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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: January ::
Re: Cross-Dressing
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0078.  Monday, 29 January 1996.

(1)     From:   David Aaron Carlson <
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        Date:   Saturday, 27 Jan 1996 07:52:52 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0072 Re: Cross-Dressing

(2)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Sunday, 28 Jan 1996 20:18:35 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0072  Re: Cross-Dressing


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Aaron Carlson <
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Date:           Saturday, 27 Jan 1996 07:52:52 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 7.0072 Re: Cross-Dressing
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0072 Re: Cross-Dressing

Perhaps it's already been mentioned (and I've missed it) but, aside from the
definite social considerations involved in cross-dressing in Elizabethan drama,
isn't an important reason that Shakespeare included such activity in several of
his plays to emphasize the all-male nature of his players?  Certainly it was an
easy opportunity to evoke some cheap laughter (particularly from those in the
pit of the theater--perhaps such physical comedy was considered low-comedy as
physical comedy is considered today).  Of course, in terms of comedy I'm
referring to the exaggerated costumes and movements and voices possible when a
male plays a female playing a male or simply a male playing a female; the
Induction of _Shrew_ demonstrates how this type of comedy can easily be
employed.

Isn't it also possible that Shakespeare was commenting on the fact that women
were basically not allowed as actors in the Elizabethan theater? Perhaps he
felt that he couldn't sell enough tickets if he openly snubbed social tradition
by employing a woman to act in his company, but he could satirize such
tradition by poking-fun through cross-dressing.  I've not researched this
subject so any support or refutation from those who have would be appreciated.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Sunday, 28 Jan 1996 20:18:35 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0072  Re: Cross-Dressing
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0072  Re: Cross-Dressing

Gabriel Egan writes:

>Whilst not wishing to deny the importance of the sources Hughes mentions, isn't
>the anxiety about cross dressing in Elizabethan plays indicative of a wider
>anxiety about social order, which makes this phenomenon quite distinct from
>medieval saturnalia? As regards "us today", isn't cross dressing still very
>much alive in popular entertainment? I'm thinking of the theatre of pantomime
>and also drag shows. The recent film 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' was
>hugely successful, and acceptable to many audiences and critics, despite its
>very overt misogyny.

I see less "anxiety" about cross dressing in Tudor times than now. We may have
an occasional film or play that features cross dressing, but always in the
context of transvestism, always campy, always comedic, whereas Tudor theater, a
hugely popular entertainment that crossed class lines in ways that western
culture was not to see again until the birth of movies, was entirely male, so
that all plays, tragedies as well as comedies, were cross dressed.
Transvestism, if present, was a subtle sub-text, probably for the entertainment
of the gay community. The general audience was asked to suspend disbelief to
the extent that male actors were accepted, not as transvestites, but as women.
In the reading that I have done I have seen little said against the practice,
except by the puritans, who were against the theater altogether, and even by
them not much. Nor did the rest of Europe follow this path. Actresses were
accepted onstage in Spain by a decree of the Church, which stated that although
plays were frequently disreputable, to ban women from the stage would be to put
young boys at risk. Actresses were commonplace in both Italy and France. I have
pondered why England went such a different route in this than the rest of
Europe. I think it may have had much to do with the atmosphere at Court.
Elizabeth would not have enjoyed the competition from other charismatic female
performers, and James would not have enjoyed women period. What's your thought?

Stephanie Hughes
 

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