Day: October 17, 2019

Letters of Anna Seward

‘Mrs. Siddons as Rosalind’, via Folger Shakespeare Library under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

Source: Anna Seward, letter to Sophia Weston, in Letters of Anna Seward: written between the years 1784 and 1807 (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), pp. 165-266

Production: William Shakespeare, As You Like It,

Text: Lichfield, July 20, 1876 … For the first time, I saw the justly celebrated Mrs Siddons in comedy, in Rosalind :—but though her smile is as enchanting, as her frown is magnificent, as her tears are irresistible, yet the playful scintillations of colloquial wit, which most strongly mark that character, suit not the dignity of the Siddonian form and countenance. Then her dress was injudicious. The scrupulous prudery of decency, produced an ambiguous vestment, that seemed neither male nor female. When she first came on as the princess, nothing could be more charming; nor than when she resumed her original character, and exchanged comic spirit for dignified tenderness. One of those rays of exquisite and original discrimination, which her genius so perpetually elicits, shone out on her first rushing upon the stage in her own resumed person and dress; when she bent her knee to her father, the Duke, and said—

“To you I give myself—for I am yours”

and when, falling into Orlando’s arms, she repeated the same words,

“To you I give myself—for I am yours!

The marked difference of her look and voice in repeating that line, and particularly the last word of it, was inimitably striking. The tender joy of filial love was in the first; the whole soul of enamoured transport in the second. The extremely heightened emphasis on the word yours, produced an effect greater than you can conceive could re sult from the circumstance, without seeing and hearing it given by that mistress of the passions.

Comments: Anna Seward (1742-1809) was an English poet, known as the ‘Swan of Lichfield’. Sarah Siddons was on a tour of regional theatres and it is unclear in which town Seward saw her performing in As You Like It.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust