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Sybil Thorndike

Sybil Thorndike

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Sybil Thorndike was born in Gainsborough in 1882. She trained as a pianist but decided on theatre and in 1904 appeared in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

After spending four years touring the United States with a Shakespearean Repertory Company she returned to England and became a leading figure in Annie Horniman's Repertory Company in Manchester. She also worked at the Old Vic (1914-19). Thorndike established herself as Britain's leading actress in Saint Joan (1924) by George Bernard Shaw.

Thorndike took a keen interest in politics and was a supporter of the Popular Front government in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. She joined with Emma Goldman, Rebecca West, Fenner Brockway and C. E. M. Joad to establish the Committee to Aid Homeless Spanish Women and Children.

During the Second World War Thorndike was a leading figure in the Old Vic Company. Sybil Thorndike died in 1976.

Sybil Thorndike

Sybil Thorndiken ensiaskeleet esiintyjänä tapahtui pianistina vuonna 1899 hänen ollessaan vasta 11-vuotias. Ammattiura näyttelijänä alkoi vuonna 1903. Thorndike menestyneen teatteriuransa aikana näytteli erityisesti William Shakespearen klassikkonäytelmissä ja hänet tunnetaan siitä erinomaisena Shakespeare-tulkitsijana. Elokuvauransa Thorndike aloitti vuonna 1921 brittiläisissä mykkäelokuvissa teatteriuransa ohella. Elokuvien teko oli toisinaan Thorndikella satunnaista tämän keskityttyä ainoastaan teatteriin. Hän teki myös satunnaisia vierailuja televisiossa.

Thorndike oli naimisissa Sir Lewis Cassonin kanssa yli kuusi vuosikymmentä, ja näytteli hänen kanssaan kymmenissä näytelmissä. Casson oli myös joidenkin näytelmien ohjaajana, joissa Thorndike näytteli. Mittaavan teatterituotantojensa ohella Thorndike muistetaan nykyisin hyvin myös elokuvasta Prinssi ja revyytyttö (1957), jossa hän näytteli Marilyn Monroen ja Laurence Olivierin kanssa. Hän voitti roolistaan National Board of Review Awardin parhaasta naissivuosasta.

Melkein seitsemänkymmentä vuotta kestäneen uransa aikana Thorndike näytteli sekä elokuvissa, teatterissa että televisiossa. Thorndike päätti uransa ja vetäytyi eläkkeelle vuonna 1970. Hän kuoli siitä kuusi vuotta myöhemmin 1976.

Sybil Thorndike

Born Oct. 24, 1882, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire died June 9,1976, in London. British actress.

Thorndike studied music in the Guildhall School and received her theatrical training at Ben Greet&rsquos Academy. She first performed on the stage in 1904. In 1908 she performed with the companies of Miss A. E. Horniman and C. Frohman. In 1914 she performed for the first time at the Old Vic Theatre, where she often acted in succeeding years. From 1939 to 1944 she appeared with the Old Vic company in working-class towns and villages. She also toured in the USA, South Africa, France, Egypt, Germany, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Thorndike frequently appeared with her husband, the actor and director L. Casson.

Thorndike&rsquos mastery of characterization allowed her to portray romantic heroines and everyday women with equal skill. Her roles included Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare&rsquos Macbeth, Hecuba in Euripides&rsquo The Trojan Women, Jocasta in Sophocles&rsquo Oedipus Rex, Joan of Arc in G. B. Shaw&rsquos Saint Joan, the title role in Euripides&rsquo Medea, and Beatrice in Shelley&rsquos The Cenci. In 1969 the Sybil Thorndike Theatre was opened in Leatherhead, Surrey.

Scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings and photographs about actress Sybil Thorndike her actor and producer husband Sir Lewis Casson and their daughters, Mary and Ann Casson who both acted from childhood. The majority are reviews of plays, including G.B. Shaw's St Joan and Major Barbara , but there are also articles by and about the Cassons. Heavily annotated rehearsal scripts pasted into scrapbooks for two productions of Macbeth , and G.B. Shaw's St Joan copies of other plays and a book draft of Theatre Testament by Kay Poulton, for which Lewis Casson was writing the foreward. Various honours including honorary degrees and a medal from the ' Quinzaine Anglo-Americaine ', in 1945. Items range in date from 1919-1971, though most are from between 1924 and 1930.

Dame Sybil Thorndike and her husband Sir Lewis Casson were a popular and celebrated theatrical couple from the 1920s onwards. Both acted from an early age Thorndike beginning her professional career with Ben Greet, Casson with Poel and the Vedrenne-Barker company at the Royal Court. They met acting in Annie Horniman's repertory company at the Gaiety Theatre Manchester and married in 1908. They moved to London and toured the USA before returning to Manchester where Casson directed his wife in a highly acclaimed production of Hindle Wakes . During the First World War Thorndike acted at the Old Vic (while Casson was in the army) and began to win critical recognition for her work. She followed this with a series of special performances of Greek plays and two years in Grand Guignol melodramas alongside her brother Russell and Casson (who also directed). Thorndike's next role was in Shaw's St Joan (written for her), widely regarded as the finest moment in a long career which saw her play a variety of parts with a range of celebrated co-stars (among them Olivier, Gielgud, Richardson and Ashrcoft). Casson continued to act occasionally but concentrated his energies on directing, helping to establish Equity, promoting CEMA and serving on the board of the Arts Council.


Shaw characterised Saint Joan as "A Chronicle Play in 6 Scenes and an Epilogue ". Joan, a simple peasant girl, claims to experience visions of Saint Margaret, Saint Catherine, and the archangel Michael, which she says were sent by God to guide her conduct.

Scene 1 (23 February 1429): Robert de Baudricourt complains about the inability of the hens on his farm to produce eggs. Joan claims that her voices are telling her to lift the siege of Orléans, and to allow her several of his men for this purpose. Joan also says that she will crown the Dauphin in Reims Cathedral. Baudricourt ridicules Joan, but his Steward feels inspired by her words. Baudricourt eventually begins to feel the same sense of inspiration, and gives his consent to Joan. The Steward enters at the end of the scene to exclaim that the hens have begun to lay eggs again. Baudricourt interprets this as a sign from God of Joan's divine inspiration.

Scene 2 (8 March 1429): Joan talks her way into being received at the court of the weak and vain Dauphin. There, she tells him that her voices have commanded her to help him become a true king by rallying his troops to drive out the English occupiers and restore France to greatness. Joan succeeds in doing this through her excellent powers of flattery, negotiation, leadership, and skill on the battlefield.

Scene 3 (29 April 1429): Dunois and his page are waiting for the wind to turn so that he and his forces can lay siege to Orléans. Joan and Dunois commiserate, and Dunois attempts to explain to her more pragmatic realities of an attack, without the wind at their back. Her replies eventually inspire Dunois to rally the forces, and at the scene's end, the wind turns in their favour.

Scene 4 (June 1429): Warwick and Stogumber discuss Joan's stunning series of victories. Joined by the Bishop of Beauvais, they are at a loss to explain her success. Stogumber decides Joan is a witch. Beauvais sees Joan as a threat to the Church, as she claims to receive instructions from God directly. He fears she wants to instill national pride in the people, which would undermine the Church's universal rule. Warwick thinks she wants to create a system in which the king is responsible to God only, ultimately stripping him and other feudal lords of their power. All agree that she must die.

Scene 5 (17 July 1429): the Dauphin is crowned Charles VII at Reims Cathedral. A perplexed Joan asks Dunois why she is so unpopular at court. He explains that she has exposed very important people as incompetent and irrelevant. She talks to Dunois, Bluebeard, and La Hire about returning home. Charles, who complains about the weight of his coronation robes and smell of the holy oil, is pleased to hear this. She then says to Dunois "Before I go home, let's take Paris", an idea which horrifies Charles, who wants to negotiate a peace immediately. The Archbishop berates her for her "sin of pride". Dunois warns her that if she is captured on a campaign he deems foolhardy, no one will ransom or rescue her. Now realizing that she is "alone on earth", Joan declares that she will gain the strength to do what she must from the people and from God. She leaves, leaving the men dumbfounded.

Scene 6 (30 May 1431): deals with her trial. Stogumber is adamant that she be executed at once. The Inquisitor, the Bishop of Beauvais, and the Church officials on both sides of the trial have a long discussion on the nature of her heresy. Joan is brought to the court, and continues to assert that her voices speak to her directly from God and that she has no need of the Church's officials. This outrages Stogumber. She acquiesces to the pressure of torture at the hands of her oppressors, and agrees to sign a confession relinquishing the truth behind her voices. When she learns she will be imprisoned for life without hope of parole, she renounces her confession:

Joan: "You think that life is nothing but not being dead? It is not the bread and water I fear. I can live on bread. It is no hardship to drink water if the water be clean. But to shut me from the light of the sky and the sight of the fields and flowers to chain my feet so that I can never again climb the hills. To make me breathe foul damp darkness, without these things I cannot live. And by your wanting to take them away from me, or from any human creature, I know that your council is of the devil."

Joan accepts death at the stake as preferable to such an imprisoned existence. Stogumber vehemently demands that Joan then be taken to the stake for immediate execution. The Inquisitor and the Bishop of Beauvais excommunicate her and deliver her into the hands of the English. The Inquisitor asserts that Joan was fundamentally innocent, in the sense that she was sincere and had no understanding of the church and the law. Stogumber re-enters, screaming and severely shaken emotionally after seeing Joan die in the flames, the first time that he has witnessed such a death, and realising that he has not understood what it means to burn a person until he has actually seen it happen. A soldier had given Joan two sticks tied together in a cross before the moment of her death. Bishop Martin Ladvenu also reports that when he approached with a crucifix to let her see it before she died, and he approached too close to the flames, she warned him of the danger from the stake, which convinced him that she could not have been under the inspiration of the devil.

Epilogue: 25 years after Joan's execution, a retrial has cleared her of heresy. Brother Martin brings the news to Charles VII. Charles then has a dream in which Joan appears to him. She begins conversing cheerfully not only with Charles, but with her old enemies, who also materialise in the King's bedroom. The visitors include the English soldier who gave her a cross. Because of this act, he receives a day off from Hell on the anniversary of Joan’s death. An emissary from the present day (the 1920s) brings news that the Catholic Church is to canonise her. Joan says that saints can work miracles, and asks if she can be resurrected. At this, all the characters desert her one by one, asserting that the world is not prepared to receive a saint such as her. The last to leave is the English soldier, who is about to engage in a conversation with Joan before he is summoned back to Hell at the end of his 24-hour respite. The play ends with Joan ultimately despairing that mankind will never accept its saints:

O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to accept thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?

One historian at the time (1925) reacted to the play by arguing that it was highly inaccurate, especially in its depiction of medieval society. [3]

Shaw states that the characterization of Joan by most writers is "romanticized" to make her accusers come off as completely unscrupulous and villainous. [4]

More general interpretation of Joan's character is to describe her as a rebel against general institutional authority, such as that of the Catholic Church and to the feudal system. [5] Contemporary comments have noted her particularly strong form of religious belief and how it borders on religious fanaticism. [6]

Tony Stafford discussed Shaw's use of imagery related to birds in the play. [7] Frederick Boas has compared the different treatments of Joan in dramas by Shakespeare, Schiller, and Shaw. [8]

T. S. Eliot, discussing the play after its premiere in London in 1924, wrote that although Saint Joan was not the masterpiece that some claimed it to be, the play "seems to illustrate Mr. Shaw's mind more clearly than anything he has written before." And although he credited Shaw with providing an "intellectual stimulant" and "dramatic delight", he took issue with his portrayal of the heroine: "his Joan of Arc is perhaps the greatest sacrilege of all Joans: for instead of the saint or the strumpet of the legends to which he objects, he has turned her into a great middle-class reformer, and her place is a little higher than Mrs. Pankhurst" (the militant leader of the British suffragettes). [9]

Shaw's personal reputation following the Great War was at a low ebb, and it is thought that he wanted to first test the play away from Britain. The play received its premiere on 28 December 1923 at the Garrick Theatre on Broadway by the Theatre Guild with Winifred Lenihan in the title role. [10] The London première, which opened on 26 March 1924 at the New Theatre, was produced by Lewis Casson and starred Shaw's friend Sybil Thorndike, the actress for whom he had written the part. [11] Costumes and sets were designed by Charles Ricketts, and the play had an extensive musical score, specially composed and conducted by John Foulds.

Caught between the forces of the Church and the Law, Joan is the personification of the tragic heroine and the part is considered by actresses (see below) to be one of the most challenging of roles to interpret. It is usually played by very experienced actresses who are much older than the age of the character, a teenager. For a film version, Joan was exceptionally played by Jean Seberg, who was 19.

Notable St. Joans Edit

    – Garrick Theatre, December 1923 – April 1924 (Initial production) – London, March 1924 (Shaw wrote the play with her in mind) – Martin Beck Theatre, New York, March 1936 – May 1936 (Tyrone Power made a pre-Hollywood appearance) – Malvern Theatre Festival, Malvern, England, July 1936 (honoring Shaw's 80th birthday) – Cort Theatre, New York, October 1951 – February 1952 – Phoenix Theatre, New York, December 1956 – January 1957, also came to England with this production. (Peter Falk appeared in a small part) – London, 1963 (as Sandra Kaufman) – Community Playhouse, Atlanta, February 12 – 24, 1965 (directed by Michael Howard, Seacat's erstwhile mentor, and featuring Actors Studio founding member William Hansen as The Inquisitor, this was the opening production of Atlanta's first—and last—annual "Fine Play Season") [12] – television production, 1967 – Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, January 1968 – February 1968 – Circle in the Square, New York, November 1977 – February 1978 – London, 1979 – London, 1984 – London 1994 -- Sydney Opera House, Sydney Theatre Company, 1995 – National Theatre, London 2007 [13] – sound recording, 2010 – Donmar Warehouse, London 2016 [14] – Lyric Theatre, Belfast 2016 – Manhattan Theatre Club, New York 2018 [15]
  • In 1927, Lee de Forest filmed Sybil Thorndike in the cathedral scene from Saint Joan in a short film made in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process.
  • In 1957, the play was adapted for film by Graham Greene, directed by Otto Preminger, with Jean Seberg as Joan of Arc, Richard Widmark, Richard Todd, and John Gielgud.
    released a complete audio adaptation of the play in a four-record stereo LP boxed-set with full script booklet. It starred Siobhán McKenna as Joan, Donald Pleasence as The Inquisitor, Felix Aylmer as Peter Cauchon and Alec McCowen as The Chaplain. released a full-cast recording starring Amy Irving, Edward Herrmann, Kristoffer Tabori, Gregory Itzen, Armin Shimerman, Granville Van Dusen, among others. The production, which was directed by Yuri Rasovsky, won an Audie Award as Best Audio Drama of 2010.

The play has also been adapted into an opera by composer Tom Owen. [17]

Sybil Thorndike British Actress

According to our records, Sybil Thorndike is possibly single.


Sybil Thorndike was previously married to Lewis Casson (1908 - 1969) .


British Actress Sybil Thorndike was born Agnes Sybil Thorndike on 24th October, 1882 in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England UK and passed away on 9th Jun 1976 Chelsea, London, England, UK aged 93. She is most remembered for The Merchant of Venice. Her zodiac sign is Scorpio.

Sybil Thorndike is a member of the following lists: Shakespearean actors, English film actors and English stage actors.


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Relationship Statistics


First Name Agnes
Middle Name Sybil
Last Name Thorndike
Full Name at Birth Agnes Sybil Thorndike
Alternative Name Agnes Sybil Thorndike, Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndike, Sybil Thorndike
Age 93 (age at death) years
Birthday 24th October, 1882
Birthplace Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England UK
Died 9th June, 1976
Place of Death Chelsea, London, England, UK
Cause of Death Heart Attack
Buried Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London, England
Build Average
Hair Color Grey
Zodiac Sign Scorpio
Sexuality Straight
Ethnicity White
Nationality British
Occupation Text Actress
Occupation Actress
Claim to Fame The Merchant of Venice
Year(s) Active 1904-1970, 1904�
Father Arthur Thorndike
Mother Agnes Macdonald

Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndike, Lady Casson CH DBE (24 October 1882 –ʼn June 1976) was an English actress who toured internationally in Shakespearean productions, often appearing with her husband Lewis Casson. Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan specially for her, and she starred in it with great success. She was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1931, and Companion of Honour in 1970.

Sybil Thorndike

While researching the history of a house for a magazine column, I stumbled across a fascinating piece of history. It was the 1911 census return for No.93 Oakley Street in Chelsea, but instead of the usual list of former occupants, the enumerator was forced to note that ‘Suffragettes refused all information’.

Section of 1911 census for 93 Oakley Street

The enumerator further notes that the lady of the house had written across the original census return ‘no vote no census’. This one document (found by accident) brought to life a period of history from 100 years ago, which has had an extraordinary affect on history, but also on our lives today – the right for women to vote! It also raised a number of questions about who were these women of Oakley Street and what was their story?

1911 census return – 93 Oakley Street

You’ll also notice that the enumerator has stated that information was gained from the neighbour. This included the name of the woman of the house ‘Mrs Monck Mason’, along with her daughter and sister, as well as an ‘elderly domestic servant’ and a ‘younger domestic servant’.

Miss Winifred Mayo (Monck Mason)

With the help of Naomi Paxton, I discovered the lady of the house was Mrs Alice Monck Mason and her daughter, Winifred Alice Monck Mason, an actress who went by the name of Winifred Mayo (the image to the left courtesy of Mrs Monck Mason (nee Alice Portia Wolley) was actively involved in the Suffragette movement, but it was her daughter, Winifred Mayo, who took on a key role in the political and militant fight for ‘Votes for Women’. Delving into the story of Winifred Mayo it became clear that she played an extraordinary role in the right for women to vote, as well as other organisations that fought for equal rights for women and men.

Winifred Monck Mason (Mayo) was born in India in c.1869, but returned to England for her Education. In the late 19th and early 20th century, she was performing on the stage in a variety of plays and productions, including as Elizabeth Bennett in The Bennetts at the Court Theatre in 1901. But, it was a few years later she took on a more important role in the suffragette movement.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Winifred Mayo first became involved in the women’s suffrage movement in 1907 when she and her mother joined the Kensington branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Winifred became actively involved in the militant side of the Suffragette movement and was first sentenced to imprisonment in 1908 for taking part in a demonstration at the House of Commons. She was arrested again in 1909 and 1910, but on these occasions was released without charge.

In 1908 Winifred Mayo founded the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL) with other actresses, including Adeline Bourne. The AFL put on several performances to raise awareness of the women’s suffrage movement, and Winifred Mayo also assisted in training women in public speaking and performance. The AFL included a number of famous names, including Ellen Terry, Sybil Thorndike, Lilly Langtry, and many others. The AFL also advised fellow suffragettes in make-up and dressing-up “which enabled many women ‘on the run’ from the police to successfully disguise themselves and elude recapture.”

Her involvement in the suffrage movement brought Winifred Mayo in direct contact with Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, along with a number of noted women. She later described her ‘tremendous admiration and affection for [Mrs Pankhurst]’.

Winifred Mayo was also involved in the window-smashing campaign and in November 1911 was imprisoned for three weeks for smashing the windows of the Guards Club in Pall Mall. She tells the story of the event in a radio interview with BBC many years later – it’s a short snippet but fantastic to hear the story in her own words! Listen here – ‘A smashing time in Pall Mall’

Suffragettes boycotting the 1911 census in Manchester

By the time the census was being taken on 2 April 1911, the campaign for ‘Votes for Women’ was growing and there was a specific campaign to boycott the census by many Suffragettes (although, interestingly there were many who disagreed with the boycott). Across the country there were a great many who planned events and parties to avoid completing the census return.

In London, there were a number of events, but the most well-known was a large gathering, estimated at around 500 women and 70 men. The event began with music in Trafalgar Square, but later the group spent the evening at the Aldwych ice skating rink (near to where London School of Economics is situated today). Winifred Mayo was known to be part of the Aldwych group and even provided some of the entertainment with members of the Actresses’ Franchise League performing recitals of Suffragist poems. At around 3.30am the group relocated to a restaurant towards Covent Garden for refreshment.

There is far more to the story of the ‘avoiders’ and ‘boycotters’ of the 1911 census, so if you want to know more, check the book ‘Vanishing for the Vote’ by Jill Liddington. More can be found from the blog by Elizabeth Crawford – Women and her sphere (including a fascinating lecture given at the House of Commons (although it is an hour long – House of Commons lecture) – as well as the website of Professor Jill Liddington – here.

Winifred Mayo went on to have an extraordinary life, involved in many campaigns for supporting women, as well as equal rights for all. She passed away at the age of 97 in February 1967.

This one discovery of an entry in the 1911 census reveals the extraordinary history, not only personal but national and international history, that can be uncovered when researching the history of houses.

Sybil Thorndike

Sitter in 50 portraits
Best known for playing the title-role in Saint Joan which Bernard Shaw wrote for her Thorndike was also acclaimed for performances in Greek tragedy and in Shakespeare. She spent her early years touring with Ben Greet's company in America, and playing seasons at the Gaiety theatre in Manchester and was the leading lady at the Old Vic during the Great War, when she played both male and female parts. In the second world war she toured classics such as Macbeth and Medea around the mining areas of Wales and the North-East. A suffragist, pacifist and socialist, she was married to the actor and director Lewis Casson, a celebrated theatrical partnership that lasted sixty years.

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Thorndike and Casson’s period at 6 Carlyle Square in Chelsea encompassed some of their greatest achievements. While living here from 1921 to 1932, the celebrated thespian couple managed the New Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, and in 1931 Sybil was appointed DBE.

In a specially extended drawing room on the first floor of number 6, Thorndike rehearsed her many parts, most notably St Joan, which she performed regularly from 1924 – when it opened at the New Theatre – until 1941.

Watch the video: This Is Your Life - Dame Sybil Thorndike 1960 (August 2022).