The Sarah Siddons Audio Files
Romanticism and the Lost Voice
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote
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The British romantics were the last generation to go unrecorded,and so they stand on the far side of a cultural divide. The Victori-ans left behind a vast archive of images and sound impressions that tes-tify to how they looked and sounded, or rather, communicate the reas-suring thought that how they looked and sounded has been preserved.But the romantics seem more remote. Only those who were born in the...
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Iam grateful to the American Council of Learned Societies for the fel-lowship that allowed me to â¹nish this book and to the University ofIowa for granting me leave time and research support through the Artsand Humanities Initiative and the Obermann Center. I also thank Stu-art Curran, Michael Macovski, Peter Manning, Esther Schor, and Gar-rett Stewart, all of whom wrote letters in support of my endeavors....
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...someone once said, and no better way for a scholar to spend an after-noon than to seek out a resonant cemetery and snap photographs.1 Thegraveyard visit was a pro forma attempt to reel in the distance separat-ing Siddonsâs world (turn-of-the-nineteenth-century British theater)from my world (turn-of-the-twenty-â¹rst-century American academe)....
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But instead I returned to Iowa and kept thinking about Siddonsâsvoice in a distracted and unproductive way as I went about my dailybusiness of teaching romantic poetry. The romantics were the last gen-eration that went unrecorded, and so inspired a particular fascinationwith their voices. Henry James associated Siddons with a romantic pastwhose deâ¹ning characteristic was its remoteness from an âage of news-...
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Who was the â¹rst actor to have his voice recorded? Perhaps it wasHenry Irving, the actor who did the honors at the 1897 unveil-ing of Siddonsâs statue at Paddington Green. By 1897, Irving, who wasborn seven years after Siddons died in 1831, was an elderly thespianwho probably took a personal interest in the way Siddons was beingmemorialized. âMethods of execution in art may vary from age to age,â...
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Early accounts of Sarah Siddonsâs voice survive chieâºy in anecdotesof her childhood. We are told by her biographers that Siddons wasWarwickshire. Siddonsâs father, Roger Kemble, was a strolling player.Although neither parent wanted their childrenâtwelve in allâto be-come actors, their offspring grew so âaccustomed to theatrical joyous-nessâ that the eventual stage careers of nearly all of them was an in-...
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If you are an undergraduate at a large Midwestern university in theUnited States and you sign up for a summer school class entitledâVoice for Actors,â you will â¹nd yourself playing games designed to getyou breathing hard. And if you are a middle-aged college professor au-diting this class, not because you have theatrical aspirations but becauseyou have embarked upon a misguided Stanislavskian attempt to imag-...
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The whole-body approach to the voice espoused by Thomas Sheri-dan and my âVoice for Actorsâ teacher also survives in RolandBarthesâs locution âthe grain of the voice,â which he deâ¹nes as âthebody in the singing voice,â and as that something that comes directlyfrom âthe depths of the bodyâs cavities, the muscles, the membranes,the cartilage.â1 Writers on the voice gesture toward Barthes in an in-...
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Coleridge wrote a single poem about Sarah Siddons as part of a se-ries of eleven âSonnets on Eminent Characters,â which he pub-lished in the Morning Chronicle. The poemâs narrator describes the talestold by a âGrandam,â and in so doing makes reference to some of Sid-donsâs famous roles. The grandmother conjures the witches in Macbethwhen she tells âof those hags, who at the witching time / Of murky...
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Siddonsâs performing career spanned four decades during which timeLondon theaters were being steadily enlarged, sometimes as a resultof their tendency to burst into âºame. The Covent Garden theater,which in 1792 housed 1,897 theater patrons, succumbed to â¹re in 1808;after it was redesigned and reopened, it could accommodate 3,000 au-dience members. The Drury Lane theater in which Siddons made her...
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Not long after I started thinking about Siddonsâs voice, I read an ar-ticle by J. Paul Hunter that came to hover over my endeavors likethe little cloud that is stalled over Blakeâs piper in the introduction toSongs of Innocence. In the article, Hunter talks about aesthetic forms thatlose their intended audience as standards of taste radically change. Hiscase in point: the heroic couplet, once the lingua franca of the Enlight-...
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Romantic theatergoers not only enjoyed performances that wewould â¹nd overwrought, they enjoyed watching these perfor-mances over and over and over again. In fact, the intensity of their plea-sure seemed to stem partly from the repetition, which allowed for adeep familiarity with the lines and gestures associated with particularrecording devices that were assisted by the repetition of a familiar...
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Itâs possible there was no stage role more familiar to romantic the-atergoers than Hamlet. Romantic era theater audiences were swim-ming in Hamlets, recalling how Hamlet lines were spoken by priorHamlets, and inâºating these memories whenever a brash tradition-âºouting Hamlet roiled the water.1 So, for example, when Siddonsâsbrother John Philip Kemble, while performing that role, said âun-...
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If we want to judge what role Siddonsâs voice played in creating theSiddons phenomenon, the transâ¹xing and traumatizing of audiencemembers, we must look at the series of public readings she gave acrossthe length of her career. Before the king and queen at Frogmore, in anassembly room in Dublin, and in the Argyle public room in London,Siddons read passages from Shakespeareâs plays and from Paradise Lost,...
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Over the course of my research, I consulted a farrago of alluringSiddons artifacts. I handled Siddonsâs fragile copy of Cymbeline,which revealed that she had only one page to change into her nightdress for the bed chamber scene. I looked over the seating chart for oneof Siddonsâs readings, and I examined the list of signatories on a peti-tion to coax Siddons back onto the stage. I studied the auction catalog...
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Idecided to make one last-ditch effort to become the kind of listenerwho could appreciate Siddons. Belatedly determined to listen to Sid-donsâs most famous speeches, even if I could only hear them spoken byactors who came after her, I descended into the nether regions of the li-braryâs media center. A work study student with a Shufâºe clipped to herjeans led me to a listening booth that turned out to be a museum of old...
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In 1817, at the age of sixty-two, Sarah Siddons played Lady Macbethfor the last time and was panned by William Hazlitt, who regrettedhaving to record the progress of her decay. He wrote, âHer voice issomewhat broken since last year; her articulation of some words, par-ticularly where the sibillant consonants occur, is defective; and her de-livery of the principal passages is unequal, slow, improgressive, and...
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Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance