BONUS MATERIALS: The Ladies of the Camellias

Welcome to the Bonus Materials section for the Colony's latest production, The Ladies of the Camellias! To help you enjoy the rich background of the play, the Colony has compiled some historical information and trivia. Enjoy!


Bernhardt and Duse, Black and White
Political Climate of the Play
La Dame aux Camélia and Related Works
Theatrical Trivia

Bernhardt and Duse, Black and White
Many of the characters in The Ladies of the Camellias had real-life counterparts, but none as noteworthy as the title characters, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse. Superstars before the aid of television or even radio, these two actresses were known worldwide by both their legendary talents, and their eccentricities.

Though they shared similar fame and stature, in many ways they could not have been more different. Bernhardt's well-known quirks, including keeping exotic pets and sleeping in a coffin, were widely reported by the newspapers of the day. Her publicity tactics extended into her work, as she took her traveling company on world-wide tours to locales as exotic as South America and Africa. Duse, on the other hand, reportedly abhorred the media, though she is also rumored to have solicited critics privately with personal correspondence.

The two actresses also differed in their approaches to performance. As the last great 19th century actress, Bernhardt's style was much more lyrical, often focusing on specific poses and her beautiful voice. She was a clear example of a focused, dedicated performer of the time period. In contrast to this, Duse was much more matter-of-fact. She used empathy for her characters and a naturalistic manner which foreshadowed the modern style of acting that would become prevalent in the 20th century. In fact, the renowned 20th century acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavski was said to have often evoked Duse's style as something his students should strive for.

Regardless of the differences between Bernhardt and Duse, both represent a legendary time in the history of the theatre. The Ladies of the Camellias brings a little bit of that time back to audiences, to enjoy and rediscover in modern times.

For more information on Sarah Bernhardt, look at her Wikipedia Encyclopedia entry ( For more information on Eleonora Duse, look at her GLBTQ Encyclopedia entry (

Political Climate of the Play
Anarchism, a political ideology which plays a part in The Ladies of the Camellias, is a philosophy which calls for the elimination of the state, thereby freeing the people from all controls. As a fashionable political philosophy, anarchism lasted from the mid 19th century until about the 1920's. Its followers were often painted as bomb-throwing militants, but more often advocated non-violent resistance as a means to overthrow the state.

During the late 19th century, the political unrest in France was still raging, and anarchism was arguably at its highest point. The effects of both the Revolution of 1848 and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) were still being felt by many aspects of France, political and otherwise. Members of the anarchist movement were very active throughout Europe during this period, most often working toward what they saw as the benefit of the working class. While there were many instances of anarchists trying to provoke change through political violence such as bombings and assassinations, many of their peers considered such acts to be counter-productive to their cause. The increased number of these types of violent acts in the last twenty years of the 19th century worried many leaders, but ultimately, being anarchists, they were too disorganized to cause any type of revolution.

La Dame aux Camélias and Related Works

The titular play within The Ladies of the Camellias is actually a real play, and the character of Alexandre Dumas, fils was indeed a real author. Dumas' 1848 novel, La Dame aux Camélias (in English, The Lady of the Camellias), is the story of a Paris courtesan who falls in love with a young man, leaves him so his ambitions are not affected by her reputation, and eventually, near death, learns that he still loves her. While Dumas was inspired by themes of other literature of the time, he also based the story on his own experiences with Marie Duplessis, a well-known Paris courtesan of the time. It was adapted to the stage by the author in 1852, and quickly became an audience favorite. In the late 1800's, both Bernhardt and Duse became famous for the title role, hence the clever wordplay of the title: The Ladies of the Camellias.

Of course, this is not the only story related to The Lady of the Camellias. Dumas himself was influenced greatly by the themes present in La Boheme, the famous story/play/opera. Dumas' novel was not only adapted to the stage, but also to the opera as La Traviata. La Dame aux Camélias was re-titled Camille in America and adapted to the screen in 1936, featuring Greta Garbo in one of her most celebrated roles. In recent times, both the musical Rent and the motion picture Moulin Rouge have appropriated the themes of the story, to great critical success.

Duse and Bernhardt have also had additional dramatic pieces created about their relationship. Duet, by Otho Eskin, imagines a meeting between Bernhardt, already deceased, and Duse, one month prior to her death. For 2005, DreamWorks Pictures is planning a film titled The Rivals, which focuses on the rivalry between the two actresses.

Theatrical Trivia

The Ladies of the Camellias contains numerous references to theatre history and superstitions that help to create the rich atmosphere of the production. Here are some relevant facts that you might not have known.

- A long held theatre superstition is that uttering the name "Macbeth" inside the theatre will bring about incredibly bad luck. Instead, the generally used replacement is "The Scottish Play."

- George Bernard Shaw (in the play, "that frightful Irishman"), was known to prefer Duse's work over Bernhardt's. He even wrote a review comparing them when both actresses played a specific role at the same time in London. The review was much more favorable to Duse's production.

- The original actress to play the title role of The Lady of the Camellias was an actress named Eugenie Doche, and was described as bringing a very realistic performance to the role.

- The concept of the theatrical director had not come about until the late 19th century. Until that time, plays were generally staged by either the lead actor or the playwright. Among the first directors were the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen in Germany, Charles Kean in England, Andre Antoine in France, and Konstantin Stanislavski in Russia. This also helped shift the focus from one star to the ensemble, something Stanislavski in particular encouraged.

- Benoit Constant Coquelin was a great star of the French stage, almost as famous as Bernhardt and Duse. The role of Cyrano de Bergerac was originally written for him, and he played it for nearly a thousand performances.

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