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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Women on the Early Modern Stage
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0450  Monday, 15 March 1999.

[1]     From:   N. Keinanen <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Mar 1999 15:30:50 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0427 Re: Women on the Early Modern Stage

[2]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Mar 1999 10:09:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0447 Re: Women


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           N. Keinanen <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Mar 1999 15:30:50 +0200
Subject: 10.0427 Re: Women on the Early Modern Stage
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0427 Re: Women on the Early Modern Stage

In responding to my comments, John Savage writes:

>My feeling is that the theatrical
>troupes went along with this, no matter how much they would have
>preferred having women play women's parts, because the important thing
>for them was to stay in business and keep eating.

I agree that the important thing is to stay in business and eat; for me
the more interesting question is whether theatrical troupes would have
"preferred" to have women play women's parts. From what I can gather,
they wouldn't have.  Both Orgel and Shapiro try to assess why, but it's
likely that there's much left to be said about the matter, especially
since new evidence seems to indicate that women were far more active in
the theater than previously thought (e.g. as actors in non-professional
productions, and as people working behind the scenes in the professional
companies, with costumes etc.)

N. Keinanen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 12 Mar 1999 10:09:27 -0500
Subject: 10.0447 Re: Women
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0447 Re: Women

>Regarding cultural reasons for women not acting in England: the best
>thoughts on this in my opinion have to do with the fact that since the
>women's parts were generally played by boys, and that a long tradition
>of interludes depended on the skills of the men and boys of the various
>chapel choirs. When the theater went commercial in the 1600s, this
>tradition was simply maintained, shored up, perhaps, by the fears of
>City authorities with regard to sexual impropriety.

This may well account for the origin of boy actors, but not, I think,
for the cultural bias against actresses, which seems to have been quite
strong.  I am inclined to agree with those who suggest that a primary
reason for not using actresses was economic; audiences did not care for
actresses and no acting company wanted to risk losing its audience.

It's true that a company could well have been dissuaded from using
actresses by the threat of being charged for public indecency, but
theater companies seem to have broken all sorts of other laws (playing
on Sunday, playing during Lent, representation of political, religious,
and other controversial material) as long as it was lucrative enough.

Melissa D. Aaron
University of Michigan
 

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