Look to the Lady
Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Judi Dench on the Shakespearean Stage

Russ McDonald

A comparative look at the lives and times of three towering figures of the British stage


"No one interested in Shakespeare and the theater could fail to enjoy McDonald's gracefully written and well-researched study of the careers of three of our greatest Shakespearean actresses. He tells their fascinating stories with a winning combination of anecdotal flair and critical perception."
—Professor Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

"Sarah Siddons. Ellen Terry. Judi Dench. Names with which to conjure, and McDonald's Look to the Lady does just that, bringing the three actors' presences and performances into a celebratory dialogue. Interweaving biographical details, theater history, and cultural commentary, McDonald tells a fascinating story that not only recounts how each actor prepares a role but also maps a trajectory that draws all three performers and their performances together, providing insight into a tradition of great Shakespearean acting. Lucidly and elegantly written, Look to the Lady makes delightful reading for theater scholars, cultural historians, and theater lovers—a wonderful performance in its own right."
—Barbara Hodgdon, author of The Shakespeare Trade: Performances and Appropriations

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Look to the Lady examines the careers, talents, and styles of three women who were acknowledged, each in her time, as the greatest interpreter of Shakespeare's heroines: Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Judi Dench. In the eighteenth century, Siddons was celebrated for playing Shakespeare's tragic women in a heroic, even "sublime" style. Terry, who reigned over the late nineteenth-century stage, had a softer, "beautiful" style and is remembered best for her roles in Shakespeare's comedies. Dench, who still performs, has amassed a more varied résumé than either of her predecessors. Not only has Dench had the advantages of variety offered by film and television roles, says Russ McDonald, but she may also command a greater artistic range.

One of McDonald's interests is in the ways Shakespearean performance influences, and is influenced by, critical and popular appraisal of the works. He also discerns parallels and distinctions in the approaches of Siddons, Terry, and Dench to the vocation of acting--specifically to Lady Macbeth and other great Shakespearean roles. Look to the Lady also helps us to better understand the place and function of the theater in British national life and what constitutes "great acting" at various historical moments. Further, by examining across time the varied attitudes of actors, critics, and audiences toward Shakespearean texts and roles, McDonald offers insights into how external forces combine with the inherent appeal of the plays to keep them fresh and new centuries after they were first written and performed.

Throughout, McDonald blends learned commentary on the history and culture of the stage with entertaining details about the appearance, personality, genealogy, and private life of each actor. Including some rarely seen images and drawing on previously untapped reviews and anecdotes, this is a lively introduction to the burgeoning field of performance criticism.

Georgia Southern University Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Lecture Series

Page count: 192 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $29.95

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Russ McDonald is Bank of America Excellence Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His many books include such studies as Shakespeare and the Arts of Language and Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, 1945-2000, as well as a number of editions of Shakespeare's plays. Among other honors, he was named Case/Carnegie Professor of the Year for North Carolina in 2003 and has served as a Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America.