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Famous Figures

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Famous Figures

Shakespeare for Kids

In addition to seeing plays in a theater, children in the 19th century might also have toy theaters where they could act out their favorite scenes. The toy theaters included paper cutouts of characters that could be moved around the stage.


Even before movies were invented, some actors and actresses became quite famous. Instead of having action figures modeled after them, printed portraits of these celebrities were sold to fans, which included adults and children. The portraits usually showed the actor or actress in the costume they wore on stage. Some portraits were sold "plain" or uncolored, so that fans could decorate them at home. In addition to coloring the portraits in, sometimes the owner might add real pieces of fabric, leather, and other materials to recreate the texture of the costume!


Famous actors and actresses in the 19th century included:

  • Fanny Kemble. Kemble's family was well known on the stage, and her father and younger sister were both performers. Fanny Kemble attracted fans in England and America. In fact, she married an American plantation owner and became active in the antislavery movement.
  • Edmund Kean.  Although his childhood and teenage years were difficult, Kean eventually found success as an actor. His portrayals of tragic characters such as King Lear, Richard III, Othello, and Macbeth   made him famous. He visited America and Canada as well, and was even adopted into the Huron tribe and made an honorary chief.    
  • Sarah Bernhardt. Nicknamed "the Divine Sarah," this actress was famous for her beauty and for playing male roles, especially Hamlet. She published several books in her lifetime and also painted and sculpted.
  • Henry Irving. Irving loved Shakespeare, but often cut down longer plays in an attempt to make them more popular. He was known for his dramatic, emotional acting and was a lifelong friend of the Irish novelist Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula.

Costume for Fanny Kemble as Hermione. Watercolor on mica, 19th century

Bernhardt as Cleopatra. Photograph, ca. 1899

Edmund Kean as Richard III. Tinsel print, late 19th century

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