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Dame Madge Kendal, DBE (born Margaret Shafto Robertson; 15 March 1848 – 14 September 1935) was the stage name of Margaret Brunton Grimson,[1][2] an English actress of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, best known for her roles in Shakespeare and English comedies. Together with her husband, W. H. Kendal, she became an important theatre manager.

Madge Kendal

Dame Madge Kendal by Valentine Cameron Prinsep.jpg
Born(1848-03-15)15 March 1848
Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England
Died14 September 1935(1935-09-14) (aged 87)
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, England
OccupationActress, theatre manager
W. H. Kendal
(m. 1869; his death 1917)

Early yearsEdit

Kendal was born in Cleethorpes, reportedly the youngest of 22 children of Margharetta Elisabetta Robertson (née Marinus; died 1876), a native of Denmark, and her English husband, William Robertson (died 1872), who joined his wife's family of actors and became their manager in 1830. One of Kendal's brothers was T.W. Robertson, a dramatist who led the movement toward naturalistic acting and design in theatre.[3] One of her sisters, Fanny Robertson, was also an actress.[4] Kendal was home-schooled by a governess and her father, who read Shakespeare to her from an early age.[5][page needed]

In 1854, Kendal had her first speaking role as Marie in the drama The Struggle for Gold by Edward Stirling under her father's management. She next appeared with her family as a blind girl, Jeannie, in the stage adaptation of The Seven Poor Travellers by Charles Dickens. Her family was engaged by in Bristol the next year, where Kendal played in an adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin as Eva. Although she sang well as a child, she contracted diphtheria, and her voice suffered after the removal of her tonsils. Nevertheless, she played a singing role in A Midsummer Night's Dream, with songs by Felix Mendelssohn, at the Bath Theatre in 1863, starring sisters Ellen and Kate Terry as Titania and Oberon, respectively. Throughout this period, she performed with her family in Bristol and Bath.[3]

In 1865, Kendal was playing adult roles in London, beginning with Ophelia in Hamlet, Blanche in King John and Desdemona in Othello at the Haymarket Theatre in London. She was Mary Meredith in Our American Cousin with Sothern, and Pauline to his Claud Melnotte. But her most notable early successes were at the Haymarket in Shakespearian revivals and the old English comedies. At the Haymarket, she starred with and met her future husband, W. H. Kendal, whom she married in 1869. Kendal played Rosalind, Lady Teazle, Lydia Languish and Kate Hardcastle, while her husband played Orlando, Charles Surface, Jack Absolute and Young Marlowe. The two thereafter acted mostly together. She then toured the provinces, joining the playwright and theatre manager William Brough[6] and the actor Samuel Phelps in 1866 at the Theatre Royal, Hull. She substituted in the role of Lady Macbeth, for an actress who was ill, opposite Phelps, who engaged her to appear as Lady Teazle at the Standard Theatre, Shoreditch, opposite his Sir Peter in The School for Scandal. During the following years, her reputation grew during engagements with F. B. Chatterton at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, E. A. Sothern at the Haymarket, and John Hollingshead at the Gaiety Theatre, London, as well as provincial appearances.[3]

Peak yearsEdit

The Kendals in Pygmalion and Galatea, 1872

In 1868, Kendal joined the company of J. B. Buckstone on tour and then at the Haymarket, continuing with this troupe until 1874. She married William Hunter Grimston, an actor in the company who appeared under the name W. H. Kendal, on 7 August 1869, and adopted his stage name. With Buckstone's company, Madge Kendal enjoyed a string of successes, usually opposite her husband, playing as Lilian Vavasour in New Men and Old Acres by Tom Taylor (1869), Lydia Languish in The Rivals (1870), Rosalind in As You Like It (1871),[3] and a series of "fairy comedies" by W. S. Gilbert, including Princess Zeolide in The Palace of Truth (1870), Galatea in Pygmalion and Galatea (1871), Selene in The Wicked World (1873) and the Lady Hilda in Broken Hearts (1875), and Mrs Van Brugh in his drama Charity (1874).[7]

After this, Kendal played at the Opera Comique and the Court Theatre, which they managed for a time before joining the company of the Bancrofts at the Prince of Wales's Theatre. There, she played Dora in Diplomacy by B. C. Stephenson and Clement Scott (1878, adapted from Victorien Sardou's Dora), among other roles. Between 1879 and 1888, Kendal and her husband managed the St. James's Theatre with John Hare and presented a large number of Arthur Wing Pinero plays, among many others. Mrs. Kendal played Lady Giovanna in The Falcon by Tennyson (1879), Susan in William and Susan, Kate Verity in The Squire by Pinero (1881), repeated her Rosalind in As You Like It (1885). The Kendals restored the St. James's to popularity and helped to improve the respectability of the Victorian theatre, which had fallen into disrepute among the middle classes. They imposed a high moral code both on stage and behind the scenes.[3]

Illustration for 1902 revival, featuring Ellen Terry as Mistress Page, Kendal as Mistress Ford, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Falstaff

Some of the Kendals' other notable successes in the 1880s included The Squire by Arthur Wing Pinero, Impulse by B. C. Stephenson, The Ironmaster, an English version by Pinero of Le Maitre des Forges by Georges Ohnet,[8] and A Scrap of Paper by John Palgrave Simpson, an adaptation of Les Pattes de mouche by Sardou. In 1888, the Hare and Kendal partnership ended. George Bernard Shaw wrote of her 1886 performance in The Greatest of These by Sydney Grundy at the Garrick Theatre, "her finish of execution, her individuality and charm of style, her appetisingly witty conception of her effects, her mastery of her art and of herself … are all there, making her still supreme among English actresses in high comedy."[9] During this period, Kendal learned of the case of Joseph Merrick, referred to as the Elephant Man. Although she probably never met him in person, she helped to raise funds and public sympathy for him. She sent him photographs of herself and employed a basket weaver to go to his rooms and teach him the craft, and she arranged for him to see a Christmas pantomime.[10]

Later yearsEdit

The Kendals made their American debut in A Scrap of Paper in 1889, and the success of their first tour in the United States was repeated in several successive American seasons, where they spent most of the next five years. In 1902, she appeared as Mistress Ford opposite the Mistress Page of her childhood friend Ellen Terry in The Merry Wives of Windsor with Herbert Beerbohm Tree's company. The Kendals continued to appear in popular plays without interruption until 1908, when they both retired, though Mrs Kendal reprised her Mistress Ford at the coronation gala of 1911 at His Majesty's Theatre.[3]

The Kendals had five children, but they reportedly were estranged from them. Her husband died in 1917. In retirement, Madge Kendal became active with many theatre charities, becoming president of the actors' retirement home, Denville Hall. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1926.

Kendal died at her home in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, in 1935, aged 87, after a long illness.[11] She was buried at St Marylebone cemetery in East Finchley.

In fictionEdit

Kendal is a featured character in the 1979 play The Elephant Man[12] and the unrelated 1980 film of the same name, both based on the life of Joseph Merrick. In the film, Kendal was portrayed by Anne Bancroft.


  1. ^ Editorial notes for "Something Like A History of Music", by George Bernard Shaw, January 11, 1887 (notes by Brian Shaw, 2008), originally in the Pall Mall Gazette; archived in Bernard Shaw's Book Reviews, Volume 1, published 2008 by Penn State Press
  2. ^ "Mrs. Kendal" in Marquis Who's Who, 1902-03 edition, via
  3. ^ a b c d e f Foulkes, Richard. "Kendal, Dame Madge (1848–1935)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004, accessed 27 December 2009
  4. ^ Gillan, Don. Profile of Madge Kendal,, accessed 22 February 2010
  5. ^ Mrs. Alec-Tweedie (1904) Behind the Footlights, Dodd Mead and Co., New York
  6. ^ Pemberton, p. 43
  7. ^ Stedman, passim
  8. ^ "Amusements – 'The Ironmaster'", The New York Times, 18 October 1889
  9. ^ Shaw, George Bernard. The Saturday Review, 10 June 1886
  10. ^ Howell, pp. 109–112
  11. ^ Obituary, The Times, 16 September 1935
  12. ^ The Elephant Man, Internet Broadway Database, accessed 14 August 2017


  • Archer, William. "Mr. and Mrs. Kendal", in Matthews and Hutton, Actors and Actresses of Great Britain and the United States (New York, 1886)
  • Howell, Michael; Ford, Peter (1992) [1980]. The True History of the Elephant Man (3rd ed.). London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-016515-0.
  • Kendal, Madge. Dame Madge Kendal, by herself, ed. R. de Cordova (1933)
  • Kendal, Madge. Dramatic opinions (1890)
  • Parker, J. ed., Who's who in the theatre, 5th ed. (1925)
  • Pemberton, T. E. The Kendals: A Biography (New York, 1900)
  • Scott, Clement. The Drama of Yesterday and To-Day (London, 1899)
  • Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.

External linksEdit