Jean Racine; the part of a young woman and a young boy, Zacharie, the first of many male parts she played in her career. The influential critic Sarcey wrote "... she charmed her audience like a little Orpheus."{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=55}}
Her breakthrough performance was in the 1868 revival of ''Kean'' by Alexandre Dumas, in which she played the female lead part of Anna Danby. The play was interrupted in the beginning by disturbances in the audience by young spectators who called out, "Down with Dumas! Give us Hugo!". Bernhardt addressed the audience directly: "Friends, you wish to defend the cause of justice. Are you doing it by making Monsieur Dumas responsible for the banishment of Monsieur Hugo?".{{Sfn|Tierchant|2009|page=68}} With this the audience laughed and applauded and fell silent. At the final curtain, she received an enormous ovation, and Dumas hurried backstage to congratulate her. When she exited the theater, a crowd had gathered at the stage door and tossed flowers at her. Her salary was immediately raised to 250 francs a month.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=55–58}}
Her next success was her performance in [[François Coppée]]'s ''Le Passant'', which premiered at the [[Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe|Odeon]] on 14 January 1868,{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=63}} playing the part of the boy troubadour, Zanetto, in a romantic renaissance tale.<ref>{{cite book | last=Aston| first=Elaine| title=Sarah Bernhardt: A French Actress on the English Stage| year=1989| publisher=Berg | isbn=0854960198| location=Oxford| page=5}}</ref> Critic Theophile Gautier described the "delicate and tender charm" of her performance. It played for 150 performances, plus a command performance at the [[Tuileries Palace]] for Napoleon III and his court. Afterwards, the Emperor sent her a brooch with his initials written in diamonds.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|page=64}}
In her memoirs, she wrote of her time at the Odéon: "It was the theater that I loved the most, and that I only left with regret. We all loved each other. Everyone was gay. The theater was a like a continuation of school. All the young came there... I remember my few months at the Comédie Française. That little world was stiff, gossipy, jealous. I remember my few months at the Gymnase. There they talked only about dresses and hats, and chattered about a hundred things that had nothing to do with art. At the Odéon, I was happy We thought only of putting on plays. We rehearsed mornings, afternoons, all the time. I adored that." Bernhardt lived with her longtime friend and assistant Madame Guerard and her son in a small cottage in the suburb of [[Auteuil-Neuilly-Passy|Auteuil]], and drove herself to the theater in a small carriage. She developed a close friendship with the writer [[George Sand]], and performed in two plays that she authored.{{Sfn|Bernhardt|2000|page=156}} She received celebrities in her dressing room, including [[Gustave Flaubert]] and [[Leon Gambetta]]. In 1869, as she became more prosperous, she moved to a larger seven-room apartment at 16 rue Auber in the center of Paris. Her mother began to visit her for the first time in years, and her grandmother, a strict Orthodox Jew, moved into the apartment to take care of Maurice. Bernhardt added a maid and a cook to her household, as well as the beginning of a collection of animals; she had one or two dogs with her at all times, and two turtles moved freely around the apartment.{{Sfn|Skinner|1967|pages=60–61}}