Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: May ::
Re: Female Roles
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0469  Friday, 15 May 1998.

[1]     From:   David J. Kathman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 13 May 1998 19:12:05 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0465  Re: Female Roles

[2]     From:   Ed Taft <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 14 May 1998 10:54:51 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Female Roles


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David J. Kathman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 13 May 1998 19:12:05 +0100
Subject: 9.0465  Re: Female Roles
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0465  Re: Female Roles

Ed Taft wrote:

>Dear David Kathman,
>
>I appreciate your erudition on the subject of female roles, but I must
>say that I suspect that you protest too much.  Quoting Jim Forse, as I
>have done, seems to have pushed your buttons. I say this because you
>obviously have not read Forse's article.

Actually I have read it, and I corresponded with Jim Forse at the time,
both on this list and by e-mail.  But that was about four years ago, and
my memory for the details is not entirely clear.

>The statistical evidence that
>you claim is pure specualtion does in fact exist in his essay. GO LOOK
>AT IT before labeling it as pure speculation.

I wasn't saying that the statistical patterns produced by Forse are
speculation; what I was calling speculation is his interpretation of
those patterns to mean that the same actors played major female roles
for many years.

>And look up the meaning
>of the word *speculate,* too. The evidence that certain members of
>Shakespeare's company might have played female roles derives from
>Forse's article but is clearly meant to be speculative and based on the
>argument he sets forth in his essay. He doesn't claim truth for his
>suggestion, just possibility.  He is trying to open up an old question
>because the old answers don't seem to fit.

This is basically what Jim Forse said in our exchanges four years ago,
and I have no problem with it.  But I said then, and I'm saying again
now, that the alleged non-fit of the "old answers" is illusory.  It's
based partly on some unfortunate misinterpretations of the documentary
evidence, and partly on the unwillingness of late-20th century readers
to believe that Elizabethan theater could have been that much different
from ours.  There is no *documentary* evidence of any sharers playing
female roles, yet there is plenty of documentary evidence of teenage
boys playing female roles, some of which I've posted.  I know of no
documentary evidenced of anybody over the age of 20 playing a female
role on the English stage before the Restoration.

>I agree with his effort and
>think that, at least in part, he may be right.  Enough said.

That's fine with me.

Dave Kathman

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 14 May 1998 10:54:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Female Roles

David Kathman writes of my modern-day analogy (DiCaprio and Suzman) that
"[I] can't just take modern attitudes and export them back to
Shakespeare's day without some evidence that they held back then." True
enough, but a lot depends on what Kathman is willing to grant as
"evidence." He wants hard evidence that sharers played female roles. We
don't have that, but we also don't have any evidence that they didn't
play such roles. Maybe some will turn up, but it still makes sense to
talk about the issue, and so I now quote from the most eminent authority
I know on the subject:

"Scholars logically point out that hired men, or apprentices, only could
be brought into play roles which demanded little preparation or only
minimal inter-
action with the main characters, such as attendants, or devils, or
messengers, or an Anne Page. Blinded by the presupposition that only a
boy could play women's roles, they thereby seem to imply that the
Chamberlain's Men molded its *male* repertory to its existing partners,
but shaped its *female* repertory to the prospect of cycling a boy into
a partner-sized role every few days, and cycling a new boy into the
company every couple of years. Or they write of "boys playing women's
roles until the age of 21 or beyond." . . . in one way or another, loss
of money to the company as a whole, and to individual actor-partners,
would be involved in such a practice. Henslowe's *Diary* occasionally
lists large sums of money spent on costumes, and on tailors and
materials to make costumes.  Certain of his fugures specified
expenditures for women's gowns, fathingales, bodies, etc. Based solely
on those figures, figures which do not include hidden costs such as
tailors' fees, yeards of cloths for unspecified costume items, lace
trims, and the like, Henslowe laid out over 87 Pounds in a six-year
period (1597-1603), an average of almost 15 Pounds a year-the average
tradesman's salary.  Such sums make no sense if laid out for a string of
boy actors. Plays were meant to repeat themselves in the repertory. No
hardheaded businessman like Henslowe would expend that kind of money on
women's costumes which would have to be altered substantially or
replaced, as boy actors grew, or new boys were brought in to replace
those who moved on. . . ." If the boy [actor] or his master were paid
even the minimum of six pence a day, that expense cut into the partners'
daily profits. If, on the other hand, we accept the supposition that the
boy was an apprentice of one of the partners, the other partners would
be giving that partner his 198 pence share for *not* working while they
toiled on the stage. And if the partner the apprentice were *not* paid
his usual share on those days his apprentice appeared in a major role,
but only the six pence Henslowe's account, *he* was losing 198 pence
that day, a goodly sum considering it equaled about 20 days labor to the
average artisan."

        James Forse, *Art Imitates Business,* pp. 78-79.

All we have to 'export" back into Shakespeare's time is the idea that
business men pinched pennies then as they do now, that actors wanted
good roles, especially if they were sharers, and that the company would
be logically arranged according to the desires of those in charge and
the practical needs of the company to perform efficiently and both make
and share money in accordance with a well-understood hierarchy.  To
*not* grant these suppositions is to think of these companies as morons,
an act of disrespect towards them and their basic ability to manage
their affairs with good sense.  Can I prove Jim's case with hard
evidence?  No. Will I therefore dismiss it as Kathman tries to do? No.
The question is open for those of us who are open-minded, and we have
James Forse to thank for it.

--Ed Taft
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.