Eleonora Duse



  • (1859 - 1924) Italian tragic actress. Born into a familyof poor strolling players, Duse had played Juliet by the age of 14.In 1878 she began touring with the great tragedian Ernesto Rossi (1827 - 96);three years later she acted in Russia, winning the admiration of Chekhov.

    Duse's first London appearance was at the Lyric Theatre in1893 in The Lady of the Camellias, a play she subsequentlytook to New York. In 1895 Duse and her great rival Sarah Bernhardtboth appeared in London as Magda in Sudermann's Heimat, Duseplaying the role in Italian and Bernhardt in French. Critical opinionwas divided, with George Bernard Shaw preferring Duse and ClementScott Bernhardt. Duse's acting style was naturalistic, her costumessimple, and she wore no make-up, being noted for her ability to blushat will. The critic James Agate noted, "Her features have theplacidity of long grief; so many storms have broken over them thatnothing can disturb against this sea of calm distress."

    Her finest roles were Ibsen's Rebecca West and HeddaGabler, Zola's Thérèse Raquin, and Sardou'sTosca, Fedora, and Theodora. In 1894 Duse appeared in La Locandieraat a command performance for the elderly Queen Victoria at WindsorCastle. That same year she fell in love with the Italian poet GabrieleD'Annunzio, who wrote several florid melodramas for her,including La città morta (1898) and Francesca daRimini (1902). Duse's performances in D'Annunzio's plays madehim famous but dimmed her own reputation. She retired in 1913 butreturned to the stage eight years later: she died whilst touring America.Mussolini, whom she hated, declared her a national hero and had herbody returned for a state funeral in Rome.