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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: July ::
Re: Boys Playing Women
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 444.  Thursday, 22 July 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Helen Whall <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jul 1993 14:01:28 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   boys and voices
 
(2)     From:   Grady Matthew Lupo <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jul 1993 21:48:45 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0442  Re: Boys Playing Women
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Whall <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jul 1993 14:01:28 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        boys and voices
 
About boy actors and women's voices: let's not forget some obvious textual
evidence that voicing the woman's part was at least an issue on Shakespeare's
stage.  In *A Midsummer Night's Dream*, when Flute objects to playing Thisbe
because he has a beard coming, Peter Quince assures him he can both use a mask
and "speak as small as you want." (Interesting side note: how "marked" were
those twenty-year old actors who stayed clean shaven off stage to play women
when on?).  The voracious Bottom butts in, claiming he wants that part too and
will speak "in a monstrous little voice"(I.ii.48-51).
 
O.K., Shakespeare is parodying some kind of playing style here, as would seem
to be the (more complex) case in Hamlet's complaints about tragedians and
clowns.  But doesn't the Flute-Quince-Bottom exchange suggest Shakespeare's
"professional" actors have found a way (more subtle?) of "speaking like a
woman?" At a minimum, the joke seems to rely on an audience assuming there will
be differences between boy's and women's voices.  And probably boy's and
girl's.  Anyone heard the Vienna Girls Choir lately? :-)
 
Helen Whall

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Grady Matthew Lupo <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jul 1993 21:48:45 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0442  Re: Boys Playing Women
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0442  Re: Boys Playing Women
 
I recall hearing from an old Shakespearean professor that part of the fun
of As You Like It and other plays in which "women" dress like men derived
from the fact that boys were playing women playing men -- a fact that would
have been foremost in the minds of the audience of Shakespeare's time.  He
further proposed that Shakespeare was able to get away with having strong,
independent female characters in these same plays, because of the fact that
boys, and not actual women, were playing the roles, thus in some way lampooning
the very women being depicted.
 
I have one question, however.  I no longer remember the source, but I heard
once that the main reason that boys were used in place of women was due to
the fact that Elizabeth did not want any other woman drawing attention away
from her, as a stage actress would have.  Is this just a vicious rumor or
is there any truth to this?
 
Matt Lupo
 

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