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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: Cross-Dressing
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0085.  Thursday, 1 February 1996.

(1)     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Jan 1996 18:51:58 +0200
        Subj:   Being Comfortable

(2)     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Jan 96 12:52:36 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing

(3)     From:   Susanne Collier <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Jan 1996 14:09:16 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0081 Re: Cross-Dressing

(4)     From:   Andy Grewar <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 13:04:05 GMT+120
        Subj:   Cross-Dressing & Theatrical working conditions

(5)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 09:29:55 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing

(6)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 14:36 ET
        Subj:   SHK 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing

(7)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 15:21:06 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Cross-Dressing

(8)     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Feb 1996 17:05:14 +0200 (WET)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0081 Re: Cross-Dressing


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Jan 1996 18:51:58 +0200
Subject:        Being Comfortable

In all the discussion about cross dressing what seems to be missing is the
obvious relief that the actors, even very young ones, would have felt to be rid
of those pounds of dusty velvet and climb into more comfortable attire. Surely
this must have had some affect especially when many producers had grown up with
the theatre and could well sympathize. One might even project that relief and
sense of freedom upon the characterizations of 'liberated' female characters.

Florence Amit
Email: 
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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Jan 96 12:52:36 EST
Subject: 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing

In case anyone's interested, Spanish Renaissance drama is replete with women
cross-dressing as men, usually to pursue an unfaithful lover and to recover
their lost honor.  Tirso de Molina has a surprisingly high number of 'comedias'
with this occurence.  I would suggest Don Gil of the Green Breeches as being
one of the more famous.

Also many feminist studies have been done on the subject and may prove to be of
interest

McKendrick, Melveena.  "Honour/Vengeance in the Spanish Comedia: A Case of
                       Mimetic Transference"   Mod. Lang. Review 79.2
                          (1984): 313-35

---,  Women and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age.  NY: Cambridge
       UP., 1974

Stoll, Anita K and Dawn Smith, eds.  The Perception of Women in Spanish Theatre
    Of the Golden Age.  Lewisburg: Bucknell UP  ;  London:  Associated UPs 1991

I might also suggest 2 of Spain's female playwrights: Maria de Zayas and
Ana Caro

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susanne Collier <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Jan 1996 14:09:16 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 7.0081 Re: Cross-Dressing
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0081 Re: Cross-Dressing

The cross-dressing debate interests me because I vividly recall how effective
Dexter Fletcher was as the player queen in the Roger Rees Hamlet at
Stratford-upon-Avon in the mid-eighties. He had been a child actor and was in
his late teens that season. The transition from his appearance at the players'
entrance to his role in "the Mousetrap" made a (suspension) disbeliever out of
me.  He was a splendid and completely convincing Player Queen.

Cheers fellow shakspereans!

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy Grewar <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 13:04:05 GMT+120
Subject:        Cross-Dressing & Theatrical working conditions

In SHK 7.0081, Bob Leslie points out that Elizabethan playwrights adopted

> late Cinquecento Italian models ... [and] were thereby constrained
> by the conventions of the genre to give female characters an
> unprecedented degree of centrality.  Thus the boy players came into
> their own and Silvia, Viola, and Juliet claimed their share of
> centre stage.

Oscar J. Campbell ("_Two Gentlemen of Verona_ and Italian Comedy," in _Studies
in Shakespeare, Milton and Donne_ by Members of the English Department of the
University of Michigan, New York/London: Macmillan, 1925, pp. 56-58) long ago
observed that the device of the heroine disguising herself as a youth occurs in
many written Italian renaissance comedies and in no fewer than 18 of Scala's 50
commedia dell'arte scenarios.  He argues that since most comedies of the time
were set in a public street, and since no respectable young woman would be
allowed to converse with a young man in the streets, this device of male
disguise allowed dramatists to give the heroine a greater role, where she would
not be confined to conversations with her lover from a balcony or doorway or
through a window.

Campbell was one of the first scholars to argue convincingly for Shakespeare's
debt to the commedia dell'arte for many of his comic conventions.  His three
articles on the topic are not very well known, however.

Greg Grainger asks for references on Elizabethan theatrical conditions.  Muriel
Bradbrook's series on Shakespearean theatre might provide a starting point, as
might T.W. Baldwin's _The Organization and Personnel of the Shakespearean
Company_, a somewhat discredited book which yet deserves attention for the
research it embodies, if not for its speculations as to the original casting of
the plays.

Andy Grewar

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 09:29:55 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing

Rinda Frye;

A commedia troupe did visit London at least once (sometime 70's--90's, sorry,
can't remember the date) and met with hoots of derision, in print at least. The
actresses were characterized as "whores" (surprise! surprise!). There was also
a performance put on by a woman, I believe she may have written the piece as
well, but it too was panned. The point made by all contemporary commentators
was obviously that God just didn't intend for women to act (I believe the word
"monster" was also used). This in spite of the fact that well-travelled
Englishmen were certainly aware of the fact that women were playing women in
all other European countries.

Mary Jane Miller;

I agree with you that English audiences were comfortable with the convention
(agree with Harry Hill on this also); after all, except for the wealthy who
could travel to the continent, they had never known anything else. Boys whose
voices had not yet changed played girls and young women, while youths past the
voice change played older women. For most actors there came a time when they
switched to male roles. Some actors were famous for their ability to play
women. Perhaps a better insight into the theatrical reality of the time than
Olivier's Henry V would be the recent Chinese movie about a boy forced to
become an actor of all female roles (sorry, can't remember the name of it. It
was popular about a year ago.) The boys were trained as actors in special
schools, much as they were in this film. Many of them were "impressed" by Court
decree, that is, it was an "honor" that neither they nor their families could
refuse.

Gabriel Egan;

I used the term "transvestism" to indicate a situation, however, brief, in
which the opposite sex disguise is meant, by text or staging, to be penetrated
by the audience. My point was that it was NOT meant to be penetrated by the
MAJORITY of the audience, but existed as a subtext for those who would respond
more to the sight of a male Cesario in love with Orsino than to a female Viola
in love with Orsino, or to Orlando in love with a male Ganymede rather than a
female Rosalind; thus the plot was truly As You Like It. Those who would choose
to see the story by the reality of the sex of the actors rather than the
convention, would be the gay male community, a term which we may certainly use
for them, whether or not they used it for themselves. (Suspension of disbelief
not required in the 16th century English theater? Hasn't it always been
required?)

Bob Leslie;

Your comments on the connection between commedia actresses and the courtesan
class are most interesting. Do you know at what point the italians began using
women to play women? If you do I would dearly love to know when, and where you
found the information, as I have been keeping an eye open for it, but haven't
found it yet. It is fascinating that it may be from the commedia grave that the
stereotype of the self-sacrificing heroine arose, as seen so often in
Shakespeare, Robert Greene, et al. I also agree that the use of boys for
women's parts says more, much more, about English hypocrisy than about the
intentions of playwrights.

(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 14:36 ET
Subject: Re: Cross-Dressing
Comment:        SHK 7.0081  Re: Cross-Dressing

Thanks to Bob Leslie for the tonic reminder that early modern English dramatic
and theatrical conventions did not arise in a cultural vacuum.  But his
speculations on relationships between the emergence of female actors in
commedia grave and the economic miseries of courtesans provoke this question
(several links  farther along the associational chain): is it inconceivable
that one or more professional companies did in fact smuggle one or more women
onto the stage? I think especially of a play like _The Roaring Girl_: the
frissons aroused by a cross-dressed woman in a profoundly gendered society are
integral to the action of that play in ways that they are not to _As You Like
It_.  Does anybody know what the penalty for violating that restraint (I'm away
from my resources--was it statute? decree? order in council?) would have been?
Enough to discourage a sure-fire succes de scandale?  We have a highly
satisfying _AYLI_ running in Cleveland these days--I'm suddenly trying to
imagine knowing that the Orlando is really a woman. . . .

In (trans)vested interests,
Dave Evett

(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996 15:21:06 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Cross-Dressing

It seems to me that *The Taming of the Shrew* is a good script to use when
discussing cross-dressing. There are no fictional females in the script. (By
"fictional female" I mean a character who is supposed to be female, e.g.,
Ophelia, Desdemona, even though the character is played by a boy.) Only in the
secondary fable, the play within the play, are there "females," and these
"females" are played by female impersonators as part of the primary fable.

What about suspension of disbelief?  When Sly is taken in by the nameless
Lord's page, Barthol'mew, aren't we, the audience, to believe that Sly is taken
in by the personation? This may be a special sense of "suspension of
disbelief," but if the audience can't believe the fable in some way, how is
drama possible? Certainly Sly seems to suspend his disbelief -- and apparently
swallows the Lord's home drama whole hog. (Please excuse my metaphor.) I think
this is a comment on audience reaction in the 16th century.

Also *Taming* obviously links class and cross-dressing. What we do with that
link is another question. (By "we" I mean all of us.) The Lord deceives Sly
using cross-dressing, and there is an obvious analogy between Sly and
Katherine. Perhaps one could make a case that Katherine is deceived by
Petruchio's "acting," but it seems to me that she never suspends her disbelief;
she merely develops her own role of the dutiful wife -- a role from which she
remains emotionally detached.


Yours, Bill Godshalk

(8)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Feb 1996 17:05:14 +0200 (WET)
Subject: 7.0081 Re: Cross-Dressing
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0081 Re: Cross-Dressing

On Tue, 30 Jan 1996, Bob Leslie wrote:

>Italian renaissance drama frequently exploited the idea of cross-dressing (e.g.
>Secchi's *Inganni* - widely accepted as a source for *Twelfth Night*) but,
>given the circumstances, any sexual *frisson* would be generated,in the latter
>part of the 16th century at any rate, by the sight of a real woman strutting in
>male costume rather than as the male homoerotic response which some
>SHAKSPERIANS have indicated as an implied feature of the Elizabethan use of boy
>actors. While not denying that such a response was possible, indeed likely, it
>does not seem to be an implicit aspect of theatrical composition but rather
>forced on playwrights by two external factors: the lack of a courtesan
>tradition in England which deprived the stage of a cultured female demi-monde
>from which accomplished actresses could be drawn; and the adoption of late
>Cinquecento Italian models by playwrights who were thereby constrained by the
>conventions of the genre to give female characters an unprecedented degree of
>centrality. Thus the boy players came into their own and Silvia, Viola, and
>Juliet  claimed their share of centre stage. The fact that the same female
>centrality (played by women) was simultaneously manifest on the French, Spanish
>and Italian stages surely negates any suggestion that the inclusion of such
>roles in English drama of the period had anything to do with a particular
>anglo-saxon attitude to sex. The use, on moral grounds, of boys to play these
>parts however may well have resulted in a sexually ambiguous audience response
>which says more  about English sexual hypocrisy than about the intentions of
>Elizabethan playwrights.

I would just add to Bob Leslie's points here the informative discussion
available in Phyllis Rackin's _Stages of History_ (1990), of the complex
relationship between male dress and female identity inscribed by the parallels
suggested in _1HenryVI_'s Joan of Arc and Queen Elizabeth. Here, it seems to
me, we have at least some clues to the specifically English incidence of women
dressing in male clothing.  As Rackin (and in her notes, Linda Woodbridge and
Gabriele Jackson) points out, the real tension for the English audience was not
a so-called transvestism so much as an uneasy sense of women making a claim to
the power of patriarchal society by wearing male clothing.  The Queen herself
of course exploited this prerogative in many ways, wearing armor, comparing
herself to Richard II, etc. Thus Rackin makes a pretty convincing case for the
phenomenon of cross-dressing by women in Elizabethan England as a power move
not much related at all to the experience of theater-goers watching young boys
dress as women.  Woodbridge points out that real-life women in fact donned male
dress throughout the Elizabethan era, something they could not do on stage as
was becoming the case on the continent.
 

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