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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Eunuchs Onstage
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1017  Thursday, 11 May 2000.

[1]     From:   Tom Reedy <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 May 2000 10:56:06 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

[2]     From:   Stephen Holcombe <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 May 2000 12:53:39 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

[3]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 May 2000 21:01:51 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

[4]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 May 2000 18:30:23 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

[5]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 May 2000 20:06:42 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Reedy <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 May 2000 10:56:06 -0700
Subject: 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

> Why oh why would boys voices break at an earlier or later age? Is there
> some kind of biological evidence to support this point of view?
>
> Curiously yours,
> William S.

Although I don't have the sources at hand, I recall reading several
studies showing that puberty comes earlier now than it did in the past.
The cause is supposed to be better nutrition.

Tom Reedy

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Holcombe <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 May 2000 12:53:39 -0400
Subject: 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

> Why oh why would boys voices break at an earlier or later age? Is there
some kind of biological evidence to > support this point of view?

Indeed there is, though I must admit on this scholarly list that I have
no sources ready-to-hand to back me up. The onset of puberty, like e.g.
adult height, is now considered to be controlled by both nature and
nurture: one's genes are an important factor, but so is environment,
particularly in early childhood, and especially diet.

One of the issues that has long drawn interest in literary and
historical studies is the extent to which the age of sexual maturity
varies over the centuries. Whether or not a sixteen-year-old female
human would be considered a "girl" or a "woman" depends on many factors,
of course, not all (if even most) rooted in biology. But in some parts
of England in the nineteenth-century, available records suggest an
average age of seventeen for the onset of menstruation, while it was
earlier in both preceding and succeeding centuries. Since DNA, although
not immutable, changes more slowly than human environments, the
assumption is that environmental factors were key in this variation. In
this case, the horrible living conditions of the urban poor that grew
out of the social changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution are
usually held accountable. Others on this list can probably say more, and
with more authority, on the subject as it relates to boy actors in
Shakespeare's time and place.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 May 2000 21:01:51 GMT
Subject: 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

Would someone please supply evidence that castrati were ever used on
stage or in choirs in England during the period.  I know of none.
Castrati performed in opera in England during the eighteenth century -
but, as far as I am aware, they were all Italian.

David Lindley
Reader in Renaissance Literature
School of English
University of Leeds

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 May 2000 18:30:23 -0600
Subject: 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

>Why oh why would boys voices break at an earlier or later age? Is there
>some kind of biological evidence to support this point of view?

In societies with better nutrition, children go through puberty
earlier.  Given the generally poorer conditions of nutrition/health in
Elizabethan England, I'm pretty sure that children (as a rule) went
through puberty several years later than they do in the present-day
U.S.A. and Europe.

Dave Kathman

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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 May 2000 20:06:42 +0100
Subject: Re: Eunuchs Onstage
Comment:        SHK 11.1010 Re: Eunuchs Onstage

<< Why oh why would boys voices break at an earlier or later age? Is
there some kind of biological evidence to support this point of view?>>

I am afraid there is! Many authorities have pointed to massive changes
in the intake of protein / exercise / diet phenomena in the last four
hundred plus years, all of which can / do majorly affect growth rates
around the onset of puberty, thus in turn affecting vocal development.

It is also the indisputable evidence of every choirmaster certainly in
cathedral choirs in the UK that boys' voices are breaking significantly
earlier now than fifty years ago. Treble / decent boy alto voices can
still be 'manufactured' by genuinely expert boy-choristers for some time
after 'the break', but I can assure you that a boy's speaking voice is
usually way ahead in terms of breakage and fracture, and it is
exceptionally difficult for a breaking or just-after boy's voice to
'pipe' / falsetto to imitate the female voice convincingly for all sorts
of technical / physiological reasons. Of course, there are always going
to be exceptions.

I think I am correct in saying that castrating boys was not much if at
all a feature of English musical / theatrical life in the late sixteenth
century. It seems to have become more a feature of Catholic practice on
the mainland of Europe.

Stuart Manger
 

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