Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876)

Born Boston, Massachusetts
William Page, 1853

Oil on canvas

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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During the War, Lincoln went to the theater as often as he could, seeing all manner of productions, from Shakespearean drama  to knock-about farces such as Our American Cousin. The theater both entertained him and continued his education by letting him see performances of plays he could have only read while growing up. He had read deeply in Shakespeare and favored the history plays and tragedies; he wrote, “I think nothing equals Macbeth. It is wonderful.”


On October 17, 1863, Lincoln saw a performance of the play at Grover's National Theater with Charlotte Cushman as Lady Macbeth. Cushman was the leading serious actress of her age, taking on the great tragic roles as well as roles in contemporary plays, such as adaptations from Dickens.


Cushman’s signature was that she played male and female characters; her Romeo was especially praised. She brushed off criticism of her gender-bending, and the public did not seem to have minded, lauding her performances and making her tremendously wealthy.

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