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Home :: Archive :: 1992 :: October ::
More Rs: Changing the Gender of Shakespearean
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 250.  Tuesday, 13 October 1992.
 
(1)	From: 	Nick Clary <CLARY@SMCVAX.BITNET>
	Date: 	Tuesday, Oct. 13, 1992, 13:28 EDT
	Subj: 	RE: Changing the Gender of Shakespearean Characters
 
(2)	From: 	Michael Friedman <
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 >
	Date: 	Tuesday, Oct. 13, 1992, 14:35:56 -0400 (EDT)
	Subj: 	RE: Changing the Gender of Shakespearean Characters
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
From: 		Nick Clary <CLARY@SMCVAX.BITNET>
Date: 		Tuesday, Oct. 13, 1992, 13:28 EDT
Subject: 	RE: Changing the Gender of Shakespearean Characters
 
Just a reminder:
 
Shattuck, in the Riverside Shakespeare, reminds us of Asta Nielsen's "ideal
she-Hamlet."  He distinguishes this film version of the play from "the usual
transvestite game, as when Sarah Siddons or Charlotte Cushman or Sarah
Burnhardt had put on tights."  According to Shattuck, this
German film, based on Edward Vining's theory in THE MYSTERY OF HAMLET, "pleased
a wide European (though not American) audience" (1821).
 
Nick Clary
clary@smcvax.bitnet
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
From: 		Michael Friedman <
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 >
Date: 		Tuesday, Oct. 13, 1992, 14:35:56 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 	RE: Changing the Gender of Shakespearean Characters
 
	On the subject of changing the gender of Shakespearean characters, I
think it's important to distinguish between cross-casting (having an actor
portray a person of the opposite gender) and changing the gender of the
character, which, as I understand it, was the subject of the original question.
In other words, in the production being discussed, Hamlet, Laertes, and
Polonius were being played *as female persons,* not simply as male persons
impersonated by female actors.  With cross-casting, the gender-switching may
not have a significant effect on the production, depending of course on the
skill with which the actor is able to portray the opposite gender.  But the
type of alteration involved in switching the gender of the character will have
considerable impact if the gender of a major character is already important.
	For example, in _Hamlet_, the play goes to considerable lengths to
create a son-revenges-the-death-of-his-father motif.  Changing Hamlet and
Laertes into women works against this facet of the text, unless of course
Fortinbras and Pyrrus are somehow also changed in women, in which case the
motif is preserved as daughter-revenges-the-death-of-her-father.  As with all
performance decisions, the choice gains some things at the expense of others,
and the director, I suppose, must weigh the consequences of losing or altering
the motif against the benefit of using the best actors available.  I would also
point out that if Hamlet is a woman and Gertrude retains her original gender,
the Oedipal dynamics of the closet scene are transformed considerably for
better or for worse.
 
							Michael Friedman
							Friedman@Scranton
 

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