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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: May ::
Female Roles; Anti-Semitism; Hamlet; Sandman; Due
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0475  Monday, 18 May 1998.

[1]     From:   David J. Kathman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 16 May 1998 16:55:43 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0469  Re: Female Roles

[2]     From:   Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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        Date:   Saturday, 16 May 1998 11:32:58 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Anti-Semitism

[3]     From:   Jean Peterson <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 May 1998 12:31:36 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Hamlet

[4]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Sunday, 17 May 1998 01:43:18 -0400
        Subj:   Due South


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David J. Kathman <
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Date:           Saturday, 16 May 1998 16:55:43 +0100
Subject: 9.0469  Re: Female Roles
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0469  Re: Female Roles

Ed Taft wrote:

>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.

Huh?  You seem to be implying that we don't have any evidence at all as
to who played female roles, and thus we might as well assume that
sharers played them.  But we do have plenty of evidence about who played
those roles.  In every case where we can determine the ages of the
actors in question, they were between 10 and 19, mostly clustered from
14 to 18.  In several cases we have evidence of an actor "graduating"
from female to male roles in his late teens.  One such example that I
haven't cited yet is Henry Glapthorne's poem published in 1639, called
"For Ezekial Fen at his First Acting a Mans Part".  Ezekiel Fenn was 19
at the time, having been baptized on April 6, 1620, and he had acted
female roles in the mid-1630s.  In contrast, as I've said before, there
is no contemporary evidence of any sharer, or any person definitely over
the age of about 20, playing female roles on the English stage before
the Restoration.

>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:

[snip of quote from James Forse]

I don't want to denigrate James Forse, but I would hesitate to call him
"the most eminent authority... on the subject".  He is a scholar and a
nice guy, and he has published some provocative theses which deserve to
be discussed.  But in this particular case, plenty of people have
produced a bunch of evidence against Forse's particular claim, and I
can't think of any other Shakespeare scholar who has accepted the idea
that adult sharers played female roles.  As I said before, we had a
lengthy discussion of this very issue here on SHAKSPER back in 1994,
with Jim Forse and myself as two of the participants.  In the face of
all the evidence that was presented to him, Forse became somewhat
chastened and said that he was mainly trying to get people to look at
the matter from a different perspective.  That's fine with me, but any
new thesis has to be weighed against the evidence.  He also suggested
(in a post of October 25, 1994), that even if we weren't willing to
accept the idea that sharers played women's roles, "I would urge you to
abandon the term *boys* in favor of a phrase closer to the actual
situation-perhaps *young men* or *high-school/college age men* or
something of that ilk." That's OK with me; "high-school age boys/men"
would fit, since the actors in question were mostly between 14 and 18,
exactly the ages for our high school.

>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.

What?  That's a reductio ad absurdum if ever I saw one.  You're going to
call Elizabethan acting companies "morons" because they didn't follow
your idea of good business sense?  As I've said before, Elizabethan
England was not late twentieth-century America or England.  I don't
pretend to understand all the social factors which led to teenage boys
playing the women's roles on the Elizabethan stage; plenty of others
have written on that in recent years.  But when so much documentary
evidence points so clearly to the fact that teenage boys did in fact
play women's roles, I find it hard to discard all that evidence just
because it disagrees with my late twentieth-century intutions about what
should have been the case.

>Can I prove Jim's case with hard
>evidence?  No. Will I therefore dismiss it as Kathman tries to do? No.

What?  You make it sound like I just arbitrarily dismiss Forse's case,
when in fact I've presented a lot of hard evidence against it, both in
this thread and back in 1994.  Others have presented more evidence.

>The question is open for those of us who are open-minded, and we have
>James Forse to thank for it.

Please don't be offended, but you're starting to sound like an
Oxfordian, a group with which I'm all too familiar.  They also dismiss
documentary evidence when it doesn't agree with their 20th-century ideas
about what should have been the case, and they love to talk about being
"open-minded".

I should emphasize that I found Forse's book (*Art Imitates Business*)
provocative and very interesting, and the world of Elizabethan theater
scholarship is richer for it.  His idea of looking at Elizabethan actors
and managers as businessmen is welcome, and in fact I find that
perspective to be one that has received far too little attention in the
literature.  But that doesn't mean his theses can or should go
unchallenged.  In the particular case of who played women's roles on the
Elizabethan stage, the evidence is clearly and overwhelmingly against
Forse's thesis, even though he does raise a lot of legitimate issues
(such as potential for the term "boy" to be misleading for modern
readers).  I hope Jim Forse continues to publish his provocative ideas,
even if this particular one is not supported by the evidence.

Dave Kathman

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[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date:           Saturday, 16 May 1998 11:32:58 -0400
Subject:        Re Anti-Semitism

As part of my research for a paper on _The Jew of Malta_ , I found an
essay which provides a fascinating overview and analysis of how the Jew
came to be the quintessential Other, the perennially identified outsider
on whom all the ills of society can be blamed.  I recommend it to all
those SHAKSPERians who have been following and/or partaking in the
ongoing debate about the presence of anti-Semitism in Elizabethan
England and in Shakespeare.

The essay is "The essential 'other' and the Jew: From antisemitism to
genocide"  by Henri Zukier in _Social Research_ volume 63, #4,  Winter
1996, pp 1110-1154.

(Sorry about not using MLA here... I'm working off a home-printed copy
obtained LEGALLY from ProQuest Direct via my school's subscription
thereto.)

The essay presents the establishment of the Jew as "other" from the
beginnings of the Church through the demonization of the Middle Ages to
the infestation mentality of the late 19th through mid-20th centuries,
creating the Nazi move toward total extermination.

Zukier confirms a lot of what listers have pointed out about the
perceptions of the Early Modern period about Jews.

Marilyn B.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jean Peterson <
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Date:           Monday, 18 May 1998 12:31:36 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Hamlet

>My personal suggestion is this: If your nieces have had no previous
>experience with Hamlet, have them read the play or have them watch
>Branagh's version.

With all due respect to Justin Bacon, I do wonder at his holding up
Branagh's *Hamlet* as a kind of standard or definitive *Hamlet*, as his
suggestion implies.  This seems to take Branagh's own claims about the
authoritative nature of his film entirely too much at his word.  I for
one was at first puzzled and increasingly put off by Branagh's repeated
insistence that he was filming the "entire" play, the "complete" text-as
if such a thing existed-when he, like many directors before him, culled
together a working text from all existing versions of the play,
including modern emendations.  Branagh's version has the dubious
distinction of being longer, perhaps, and including more of the
potential options than other *Hamlet*s have, but his representation of
his film as "the" complete *Hamlet* deliberately and dishonestly glossed
over the very complex and interesting problems that the multiple texts
of that play offer, and presented a misleading picture of his own
directorial process.

I am not a textual "purist" myself, but I saw troubling contradictions
between the way Branagh so vociferously claimed to treat each word of
the text as sacrosanct, while taking such cavalier liberties with other
kinds of changes and interpolations: writing in characters who do not
appear in the text (such as the prostitute in Polonius' bed), changing
speech assignments (so that Ophelia and Hamlet are both seen reciting
the love letter the text assigns to Polonius), and writing in the
excessively repeated "flashback" scene of Hamlet and Ophelia making
love, to cite just a few examples.  Even his decision to film the play
as a 19th-century period piece (replete with a wealth of physical and
material detail to set the scene) is peculiarly at odds with his
apparent attempt to claim authoritative and definitive status for his
film, unless one doesn't mind erasing the nearly 400 years of historic,
cultural, and aesthetic changes that separate Shakespeare's theater from
the late 20th-century fashion for exquisitely detailed films based on
the novels of Jane Austen and E.M.  Forster.

In short, I found Branagh's take on the play as "horribly warped" (to
use Mr. Bacon's phrase)--by, more than anything, the continual intrusion
of the director's colossal narcissism, which, since the dreadful
*Frankenstein*, has apparently overpowered what judgement he once ever
had-as anything the RSC might currently be dishing out.

Jean Peterson
Bucknell University

P.S.  Just a note: For those having difficulty locating the two
"Sandman-does-Shakespeare" volumes; both are very easily and readily
available from the Amazon Bookstore website (http:/www.amazon.com).  You
can do an author search under Gaiman, Neil, or simply keyword: Sandman;
since that will bring up the entire Gaiman corpus, it helps to know that
the two volumes are titled "Dream Country" and "The Wake."

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Sunday, 17 May 1998 01:43:18 -0400
Subject:        Due South

Just to mention: tonight's Due South season-ending episode featured
Leslie Neilson delivering a version of the St. Crispin's Day speech from
Henry V.
 

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