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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: March ::
Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0208.  Friday, 15 March 1996.

(1)     From:   Helen Ostovich <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 11:51:11 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: 7.0204 Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

(2)     From:   James Schaefer <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 13:25:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   [Older Female Roles]

(3)     From:   Katherine Rowe <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 15:22:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

(4)     From:   David Carnegie <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Mar 1996 10:39:10 +1200
        Subj:   Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

(5)     From:   Martin Green <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 21:53:53 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

(6)     From:   David M Richman <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Mar 1996 09:35:51 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Ostovich <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 11:51:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: 7.0204 Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

It might be interesting to discover, if possible, how old Dick Robinson was in
1616.  He is the actor requested by name in _The Devil is an Ass_ to play the
part of the Spanish Lady.  In the play, Dick is not available, and the part
goes to Wittipol instead.  But the character Wittipol was played by Dick
Robinson.  So does anyone know how old Dick was?

Helen Ostovich
Department of English / Editor, _REED Newsletter_
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada  L8S 4L9

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 13:25:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        [Older Female Roles]

Bradley Berens' query about who played older female roles is interesting.
Quentin Crisp's protrayal of Queen Elizabeth in the film of Orlando was
completely convincing to me (and the performance was additionally complicated
by the female actor who played -- let's see, at that point (1584, when the
Thames froze over) Orlando was still male.

I suppose there is a discussion that could be started about the androgyny of,
if not old age itself, then of old people as depicted (sometimes) by
playwrights.  Odd that for the last 20-odd years most of the discussion I've
heard about androgyny has been about the _young_ (and the young-to-middle-aged
-- David Bowie, et al).

Jim Schaefer

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Katherine Rowe <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 15:22:40 -0500
Subject:        Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

The "mysterious woodcut" sounds very like the title pages of the 1620 pamphlet
exchange about cross dressing, taken out of context.  See *Hic mulier: or, The
man-woman and Haec-vir: or, The womanish-man*. (This was reprinted from the
1620 eds. published b [Editor's note: part of message appears to have been
lost.  HMC]

Cheers,
Katherine Rowe
Yale University

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Carnegie <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Mar 1996 10:39:10 +1200
Subject:        Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

Two recent books tend to reaffirm our understanding that there was a sharp
division in the acting profession (so-called 'boys' playing women's roles, and
'men' playing men):  T J King, *Casting Shakespeare's Plays: London Actor's and
their Roles, 1590-1642* (Cambridge 1992), and David Bradley, *From Text to
Performance in the Elizabethan Theatre: Prepaing the Play for the Stage*
(Cambridge, 1992).  King says categorically that 'the boy actors with these
companies do *not* play adult male roles, nor do adult actors play female
roles' (p. 6); but his dogmatism is undercut by the inclusion of the example of
the young Dick Jubie playing both a woman and a man in *Alcazar*.  Bradley's
book is much the more useful, because less mechanistic (and freer of error),
but he also finds any alteration from the standard pattern very rare.

The fact that men did not normally play women is not of course an argument that
they were not capable of it: for a slightly later seventeenth century example,
one needs look no farther than Moliere's company in France (Madame Pernelle in
*Tartuffe*, for instance, was a drag role).

David Carnegie, Department of Theatre & Film
Victoria University of Wellington

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Green <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Mar 1996 21:53:53 GMT
Subject:        Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

John Ramsay mentions Robertson Davies' "Shakespeare's Boy Actors." This was
published in London in 1939 by J. M. Dent & Sons; Chapter IV is entitled (in
part) "The Old Women in Shakespeare's Plays and the Men who played them."

Also, James H. Forse, in "Art Imitates Business" (Bowling Green State
University Popular Press, 1993) discusses (in Chapter 3) the likelihood that
men (not boys) played the more mature female roles.

Martin Green

(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David M Richman <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Mar 1996 09:35:51 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Older Female Characters and Early Modern Acting

A contribution to the speculation-not-evidence department.  The Nurse and
Mercutio are played by the company's principal comedians.  Like principals in
theatrical companies throughout history, these performers engage in friendly
onstage and offstage rivalry.  The extended sparring match between the Nurse
and Mercutio (R and J II, iv) allows this rivalry to find expression on the
stage. "What saucie merchant is that?" "Farewell ancient lady" (quoting from
memory.)  Might a pair of adult principal comedians engage in similar sparring
matches in *Much Ado about Nothing?*  That adult male actors played older
female roles is a plausible proposition.

David Richman
University of New Hampshire
 

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