The essay argues that David Garrick and Sarah Siddons—two of the most financially successful celebrities of their time—cultivated their parental public images in print and portrait culture by capitalizing on the level of their participation in benefits for actors and in the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund. By negotiating what I call the “philanthropic triad,” or the contradictory roles of beggar, miser, and benefactor, Garrick constructed his paternal benefaction along a public axis that promoted him as a “father and guardian” of the English stage and its actors. By contrast, Siddons played the role of maternal benefactress, largely rejecting the concept of supporting the public good and instead aligning herself with the private and domestic. In so doing, Siddons not only countered the sexually charged representations of actresses of the time, but also addressed the related question of what level of compensation actresses deserved to receive. This essay thus suggests that the cultural portrayal of benefit performances reveals the often-paradoxical reception of both philanthropy and celebrity, especially as it was inflected by gender, during the period.

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