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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: October ::
Q: Eunuchs and Castrati
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1743  Thursday, 14 October 1999.

From:           Yvonne Bruce <
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Date:           Wednesday, 13 Oct 1999 12:31:41 -0400
Subject:        Eunuchs and Castrati

I just corrected an erroneous belief in my undergraduate survey class,
that boy actors of 1590s England were castrated so their voices wouldn't
change. But as I began bandying about words like "eunuch" and
"castrati," it occurred to me I know nothing about European castration
practices of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, licit or otherwise, or if
indeed there even was such a thing as a "practice." The subject came up
during a discussion of Twelfth Night, in which Viola at first plans to
disguise herself as "an eunuch"; fine, but how did an individual become
one of those, if you know what I mean. Was it ever an acceptable
practice to castrate clowns, dwarves, and other performing "property" of
the European court? Were eunuchs ever "simply" a sexual category, one
whose gender characteristics-like those of male and female-were at least
partly determined by dress and behavior? That is, could someone be a
eunuch who was not castrated as long as he followed certain rules? Did
the Catholic Church, for whatever reason, ever (tacitly) encourage
castration?

Once again, thanks in advance to the invaluable listserv.
 

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