Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 460. Tuesday, 27 July 1993.
Date: Monday, 26 Jul 93 15:17:08-0400
Subject: Acting Women
So far as boys playing women go, it was not only a convention in the theatre at
the time, but also was very common in the church choir to have boys singing in
a separate vocal-range. I am somewhat amused by the question "how a boy's
natural voice could differ from that of a woman's"--as one could certainly not
mistake the sound of the Vienna Boy's Choir for a group of women singing. Of
course it was a long-standing (albeit melancholy) tradition to keep a
countertenor's voice in that high vocal range throughout the performer's life
through an unreversible surgical procedure (I don't think one could say "he's
come from a long line of _castrati_"). So the quality of sound was certainly
something heard often and not only in the theatre.
So far as some adult men playing the more mature female roles go, remember that
the theatre has always attracted a number of males who are very comfortable in
female garb, and who, regardless of sexual orientation, might be thought of as
effeminate in street dress as well as costume, and who if gifted with
histrionic talent, would be an asset to a theatre company. I believe in the
film _Orlando_, Queen Elizabeth is played by Quentin Crisp, which is a
brilliant stroke of casting (he also played Lady Bracknell in _Importance of
Being Earnest_)--and after all, when Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet, and Ellen
Bateman played Richard III, I don't think anyone batted an eye so far as
verisimilitude was concerned.
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