Portrait of Anne Bracegirdle

Portrait of Anne Bracegirdle

Anne Bracegirdle was one of the first English actresses. Here we see her as Semernia, the Indian Queen in Aphra Behn's play, The Widow Ranter. Her first known stage appearance was at Drury Lane in 1688 when she would have been aged about 25, but she may have acted as a child. She was brought up in the family of Thomas Betterton, the greatest actor of the day, and he is likely to have trained her for the stage. Mrs Bracegirdle (like all Restoration actresses she was addressed as Mrs, although she never married) excelled both as virtuous, suffering tragic heroines and as the sophisticated leading ladies of comedy. William Congreve wrote a succession of roles for her, the most famous being the witty Millamant in The Way of the World. Mrs Bracegirdle was extremely popular with the public and her fellow actors, but she retired from the stage in 1707, preferring to leave while still at the height of her fame.