Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: July ::
Re: Boys Playing Women
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 470.  Friday, 30 July 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 29 Jul 93  15:50 BST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0448  Re: Boys Playing Women
 
(2)     From:   Helen Whall <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 29 Jul 1993 14:02:04 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   more on boys' voices
 
 
(1)-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: Terence Hawkes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: Thursday, 29 Jul 93  15:50 BST
Subject: 4.0448  Re: Boys Playing Women
Comment: RE: SHK 4.0448  Re: Boys Playing Women
 
 
I can't see any reason why the males who played women in Shakespeare's plays
shouldn't have been mature men. Perfectly satisfactory careers as 'female
impersonators' are common in a number of theatrical traditions -eg the
Japanese. It's worth bearing in mind too that the term 'boy' could then carry
the implication of 'servant' or 'slave' even for mature males -a usage that
persists here and there in the modern world. Hence Cleopatra's complaint about
the squeaking actor and, more interestingly, Coriolanus' extreme reaction when
the term is applied to him.
 
Terence Hawkes, University of Wales, Cardiff
 
PS There's also the tradition of Pantomime in British theatre, in which
-to this day- the 'Dame' is played by a man (and of course the part of
Principal Boy is played by a woman).
 
(2)-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Whall <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 29 Jul 1993 14:02:04 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        more on boys' voices
 
As usual, Phyllis Rackin's fine ear for Shakespearean voices locates yet
another interesting textual pressure point.  But rather than ending the
discussion on boy actors, women's voices and Renaissance musical
training/knowledge, might not the *Coriolanus* passage point us back toward
metadramatic moments less complicated by the layers of parody which shroud
Bottom, Flute, and even Cleopatra's fears of a squeaking boy?  (I still think
these deserve comment, by the way).  We do have Viola's initial decision in
*Twelfth Night* to disguise herself as a eunuch, as well as the Duke's oddly
strained request that Cesario sing a song (II.iv)--a song which in fact Feste
must be summoned to sing.  In the instance of a boy playing a girl playing a
boy, this seems, if nothing else, like some kind of theatrical smoke and mirror
game.  Perhaps such references blur the line between a boy's voice--or a female
impersonator's, if such there were on the Renaissance stage--and a woman's.
But if so, a perceived need to blur seems implicit.
 
Most assuredly, we cannot know what kind of acting conventions were employed by
actors to convey their varied roles, male and female, but that vocal
manipulation was important does seem amply justified by yet another metadramtic
moment in *Twelfth Night*.  In IV.ii, we watch how an actor prepares to double
a role.  In playing Sir Topas for Malvolio, Feste dawns a new gown and a beard,
despite the fact that Malvolio cannot see him.  He then moves in and out of his
Topas/Feste voices to interview Malvolio.  (At the end of the play, Feste will
remind us of the importance of "vox").  Perhaps *King Lear* is even more
self-reflexive. Gloucester, after all, almost "Hears through" Edgar's disguise
in the suicide/rescue scene.  Voices would seem to change on Shakespeare's
stage, even if we cannot be sure what happened after a boy actor's voice did
so.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.