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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: May ::
Re: Female Roles; Edmund Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0434  Thursday, 7 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 May 1998 10:38:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Female Roles

[2]     From:   David J. Kathman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 May 1998 19:12:28 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0430  Some Questions

[3]     From:   Nely Keinanen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 May 1998 10:21:41 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0430  Some Questions

[4]     From:   Pervez Rizvi <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 May 1998 10:12:45 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.0430  Some Questions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 May 1998 10:38:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Female Roles

Dear Abigail Quart,

I don't think we know for sure who played female roles, though I am
willing to be corrected on this by someone more knowledgeable.  Some
argue that boys played the roles, that is, apprentice actors, and that
seems to be the orthodox opinion. But for a very powerful argument that
sharers played these roles, see James Forse, *Art Imitates Business*,
(1995? Bowling Green Press), in which Jim points out that they are often
such important roles that more senior members of Shakespeare's troupe
might have taken them. He also points out that it is possible that some
sharers might have specialized in such roles. If so, the Elizabethan
stage might have been more like kabuki theatre than we now think.  Sorry
I can't be more definitive.

--Ed Taft

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David J. Kathman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 May 1998 19:12:28 +0100
Subject: 9.0430  Some Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0430  Some Questions

Abigail Quart wrote:

>Does anyone know where I can go for info on which players in
>Shakespeare's company played the female roles? And which roles they
>played, if known?

Very little is know about this, because there are so few cast lists.
Richard Sharpe played the Duchess for the King's Men in Webster's
*Duchess of Malfi*, probably in both the original production of 1614 and
in the revival c.1620.  This indicates that he most likely played the
leading ladies around this time, though by the mid-1620s he was playing
male romantic leads.  He died in 1632.  A "Richard Birch" played Fine
Madame Would-Bee in a King's Men revival of Jonson's *Volpone*
c.1616-19, and Doll Common in a revival of *The Alchemist* around the
same time.  This "Richard Birch" was probably George Birch, who is known
to have acted with the King's Men from 1619 to 1625, but it may possibly
be a hitherto unknown actor.  Those are the only female roles I know of
that can be assigned to specific actors in Shakespeare's company, though
several other actors are known to have played unspecified female roles.

>Edmund Shakespeare died in London. My Yale edition only mentions his
>birth and death. Are there other mentions? He was "a player." With his
>brother's company? Playing what?

Edmund Shakespeare was born in Stratford in 1580.  The next mention of
him which survives is the baptism of his son Edward at St. Leonard's,
Shoreditch, on July 12, 1607; however, this son was buried at St. Giles'
Cripplegate exactly a month later, on August 12, 1607.  The burial
record indicates that the infant was "base borne".  The baptismal record
indicates that Edmund and/or his son came from "morefilds", e.g.
Moorfields, the location of the Curtain theater, where Queen Anne's
Company was acting in 1607.  However, the burial in St. Giles
Cripplegate points to the Fortune theater and Prince Henry's Men.
Edmund may have acted with one of these companies, or possibly he was a
hired man and played for both.  Or there's always the possibility that
he played with neither.  Edmund himself followed his son to the grave a
scant four and a half months later and was buried in St. Saviour's
Southwark, the parish of the Globe theater, on December 31, 1607.  This
was probably due to the influence of his brother William, a possibility
which is strengthened by the fact that Edmund's was buried in the church
(as opposed to the churchyard) and his funeral featured a forenoon knell
of the great bell (as opposed to the lesser bell).  Edmund's funeral
cost 20 shillings, whereas burial in the churchyard with a knell of the
lesser bell only cost 3 shillings, the difference doubtless being paid
for by William.

Dave Kathman

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[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nely Keinanen <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 May 1998 10:21:41 +0200
Subject: 9.0430  Some Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0430  Some Questions

Regarding Abigail Quart's question about who played female roles:
Michael Shapiro includes some information about actors known for playing
female roles in his book _Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage_ (U
of Michigan P, 1994), chapter 2, especially notes 14 & 15 (pp 244-5).
Although not part of Shakespeare's company, one of the more interesting
figures Shapiro discusses is Edward Kynaston, an actor born in 1643 who
briefly played female roles on the Restoration stage, even after the
introduction of actresses.  Pepys saw him play the Duke's sister in
Fletcher's _The Loyal Subject_ and said that he "made the loveliest lady
that ever I saw in my life-only, her voice not very good" (qtd in
Shapiro, 201; volume 1, p. 224 of the Lathan and Matthews 11 volume
edition of Pepys diary).

--Nely Keinanen
Department of English
University of Helsinki

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pervez Rizvi <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 May 1998 10:12:45 +0100
Subject: 9.0430  Some Questions
Comment:         RE: SHK 9.0430  Some Questions

I don't know if there's much evidence as to who played which female
roles, or about Edmund Shakespeare, but the 'list of principal actors'
given in the preliminary pages of the First Folio offers room for
speculation on both. The last actor named on the list is one 'Iohn
Rice'. When John Mortimer wrote his novel 'Will Shakespeare', based on
his screenplay for a TV series in the 1970s, he picked this John Rice to
be the narrator. Mortimer supposed that the last-named actor might be
the youngest. So his narrator tells us that he was the boy who played
Juliet, Portia etc. in the 1590s and is now an old man, in the years of
the Interregnum, writing his memoirs in defiance of the Puritans who
have closed the theatres.

Edmund Shakespeare is not on the Folio list and, although it claims to
be a list of the principal actors only, it's tempting to think that even
if Edmund had been a minor player in the King's Men, Heminges and
Condell might have included him for sentimental reasons. The only
biographical information I've ever read about him is given by Schoenbaum
in 'William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life': he had an
illegitimate son, buried somewhere in London (Schoenbaum gives the
location). Edmund himself is buried in Southwark Cathedral, near the
Globe. I was in there once and heard an official proudly telling some
tourists "We have Shakespeare's brother buried here!"
 

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